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Matthew Slutsky has a toy that would make any eight-year-old boy drool. And he thinks that, one day, it could become a great tool for business.
The president and co-founder of Toronto-based BuzzBuzzHome, an online listing of new condos and homes, has bought a Phantom 2 drone, which he's been playing with in parks around the city.
The contraption, which cost him about $2,200 including set-up costs, looks like something out of The Jetsons cartoon. But some people in the real estate business think drones – otherwise known as unmanned air vehicles – could play an important role in selling properties.
A drone equipped with a camera could capture the exact view from a unit in a condo building that hasn't yet been constructed. It could also allow condo buyers in other cities to get a close-up view of their building in various phases of construction, or see what's going on behind the hoarding that fences in construction sites.
Mr. Slutsky has already owned a few smaller drones that he used as high-tech accessories inside his office. "And then in the last month, I kind of thought, wouldn't it be cool, with the new technology we could take a look at construction sites," he said.
Drones are rapidly being adopted for other uses. A pilot project to use a drone named the "Goosebuster" to keep geese away from the beach at Petrie Island in Ottawa has reportedly been a success. As The Globe and Mail recently reported, drones are also being used commercially for tasks such as surveying oil sands and helping farmers check on their crops.
Mr. Slutsky isn't the first person to spot their potential application in the real estate business.
The Santa Fe New Mexican recently reported that real estate agents in the U.S. are using drones to get impressive video footage of luxury houses, with the goal of attracting buyers from out of town.
"This just makes so much sense for out-of-state and out-of-country clients," Brian Tercero of Keller Williams Realty told the newspaper. "Consumers are going to start demanding this. Buyers searching for homes are looking for a better experience in home shopping."
But there are safety and privacy issues. In the United States the Federal Aviation Administration is still working on the rules for drones. The New Mexican noted that in 2012 Los Angeles police told real estate agents not to hire a photographer who was using a drone to make video of luxury properties.
Anyone using a drone for commercial purposes in Canada must fill out a Special Flight Operation Certificate with Transport Canada. The government says the goal is to "ensure the safety of the public and protection of other users of the airspace during the operation of the unmanned air vehicle.
"Transport Canada has to be convinced that an individual can conduct their planned operation safely and is familiar enough with aviation regulations before an SFOC will be granted."
Commercial users must tell the government why they're using the drone, and when and where it will fly. The requirements include filing an "emergency contingency plan to deal with any disaster resulting from the operation," and "a detailed plan describing how the operation shall be carried out," including altitudes and routes.
The Vancouver Sun reported recently that Transport Canada and the RCMP were investigating videos on YouTube that showed an unmanned air vehicle flying near Vancouver International Airport.
For now, Mr. Slutsky says his drone, which has a remote-controlled monitor that allows him to see what it's seeing in real time, is just for kicks.
"We haven't decided what we're going to do with it yet, right now we're trying to figure out what the laws are around it," he says. But "a lot of developers want us to fly over their sites. They think it'd be really cool."