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How CoStar Group Is Streamlining Research With Market Flyovers

Aerials views offer more efficient data collection opportunities for new construction.

When construction gets underway — whether for a new office building, retail shops or apartments homes — people wonder what will be built. But no one is likely more curious than the people who may be competing with the new development. 

“People need to know about new construction as quickly as possible,” explains Lisa Ruggles, vice president of field research for CoStar Group. “A 10-year-old building will have a harder time competing with new construction, but they can create a game plan when they know of new construction and understand the building timeline.”

CoStar Group has long been collecting data for clients through its extensive 1600-person research team, which includes 130 field researchers and, as of July, a six-person team dedicated to aerial research as well. Ground research can take weeks to conduct, as researchers drive through each market to collect new data. But the aerial team can do a similar canvas in a matter of days.

Four pilots and two camera operators helm, respectively, a Cessna Grand Caravan EX and Cineflex Ultra Red Dragon camera turret under the plane. (The team rotates two pilots and one camera operator per shift.) The plane flies in a one-mile grid across the intended market to pinpoint any new construction and update data on any construction projects underway to help provide a more accurate timeline to completion. In good weather, the camera operators can see up to 2 miles away. They use a CoStar data map layer to record and update data points based on latitudinal and longitudinal markers. 

“One screenshot can update three to four properties at a time,” Ruggles says.

Additional researchers, in turn, are available to look up tax records based on these markers, as well as map the location to Google Earth to determine the timeline of construction, based on previous Google Earth images, and get a better sense of the surrounding neighborhood. Also, field researchers conduct quarterly on-site visits until the new construction is complete. 

The aerial program has hit 53 markets since it began in August, beginning on the East Coast, traversing over the northern part of the country before weather gets too harsh, and then traveling down the West Coast. The program will wrap with a flyover of an additional 58 markets, including the Midwest and the South, with a final trip over Florida scheduled for late March or early April. Markets range from large, such as Baltimore and Long Island, N.Y., to small, such as Charleston, S.C., and Boise, Idaho. 

The aerial work is in addition to the regular field work and call-ins that CoStar Group’s research team already provides and will continue to provide as a support mechanism to inform the company’s database. The company plans to do a second run-through of the markets, which will probably take less time than the initial trip, to provide additional updates. It will continue to hit the top 30 markets twice a year. The information will be provided to clients through the company’s CoStar Market Analytics tool.