Drones in Real Estate: Soon, But Not Yet

January 23, 2014

The excitement around drones is increasing, and for good reason: The technology is steadily getting to the point where many commercial applications are possible, including for use in marketing real estate. Being able to hoist a camera up on a drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, has the potential to be a cost-effective way to get dramatic shots of listed property, particularly for large, high-end homes or big expanses of land.



But while the technology is falling into place, a lot still needs to be done on the regulatory side. Drones present very real and very difficult issues, including safety and privacy. The safety issues are clear: People operating drones have to be trained, and systems have to be in place to help protect people nearby should something go wrong. On privacy, a regulatory system has to be in place to help reduce the chances of drones being used to take unauthorized photos and video. 

Along with these two concerns is the bigger national security concern, since a weaponized drone is a danger of national importance.

The Federal Aviation Administration is in the process of developing rules that would address these three concerns. It’s working against a timeline by Congress to have something ready by next year, although with a matter like drones, it’s important for the FAA to get it right — and not just get it in a hurry.

As it is, drone use by hobbyists is allowed, although there are strict limits on what constitutes hobbyist use. How high a drone is permitted to fly is one of the criteria for determining whether a use is hobbyist or not. For non-hobbyist use, the FAA authorizes drones for research, public safety, and, to a more limited extent, commercial use, but all on a case-by-case basis. The rules that FAA is developing are intended to give commercial and other drone uses more clear-cut guidelines for what's OK, an expanded approach from today’s case-by-case approval system. 

To fill you in a bit more on what's happening with drones and where they might fit in with real estate once the FAA comes out with its rules, REALTOR® Magazine sat down with NAR's regulatory analyst who's following the matter for his take on the rules and the timeline. The video is four minutes long.

The bottom line is, the regulatory environment hasn’t yet caught up with advances in drone technology. So as of right now, drone use outside of hobbyist use is limited. But it makes sense to start familiarizing yourself with the potential for drones in your business, so when wider commercial use gets the green light, you'll know whether drones have a place in your business model.

—By Robert Freedman, REALTOR® Magazine

Read more:

Is That a Drone in Your Bag?
States Begin to Regulate Aerial Drone Photography
What's That Flying Over Your Listing?