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Drones take on the great indoors

Drones take on the great indoors
Adrian Zaw of Zaw Studios operates a drone inside a $3.885-million Big Bear home for sale. (Sarah Wang)

Video captured from drones has become the must-have money shot when selling high-end real estate.

Equipped with a camera, the unmanned aerial vehicles soar over homes, giving prospective buyers a bird's-eye view of the property along with sweeping vistas and skylines.

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Recently, however, intrepid agents and drone pilots have turned them loose inside estates to capture the majesty of the great indoors: exhilarating descents past chandeliers that continue through cavernous living rooms before launching viewers straight out windows to behold cityscapes.

"If you've got the space, using drones inside can be magical," Realtor Bret Parsons said. "One client said that they never realized how beautiful their home was until it was shot by a drone. And now they joke that they don't want to sell it."

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Real estate videos have been popular for years, but the advent of relatively low-cost drones has upped the video-making ante for trophy properties.

Unshackling drones from the open skies to fly within multimillion-dollar homes, stocked with furnishings worth more millions: What could possibly go wrong?

"Inside a big expensive house, flying past artwork, drones can cut things up real quick," said Kanin Howell, founder of Los Angeles-based Drone 55.

Howell admits to crashing a drone indoors, "inside my own house, when I was learning," he said. "Luckily it was a rental."

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He said pilots generally acquire skill by first flying drones outdoors — and not every pilot has the pluck to venture indoors.

Designed for outdoor use, GPS-enabled drones can act like drunken fools indoors and "fly all over the place, hit walls, damage stuff," said drone operator Adrian Zaw, who works with Realtor Tim Durkovic.

Newer drone models, such as DJI's Phantom 4 quadcopter ($1,399), include avoidance sensors that calibrate altitude and distance. Brakes kick in when drones fly too close to objects. But some pilots disable GPS and sensors, as drones can be tricked into mishaps.

"When it messes up, it's a small degree of wrong that happens really quickly," Howell said.

Lighter objects, such as flower vases and photo frames, are either battened down or removed. "A drone will blow a freakin' pillow off a couch," said Howell, who shoots with drones indoors about twice each month.

Propeller guards that enclose whirling blades are sometimes used, along with rubber-coated propellers. Pilots maneuver drones with joysticks and fly them as fast as 50 mph outdoors but much slower indoors.

Larger homes with greater ceiling heights are favored for indoor shoots. Drones hover near ceilings, nearly grazing chandeliers as they swoop and arc into rooms.

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The optimal indoor drone shot is often an indoor-to-outdoor flight. Drones zip across great rooms, float down grand staircases, and then soar out doors or windows to reveal arresting vistas. Such shots are prized for being unexpected, and even unreal. Parsons calls them "seductive."

Parsons hired Chatsworth-based Luxury View Media to shoot a $5-million Bel-Air home. A drone zooms through several rooms and then glides through French doors to behold vineyards and the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Marketing high-end real estate increasingly demands such jaw-dropping shots — paired with a cinematic underscore — that Parsons said lures potential buyers into multiple views.

Pets were banished during his shoot, said Parsons, architectural division director for Coldwell Banker Beverly Hills.

"Cats get scared and run away," he said, "and dogs — well, I could see a dog taking a big chunk out of a drone if it flew low enough."

Recently, Durkovic and Zaw decided to push the limits further. The duo hired actors to stand throughout the kitchen of a $3.875-million Los Feliz home and used a drone to film the scene.

"The first take was pretty scary," Durkovic said. "You think the drone is going to cut your head off."

A dozen nail-biting takes later, they had their shot: a kitchen fly-through that first zooms between two men, then over a center island and countertop, past a woman holding champagne and out a window between two men laughing on a deck, to the final hillside view.

"If the shot turns heads, Zaw said, "then we've done our job."

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