Berkshires realty company uses drones to film luxury estates


RICHMOND -- Tucker Welch Properties was looking for a new way to film the videos that it uses to showcase its luxury properties to prospective buyers.

The realty company didn't just find a new way, it came up with a cutting-edge method: It's using a drone.

On Monday, a small drone rented by the company buzzed around the 27-acre State Road property occupied by the Inn at Richmond and the Berkshire Equestrian Center that's on the market for $5.9 million.

The small drone flew high enough to provide a unique view of the equestrian center's riding ring, and low enough to fit under the ceiling of a main room at the small inn, which was built in 1771.

The drone's owner and operator, Terry Holland, of Pittsfield, said he planned to use the footage to create a two-minute video that those interested in the property could access online.

"This gives you a unique perspective," Holland said. "It's the closest thing I've seen to feeling like you're really at the property."

"This puts it all together for the buyer," said Cindy Welch, a principal of Tucker Welch, who arranged Monday's video-shoot.

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, are mostly associated with the unmanned aircraft that are used by the military. But commercial drones, those used for reconnaissance or surveillance purposes, resemble small remote-controlled planes, not military aircraft.

They have become increasingly popular in the real estate market, despite the fact that the Federal Aviation Administration banned them for business related-uses in 2007 (the FAA does allow drones to be used for recreational or personal use).

Realtors in New York and Chicago have been using drones to provide views of high-end properties that can't be achieved by conventional means.

Tucker Welch also is planning to use drones to showcase luxury properties because they are often harder to move, according to Cindy Welch. The Inn and Equestrian Center properties, which are being offered together and separately, have been on the market for about a year, she said. Welch said Tucker Welch also intends to use Holland's drone to shoot a $9 million property that's on the market in Williamstown.

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Sandra Carroll, the president of the Berkshire County Board of Realtors, said she had never heard of a Berkshire Realtor using a drone to showcase a property before.

A filmmaking buff and skeleton bobsled coach, Holland became interested in drones through an avid interest in technology. Welch has known Holland for years -- he once coached her daughter's soccer team. Another broker at Tucker Welch who lives near Holland learned that he had a drone, and Cindy Welch said she believed the aircraft could be an asset for her agency.

"We need it for our bigger properties," she said.

Holland's drone, known as a "quad copter four" because it has four blades, contains a mechanism that allows it to tote a small high definition video camera that can both pan and tilt when it's in the air. The drone has to lock onto GPS satellite coordinates before it can become airborne.

He operates the drone with a contraption that slightly resembles a video game console and contains two small joy sticks that allow him to move the aircraft up and down. A small screen on the console allows Holland to see what the drone's camera is filming while the aircraft is in the air.

According to Holland, the FAA allows drones to fly no higher than 400 feet, the same standard that is allowed for model airplanes. On Monday, he took the drone up to 200 feet over the equestrian center's riding ring while a small group of spectators watched it whir and buzz.

Flying a drone indoors in small rooms is trickier, especially when it comes to avoiding obstacles like hanging chandeliers.

"A whole lot of practice," Holland said when asked how he learned the technique.

He managed to maneuver the aircraft carefully through a main room at the inn, although the drone did kick up a great deal of dust as it struggled to become airborne near a fireplace.

"People are used to seeing things now on videotape," Holland said. "They're not used to snapshots."

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at:
(413) 496-6224


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