Hoping to rise above the competition, one local brokerage is putting a new spin on the house hunt by taking buyers up in a helicopter to check out properties.
It's a pilot program now, with just one flight so far, but Jameson Sotheby's International Realty will soon go full throttle, offering helicopter tours to any of its city or suburban buyers in the $1.5 million-and-up range, said Chris Feurer, CEO of the brokerage. That price range accounts for less than 1 percent of all the Chicago-area homes sold in the past 12 months, according to Midwest Real Estate Data.
While some individual agents may have booked helicopter flights for their clients and it's now a thing in Los Angeles, Jameson is the first Chicago-area real estate company to offer the service company-wide.
"We want to give our clients that perspective from the sky as part of the full experience of choosing their home," Feurer said.
The brokerage will cover the cost of a 60-minute flight, about $1,500 in the city and under $1,000 in the suburbs, Feurer said. He said he couldn't predict how many clients will take the offer.
"It's a novel approach that will give their buyers a different perspective than Google Earth," said Beth Burtt, a broker and owner of Brush Hill Realtors in Hinsdale, which also vies for luxury buyers.
Although Burtt's focus is the suburbs, she said she expects shopping-by-helicopter to have more appeal to city buyers. "You can get up over the congestion and really see what the neighborhood looks like," she said.
Photographing houses by drone gives a bird's-eye view of the property, but sending the buyer up in a whirlybird gives the buyer a firsthand view of that perspective.
Jameson's first client to go for a ride was Mark Lambert, who with his wife, Deborah, is looking to downsize out of their 6,600-square-foot Barrington Hills farmhouse. He went up with Jameson agent Judy Gibbons, a photographer and a pilot last week, taking off from Schaumburg Regional Airport.
Lambert said that at liftoff, he had five properties, all in Barrington Hills, on his list, but by the time the chopper landed back in Schaumburg, he'd cut it down to two. One dropped off the list because it turned out to have an auto auction yard next door, beyond the listed property's wooded acreage.
By flying over a property at 800 feet up, "you get a better idea what's on the neighbor's property,” Lambert said. “In Barrington Hills, people tend to collect things like ATVs or snowmobiles. Those things are loud."
For a city buyer, a helicopter tour might be used less for spying on individual homes than for "showing a buyer how our beautiful city lakefront lays out," said Linda Shaughnessy, whom Feurer last week tapped to be the first city agent at Jameson to try it out, although she hasn't done it yet.
With an out-of-towner moving to Chicago, "I can show them where the nice parks are and the schools, and how quickly you can connect up Sheridan Road to the North Shore," she said.
In the real estate industry, "it's hard to differentiate your brand from others because many of them say the same things and provide the same services for everyone who comes in," said Tim Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
Although "it's possible to shop for an expensive home without using a helicopter," Jameson's offering "certainly says that they are willing to provide a special level of experience that isn't for everyone,” Calkins said. “That's what the high-end buyers and sellers will want to hear."
There's a practical use for a helicopter tour, Gibbons said, pointing to Lambert's winnowing down his list of possible future homes, but "there's also the kick. It's the, 'Oh, my real estate agent is taking me up in a helicopter today. Does your agent do that?'"
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