Real Estate

"Drone"-d out

Palo Alto resident leads industry's use of drones in real estate

by Tre'vell Anderson

While many have heard Amazon's Jeff Bezos assert that in five years drones will be used to deliver its packages, right now a Palo Alto resident is making use of these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the field of real estate.

"Not all drones are created equal and certainly not all drone pilots are created equal," Manie Kohn said.

Kohn is the owner of Don't Tell Me Show Me, a Palo Alto-based startup specializing in "superior marketing strategies" for real-estate properties in the Bay Area and beyond. He recently gained national attention for his expertise in using drones to aid in real-estate marketing, an idea, he said, born out of many years in real estate and a frustration with the industry.

Kohn served as a senior trainer for the Multiple Listing Service or MLS, a system used by real-estate brokers to share information about their properties. Having "trained over 20,000 Realtors from San Mateo to Monterey" over eight years and working exclusively with a top Palo Alto agent, he started Don't Tell Me Show Me in 2007 as a way to better serve home sellers, a niche he says was missing in the industry.

"There's never been a resource for home sellers," Kohn said. "Without ever having to engage the Realtor, they can confidentially come to my third party, independent, quality-controlled company and vet a Realtor before they even start a conversation with them. Think Carfax for real estate."

Kohn presents himself as a conduit of information for home sellers, outside of their Realtors, and for Realtors who want to do their jobs better.

He developed the idea of using drones to help in the marketing of properties almost four years ago after being on countless luxury photo shoots of homes where they had to bring in helicopters to get aerial shots.

"I was wildly disappointed in the product that it was able to produce," he said. "It was problematic on several different levels," as the helicopters were loud, clunky, expensive and unable to drop below 400 or 500 feet above the house.

This left the capturing abilities of a property to a zoom lens. "I wanted something I could literally fly through the front door," he said.

Three years later, he claims to be the only factory-trained, certified and insured drone pilot in the Bay Area, and perhaps in the county -- a title he is willing to challenge any other drone pilot, and the Realtors who've used untrained, uncertified and/or uninsured pilots, to match.

"It's the reason I get the big projects, the reason celebrities and network TV come use me," he said.

Kohn has worked with Josh Flagg of Bravo TV's "Million Dollar Listing," HGTV, National Geographic and ESPN, among others. He says they come to him because of his unique set of credentials.

He has undergone training from the manufacturers of the drones he uses and received their certification, demonstrated extensive flight experience and attended ground school taught by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These criteria allowed him to qualify for insurance that helps protect him in the event of any damages incurred while using the drone.

Very few others have any insurance, let alone factory training and certification, he said.

Another aspect that sets him apart from other pilots is his ability to produce aerial videos of real estate properties. Just providing images, Kohn says, requires very little skill, experience and creativity.

"Once you introduce video into the drones, it begins a whole other element of complexity, not only to the cinematic quality, but to the aircraft itself," he said.

As a result, Kohn wears both real-estate and cinematographer hats. Spending more than $100,000 to stabilize his drones, he maintains an "artistic license while offering safe and dramatic cinematic flights simultaneously."

As a price point, Kohn charges on average $2,000 for his services, but can do such work for as little as $800, though his competition charges between $300 and $600.

"While I am more expensive than everybody else that's out there, the most visionary of Realtors have engaged me because they understand that they're winning more listings and more business because of that offering," he said. "While other Realtors are looking at video and drones as a line item expense, the most visionary see it as an investment."

Kohn is forward thinking in terms of other areas where the drone could be used. He's worked with both the Palo Alto and Half Moon Bay police and fire departments on the ways drones can be used to assist in emergency services. He also sees potential benefits in wildlife and conservation, construction and forensics.

The challenge, he says, however "is how do we use it safely." For that, he's working with the FAA and UAV underwriters to develop public policy in this still nascent area.

Freelance writer Tre'vell Anderson can be emailed at


Posted by seriously , a resident of Atherton
on May 22, 2014 at 11:55 am

Nice commercial for Mr kohn! I want one too#

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 22, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I wonder if he is the one who lost his quadcopter..

Web Link

Posted by Back yard privacy, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 22, 2014 at 12:19 pm

If my neighbor's home were for sale, I would not want a drone taking pictures while I was outside enjoying the privacy of my backyard.

Back yard privacy must be preserved.

Posted by Kicking tires, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Back yard privacy,

"Back yard privacy must be preserved.."

I agree.

At the end of the day, you're going to want to see and walk through the house you're going to buy. Additional views of the house are as useful as the professional photos provided by realtors.

Nothing beats a walk through.

Certainly losing privacy is not worth a gimmick for realtors.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 22, 2014 at 6:22 pm

Backyard privacy disappeared when our neighbor added a second floor.

Did I see recently that a prominent local realtor has purchased a light aircraft to give tours?

@Mr Recycle, nice find. Can't wait for the rest of the story.

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 22, 2014 at 11:08 pm

@Back yard privacy - I'd worry more about google than some realtor with a drone, but better safe than sorry so keep your pants on when sunbathing.

Posted by Gargle, a resident of Atherton
on May 23, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Got to try out a camera drone, which was really fun, but easy to lose and or crash. It takes loads of practice, but annoys a lot of people with its constant humming and buzzing. If everyone owned one, there would be a lot of crashed drones, and the noise would be unbearable.

They are also pretty cheap at $525

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 24, 2014 at 8:22 am

I thought the FAA doesn't allow commercial use for drones???

Posted by Gargle, a resident of Atherton
on May 24, 2014 at 10:33 am

These particular drones are itty-bitty, about the size of a radio-controlled airplane, if not in some cases even smaller. You can buy them at some hobby shops ( one in Mtn View near Gold's Gym off Hwy 101 sells them).

Prices start at $525 and go up to $10,000. The ones I tried out were $525 and $1500, respectively. As of right now, the FAA doesn't know what to do about photographic drones, but has only a little regulation controlling their use. This, of course, may soon change, with legislation currently in the works.

There was an article in the WSJ about these buffers early last week.

Posted by it's not about us, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2014 at 7:22 pm

Crescent Park Dad,

"I thought the FAA doesn't allow commercial use for drones???"

There are no rules against drones.

Anything goes.

Posted by it's not about us, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 24, 2014 at 7:26 pm

CP Dad,

note that the featured Realtor in the story is helping shape policy with the FAA.

last sentence of the article.
"The challenge, he says, however "is how do we use it safely." For that, he's working with the FAA and UAV underwriters to develop public policy in this still nascent area. "

Posted by Palo Alto Lifer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 11, 2014 at 11:43 am

I agree with backyard privacy 100%. If a neighbor builds a second story the design is subject to review for privacy. If drones can fly around and take pictures all bets are off.

Posted by Parent, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jun 11, 2014 at 12:55 pm

My middle schooler reports that several times this year a drone spent time buzzing around them at gym class on the field. This is a disturbing intrusion of children's privacy and I wonder how many parents know about it...from the description, there seems to have been a camera...

Posted by Palo Alto Lifer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 11, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Imagine what the paparazzi will do with this technology...

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 11, 2014 at 1:37 pm

@Palo Alto Lifer - Realtors have been renting helicopters for this for years, so why freak out about a drone? At least a drone crash won't kill your family. Paparazzi are scum, are using drones, but before drones, they were doing it in helicopters. See the NY Times article on helicopter traffic:

Web Link

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