It reaches an altitude of 600 feet, operates stealthily and has a range of about two miles. HeliMalibu's aerial drone isn't the latest device used in the war on terrorism -- it's helping real estate agents sell houses. And it's one of several new tools brokers are experimenting with to boost sales in a stagnant market.
Agents have begun using Heli-Malibu's drones to shoot videos and photos of houses -- mostly large estates that can benefit from imagery that highlights their scale. "It is like watching a scene from Avatar when you are flying above a river -- it is just so cool," says Westside Estate Agency chairman Stephen Shapiro, who has used the drones to take imagery of a Bel-Air house being sold by former Architectural Digest owner Bud Knapp and his wife, Betsy, for $23.95 million and of Paramount CEO Brad Grey's Holmby Hills residence, listed at $23.5 million.
HeliMalibu founder Daniel Garate has shot video of about 10 houses and done some work on feature films, including capturing car chases. The year-old company charges as much as $1,800 for video footage of a house and as much as $500 for still photography. Going a more traditional route and hiring a helicopter, he says, can cost up to $4,000.
Meanwhile, Keller Williams Realty agent Eric Lavey, who specializes in the Westside, has been shooting scripted lifestyle videos inside his listings to give buyers a sense of what it would be like to live there. Lavey, a former UTA talent agent, says response to the first video he created -- for a three-bedroom Hollywood Hills house he sold for $920,000 in October -- convinced him to continue to produce them. In the short clip, set to an upbeat soundtrack, a young male professional is shown arriving home in a convertible Lexus and prepping for a night out. Lavey says the video would have cost roughly $3,000 to produce, but he called in a few favors to save money (the man in the video is his former assistant). Lavey sold the midcentury property to two brothers who he says saw it on Vimeo -- along with 12,000 other people. Although the house sold for less than its $969,000 asking price, Lavey moved it quickly. "It sets me apart," he says, adding that he plans to shoot three more videos in January. "Just like you take a brochure away at a car dealership, people want to dwell on what they saw and fall in love with it."
And New York-based Corcoran Real Estate Group has partnered with 1stdibs.com, an online luxury furnishings marketplace, to showcase listings. The idea is that users browsing for, say, a Maison Jansen mahogany chest might start thinking about a second residence in Martha's Vineyard, too. Some houses are touted on 1stdibs by interior designers who work with the website (Corcoran declined to discuss financial arrangements of the deal). No sales originating from 1stdibs had closed about two months into the partnership, but Corcoran CEO Pamela Liebman remains optimistic: "Everybody is looking for the ability to give their clients the greatest exposure to the right clientele."
REAL ESTATE BROKERS EYE 2012
Agents might consider buying floaties because experts predict the L.A. County housing market will continue to tread water in 2012. Last year, prices and sales volumes in most high-end neighborhoods throughout L.A. were flat or lower than 2010 levels. While some popular areas such as the Hollywood Hills (think the Bird Streets, where Matthew Perry and Gateway Inc. co-founder Ted Waitt bought in 2011) could see gains, expect more of the same for most spots, says Westside Estate Agency's Stephen Shapiro. "We won't have a strong market until people are buying up," he says. "For the most part, people are buying down -- they are selling a bigger house and buying a smaller house or getting out of the area." Tami Pardee, an agent who specializes in Venice, Santa Monica and Culver City, says that while the market is flat, "it isn't going down -- we are sideways. I think sellers are more and more realistic." She believes a return to the go-go years of the mid-2000s might never happen, though that isn't necessarily a bad thing, she says. "I don't think we could maintain it."
THE STATE OF THE MARKET: Data from Realtor.com indicates the median price of a house sold in L.A. County dropped by nearly 10 percent in 2011.
- 2010 Median Price: $365,000
- 2011 Media Price: $329,000 (-10%)