Some real estate agents may be tempting fate if they use drones to capture aerial images of homes without obtaining authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration.

But Surefield, a broker that uses a proprietary camera to produce virtual 3-D tours, says it’s cooked up a way to capture drone-like aerial imagery without running that risk.


Click to view Surefield virtual tour featuring 3-D aerial views

The discount broker — which has stirred controversy for offering only $2,000 in compensation to buyer’s agents for bringing a buyer to a sale — is incorporating immersive, panoramic views into its 3-D tours that let users virtually soar over its listings.

“We found a legal way to get drone-like views that are movable so you can get a 360-degree look,” said Cynthia Nowak, a spokeswoman for Surefield.

Surefield uses a carbon-fiber telescoping pole to hoist its camera up to 30 feet above the highest point of a home, and then capture much more detailed views than those made available by Google, which can only drill down to 500 feet above a home, Nowak said.

CEO David Eraker has said that Surefield is out to “deliver the same level of transactional efficiency to U.S. consumers that is found in other developed countries.” 

The broker charges a 1.5 percent listing fee — around a percentage point lower than a typical listing fee — and offers just $2,000 in compensation to a buyer’s agent for bringing a buyer to a sale.

On the sale of a $400,000 home, the $2,000 Surefield offers to the buyer’s agent amounts to just a 0.5 percent commission. A typical buyer’s agent commission of 2.5 percent would generate a $10,000 payday on the same sale.

If an unrepresented buyer seeks to buy a home listed by Surefield, Surefield will use the $2,000 in compensation offered to buyer’s agents to cover the unrepresented buyer’s attorneys fees.

Skeptics may argue that sellers who list with Surefield risk taking home less money than they would had they worked with traditional brokers because buyer’s agents may avoid highlighting the broker’s listings to their clients.

But Eraker contends that the widespread availability of listings online ensures that buyers will discover all properties that match their preferences, even those that their agents might not prioritize.

Email Teke Wiggin.

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