On-Demand Drones Give Senior Living Developers an Edge

The “Uberization” of drones has arrived, with on-demand services giving senior housing developers a new way to oversee construction, improve investor relations and boost marketing efforts.

Chicago-based CA Ventures is one such developer. Founded in 2004 as a real estate holding company focused on student housing, the firm has since grown to 250 employees and has expanded into a variety of other asset classes, including senior living. The company has become a believer in drones.

“We use drones every month for every project under construction,” CA Senior Living Executive Vice President Matt Booma told Senior Housing News.

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In the coming years, it appears certain that even more developers will start to leverage drones. The total civil, commercial and consumer drone market is expected to expand from $2.8 billion this year to more than $11.8 billion in 2026, with the value of the commercial market exceeding the consumer market by 2024, according to a recent forecast from the Teal Group.

A one-stop drone shop

CA Ventures partners with a variety of services to capture its drone footage. One company it works with is Drone Base. With its headquarters in Santa Monica, California, Drone Base describes itself as the world’s largest drone platform, with a network of professional drone pilots distributed across all 50 states and in international markets. In addition to CA Ventures, it counts a variety of real estate development and investment firms among its clients, including Berkadia, Marcus & Millichap and JLL.

“We’re a one-stop shop for companies that might have [development] sites distributed across the country,” Drone Base’s head or marketing, Erik Till, told SHN.

Similar to a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft or a home-sharing application like Airbnb, Drone Base employs drone pilots on a contract basis. The firm vets potential pilots for quality, their licensure, professionalism and experience, according to Till.

When a job request comes in, the Drone Base team dispatches a pilot to look into the property address or work site, to make sure it is not restricted airspace, such as near an airport, stadium or a hospital with a helipad. In some cases, because the drone pilots are locals, they have relationships with air traffic control and can fly missions even in some of this specialized airspace, Till noted.

If a mission gets the green light, Drone Base and the customer coordinate a shot list. The pilot flies the mission, captures the imagery, uploads it to the Drone Base platform, and delivers the assets to the customer for download via the cloud. Total turnaround time is about two days for unedited aerial footage, with an additional day or two for other packages, such as those that include an edited video with transitions and music, typically used for marketing purposes, Till said.

Pricing varies depending on the package and other factors, but ranges between about $100 and $500 per mission.

Multiple benefits

CA Ventures derives value from the drone footage on several fronts.

While a project is under construction, the drone footage enables the company to keep closer tabs on progress.

“You’re able to get into places and see details up close,” Booma said. “They can get really close to the building and give you context that maybe there’s something from a design perspective to address, [such as] how you interface with the neighbors.”

As drones become more technologically advanced, their usefulness for construction should increase. In fact, construction will be the fastest growing drone segment through 2026, Teal predicts.

Already, there are some niche firms offering sophisticated drone services for construction, such as measurements and scans, Till said.

CA Ventures also leverages the video footage in its marketing materials. This use aerial drone photography for marketing properties has become so prevalent, the National Association for Realtors created a drone guide for agents in 2015.

In addition to creating appealing marketing for prospective residents of forthcoming senior living communities, CA Ventures is using drone footage for investor communications as well. It’s a more efficient and exciting way of showing progress, compared with site visits.

“It’s really compelling imagery on the investment side, to say, this is really taking shape,” Booma said. “You’ve got some collateral that will get your partners excited.”

Evolving technology is also creating some new offerings on the marketing side, such as Drone Base’s interactive, 360-degree panorama view. This involves a drone going above a property and spinning in place, taking overlapping images, which then are stitched together by software to produce a panoramic image. A consumer can click around the image and interact with it.

The specter of increased regulations does hover over the drone industry, creating some questions about whether commercial use will be curtailed.

Currently, some localities are more accepting of drones than others, Till said. On the federal level, he is hopeful that a business-friendly regulatory framework will be put in place, though, thanks in part to efforts of large, influential corporations.

“Amazon and other companies are paving the way for more open drone regulations,” he said.

As for CA Ventures, it has encountered roadblocks for infill projects in downtown areas and has had to forgo drone footage of some high-rise developments, Booma said. However, this is not much of an issue for traditional senior living communities developed on more suburban sites.

And he sees drones continuing to be a useful tool for developers in the future, emphasizing that they offer a plethora of valuable information, not just videos with marketing sizzle.

“This is about more than creating a show piece,” he said.

Written by Tim Mullaney

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