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Research airplane photographs Spokane real estate and finds 50 new construction sites since last year

UPDATED: Mon., June 4, 2018, 7:33 p.m.

About 1,500 feet above Spokane, Amber Surrency sits in a Cesna airplane behind a control panel, multiple screens and joysticks. But the aerial research photographer isn’t piloting the plane – she’s controlling a $500,000 camera attached to the bottom of the aircraft.

For the past few days, real estate research company CoStar Group has been circling the Spokane area and taking pictures of its construction sites. CoStar records data such as location of new construction, number of new construction sites, price of property and completion date. It aggregates its data with county records to sell to people in the real estate business, better informing them of the market.

The CoStar airplane flies around the country and hits each of its 136 markets about once a year, and it’s the third time it’s been in Spokane. It was in Seattle last week and is heading to Boise in the coming days.

On a screen in front of Surrency, the tall buildings in downtown Spokane slowly rotate like cakes on display in a shop window. Her job is to spot construction sites, like the stormwater tank and plaza site on Spokane Falls Boulevard, and log them into the computer.

CoStar found 50 new construction sites in Spokane since its survey flight last year, said Surrency, a Marine Corps veteran. Most are multifamily developments.

“It tells you how much Spokane is expanding,” she said.

CoStar, a publicly traded company, offers subscriptions to its clients to access the data, which may not be useful to the average person, Surrency said. It’s mostly for real estate developers, investors and brokers. But the company also uses the data for Apartments.com, a website that displays available apartments for rent.

Surrency said some of the company’s real estate clients are internationally based, in places such as Spain, Canada and Scotland. CoStar’s service gives these clients more information about Spokane’s real estate market.

“Anything to know about a building, you’ll find it here,” she said.

The plane is a Cessna C208 Grand Caravan EX, flown by pilots Chris Swanson, a retired Army pilot, and Mark Beauchamp, a retired federal crimes investigator. They rotate with another team about every 10 days.

Surrency said she’s been with CoStar’s research airplane for three years, and there’s been zero turnover in the crew.

“It’s a lot better than an office job,” she said.


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