Steven Gerazounis, ’21, IBE honors student at Lehigh, developed a new business called Empire Visuals. Providing visuals of properties for real estate agents, through the use of drone pilots that provide aerial photography. (Marlee Deutsch/B&W Staff)

Lehigh student creates drone-based visual venture for real estate

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It was a Friday in early August when Steven Gerazounis, ’21, eagerly checked the mail and received his very first check made out to his own business—a heartening confirmation that his hard work that summer had paid off.

“The feeling is too real,” Gerazounis said. “To know that (this check) is to me and that I worked on it.”

The integrated business and engineering honors student is now CEO & president of Empire Visuals.

Gerazounis developed the Long Island-based visual venture over the course of three months this summer with the help of his business partners.

Empire Visuals is comprised of FAA-certified drone pilots who provide aerial photography for real estate.

“Our service is designed to give the viewer a more immersive view of homes for sale by capturing quality video of the surrounding property,” said Andrew Gelfars, a team member and owner of Empire Visuals.

The team creates compelling stories for each video, whether it’s a digital tour of the house or aerial photos captured with equipment from DJI, a Chinese technology company that makes drones.

“We use DJI Mavic and DJI Phantom drones for outdoor aerial views and DJI Osmo, a handheld gimbal that stabilizes video on a phone, for indoor videos,” Gerazounis said.

As one of the few people on Long Island with this type of technology, Gerazounis said real estate agents are interested in his work and use it as a way sell homes faster and at higher prices.

“In today’s competitive real estate market, buyers want more than just photographs and slideshows,” said Patricia Cosmadelis, CBR Real Estate salesperson and Global Real Estate adviser. “Empire Visuals produces drone video with amazing aerial footage, a nice edge for me to provide to both buyers and sellers.”

Gerazounis’ team also produces professional still shots using a Nikon D750 with a 24-70mm lens. Aaron Aguiar, a co-owner of Empire Visuals, has expertise as a professional event photographer.

Gerazounis was referred by his cousin to connect with a freelance photographer working with drones, who inspired him to start the company.

I was looking at job listings on Zillow and immediately noticed they don’t have much of the drone photography on Long Island, so there is definitely a market for it,” Gerazounis said.

In order to legally sell the team’s drone footage, and have the ability to fly commercially, members of the team successfully passed a Federal Aviation Administration exam this summer. All team members are certified to pilot the machines.

“I think that once we were incorporated, it made us become a lot more professional and official,” Gerazounis said. “We then made business cards, a sample video and a website to further develop our business.”

After the team got incorporated, they began reaching out to clients over the phone.

Gerazounis said the team had a bumpy start—some loyal agents didn’t come through, and they received plenty of rejections over the phone.

I’ve definitely had some nasty encounters over the phone with people when I first started,” Gerazounis said. “I almost felt like a dirty salesperson.”

However, the team’s unfortunate early encounters and rejections did not stop them.

Determined to turn their luck around, the team members took it upon themselves to drive around Long Island and go door-to-door to get attention from agents. 

“It was overwhelming and intimidating at first,” Gerazounis said. “But once we went door-to-door, people were nicer than I thought and more willing to sit down with me and talk about terms for future business.”

The team at Empire Visuals captures footage beyond the threshold of real estate. In fact, the first-ever project was a video of Beth Sholom Day Camp in Roslyn, Long Island.

Gerazounis said the team is willing and open to expanding coverage to capture camps, beaches, construction sites and golf courses.

The team is currently in the process of building its portfolio by working with clients to spread its name.

“By next year, we hope to expand the business to a self-sustainable business with the ability to hire more employees and begin to expand for the following years,” Gelfars said.

More specifically, Gerazounis said the team is hoping to bring in at least one employee or independent contractor in an effort to make the business more sustainable for the future.

Right now, Gerazounis has been preparing for the Baker Institute EUREKA! Ventures competition, where students can pitch their entrepreneurial ideas to a panel of expert judges and win aid that includes mentorship and financial support.

Gerazounis participated in last year’s competition with his product called “Bandz,” a way to film concerts via a headband, and progressed through all three stages of pitching.

With the team back at school, its members are not concerned with balancing school and moving the business forward.

“We really aren’t missing out. It’s kind of seasonal business,” Gerazounis said. “Summer is the hottest time for the market. We get the best videos when the trees are green, and the skies are blue.”

So far, agents are pleased with the team’s work.

“Empire Visuals’ drone video has amazing aerial footage, giving consumers a more captivating experience online,” Cosmadelis said. “(Gerazounis) and (Aguiar) are very professional, responsive, and easy to work with.”

Aerial drone photography has given Gerazounis a growing sense of appreciation for commercial real estate, which he hopes to pursue one day. 

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