Feature Story

Realtors Reach the “YouTube Generation”

by Laurence Cruz

For L.A. agents on the cutting edge, remote-controlled helicopter videos and narrative videos are emerging as powerful marketing tools.

Selling real estate to a generation of buyers who are increasingly disengaged from traditional marketing has some Los Angeles realtors getting creative with video.

One hot new trend: aerial video tours of properties shot using a small, high-definition camera mounted on a miniature remote-controlled helicopter. Companies, such as A Bird's Eye, that offer the service are increasingly in demand by realtors looking to connect with the "YouTube Generation," says Rob Aigner, who manages 300 real estate agents as CEO of Keller Williams in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Keller recently hired A Bird's Eye to create a mini-helicopter video tour as part of Aigner's strategy to sell 25 units in a plush Beverly Hills building. The experience was featured on the popular HGTV series "Selling L.A."

"We wanted to give people a perspective they don't normally get on a video tour of the inside of the property," says Aigner, adding that the video has already helped sell half of the units. "We felt like it was a great way to expose the values of the property and we knew that an aerial video could go more viral."

The trend is catching on fast in the real estate marketing community. Aigner says the videos are generating buzz among buyers and new clients alike. Chad King, president of A Bird's Eye, says in less than two years he has gone from producing a couple of the videos each month to 10 to 15 a month with the help of his trusty helicopter pilot, Justin Chapman.

After editing, the completed videos are typically distributed via Facebook, Twitter and a dedicated website set up to showcase the property, in addition to more traditional advertising. A Bird's Eye's aerial tours feature crystal clear video shot with a Nikon D7000 attached to the base of a mini-helicopter gliding low over manicured lawns, courtyards and swimming pools, or soaring high past facades, over rooftops and even the surrounding neighborhood to give a sense of location.

While it may look effortless, capturing the video is no easy feat. Chapman is a world champion remote-controlled helicopter operator with a commercial pilot license and years of experience as chief pilot on Hollywood feature films. He even designs mini-helicopters using custom-made electric motors, light materials such as Kevlar and fiberglass, and the latest in aerospace technology.

"It takes a tremendous amount of skill flying one of these helicopters, especially in a little bit of wind," says King, who charges realtors about $1,500 for a package of still photos, panoramas and an aerial video. "The reason we stand apart from the competition is Justin's skills."

King has created aerial video tours of everything from triplexes to sprawling luxury estates. Aigner says realtors tend to use the tours to appeal to younger first-time buyers with plenty of cash. The goal is to make the listing stand out from the crowd, and video seems to do the trick.

"We as realtors need to think about what we can do to make it interesting and dynamic—not just beautifully photographed," Aigner says. "The helicopter component was just different enough that it became a little more viral."

Another trend realtors are just beginning to embrace is using videos to tell a story—a short movie, if you will—with the property serving as the location. In one such video created by an Australian real estate team, a scantily clad woman bound to a chair in a swanky house screams into a nearby smartphone for help. On the other end of the line, as a SWAT team races to the rescue, an emergency operator asks the damsel to describe the property's location and layout—a dramatic pretext for a rapid video tour of the place. Slickly produced, racy and tongue-in-cheek, the video certainly stands apart from more traditional marketing approaches.

Realtor Jeff Yarbrough, also of Keller Williams in Beverly Hills, says he has had great success with a similar approach. Hiring an actor and a two-person film crew with a digital camera and small lighting kit, he creates "lifestyle videos" that not only showcase the home, but also suggest the lifestyle of the buyer and what the neighborhood offers. A recent example, for a property in the Hollywood Hills near the Sunset Strip, garnered 17,000 "Likes" on YouTube and landed a buyer who precisely fit the target buyer profile and lifestyle, Yarbrough says.

"Five years ago, you would have needed five or 10 people on site to make a film like this," he says. "Today, you can do it on an iPhone. It's really technology that's pushed it to the point where we can accomplish this with a reasonable budget in a reasonable amount of time."

King, who is positioning himself to ride the narrative-video-as-marketing-tool wave, agrees. "Video is the future," he says. "A picture can tell a thousand words, so what can a video tell?"

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