Drones for Selling Real Estate
If They Could Use Drones, How Effective Would It Be for Real Estate?
In the U.S., real estate agents continue to develop the use of drone photography in the face of FAA regulation efforts. Real estate joins the agriculture, filmmaking, and journalism industries in finding new ways to use small unmanned aircraft. These industries are pushing the limits on the use of drones because of the clear benefit in using this valuable tool. The use of personalized aerial video is judged a superior alternative to simply using Google views.
Aerial photography is still a new art for many in the real estate industry, especially in the United States. To many, it is an extravagance, especially in selling homes. But the emotional appeal of the moving aerial image is overwhelming. It always gains attention. Aerial videos have been shown to improve web site traffic by a factor of four. The image of soaring evokes human dreams. The emotional appeal adds to the impression of the details of the property.
Ground level photographs of many properties simply have no impact. The aerial picture, especially when filmed in the right light, adds an emotional dimension.
The aerial video, shot from a relatively low altitude, is better than a living map. The property can be seen in its context, giving the viewer full knowledge of a site. In some ways, it is better than a real visit.
Aerial videos remove uncertainty about a property. The images give the prospective buyer a full sense of what is there. They can see and evaluate important details like roof condition and the extent of space around the property.
In Australia, real estate agents and vendors are rapidly turning to drone photography to show perspective buyers a completely new perspective on their properties, both residential and commercial. Ryan Hamlet, a real estate videographer in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, Australia says:
“Telling the story of your home…is vital to selling your property well. With aerial photography you can instantly demonstrate the size of the block and where the home sits on the property,… within the neighborhood, proximity to parks, public transport, shops and schools.”
In Australia, demand for drone videos is strong. There were more than 230 companies working with drones last year. One company can fill over 200 drone video contracts a year, with business likely to double year over year. Hamlet says his company has had great results with homes, apartment towers, town houses, and farms.
Drones in the U.S. vs Other Countries:
Last year, a House of Representatives Panel on Transportation and Infrastructure heard testimony that commercial real estate drones are being used extensively in other countries, while the U.S. begins to lag further and further behind. In the U.S., federal regulators are slow to develop safety provisions that would permit unmanned aircraft to operate in the service of a wide range of industries. Only a handful of operators have been granted permits that would allow licensed drone operators to fly, although hundreds of applications are in the works.
Australia has issued more than 180 licenses to a variety of industries, but limits the permits to drones less than 5 pounds. In Japan small, unmanned helicopters have been used for crop monitoring and spraying for more than 10 years. Canada has had workable regulations governing the use of unmanned aircraft since 1996 and issues more than 1,000 permits every year. Canada grants blanket permission for drones weighing less than 5 pounds, but has cleared the way for flights by drones weighing up to 55 pounds, as long as operators abide by certain legal conditions. Several European countries have granted commercial permits to more than 1,000 drone operators each.
Is your agent using aerial imagery to sell your property?
In the United States, in almost all cases, probably not. The Federal Aeronautics Administration (FAA) has been working for a decade to develop safety rules to give small drones access to U.S. skies.
Although the U.S. led the world in the development of drones, FAA regulations are currently so restrictive that researchers trying to make commercial unmanned aircraft safer are held at a competitive disadvantage against their colleagues in other countries. Even testing of drones in remote, unpopulated areas requires complying with onerous and limiting regulations in the U.S., while countries like the United Kingdom and Australia make official allowances for flights in lightly populated areas. Leading developers of drone technology, like Amazon, are looking to do their research in other countries because of restrictions here.
Not that there are not real dangers and concerns. Small drones can easily be flown into crowded commercial flightpaths in cities like Washington, D.C.. Aircraft and air traffic controllers are not equipped with technology that could make small drones visible.
The FAA’s Cold Water:
Because of its obvious appeal, some larger real estate companies in the U.S. have begun to make use of drones on their own, in spite of the slow release of FAA permits. Last year, the FAA began investigating realtors who use drones to film their properties. The regulator’s investigations have succeeded in intimidating NRT, the nations largest residential real estate brokerage company. Because of the legal threats, NRT has been advising their members not only to cease flying drones as part of their work, but also to cease using drone footage already shot. NRT has asserted that the actions of the FAA will simply punish the safe commercial use of drones. In fact, the FAA only has jurisdiction over air space, not over the footage.
The pressure on the industry to stop using drones has had a chilling effect. The decision to actively prohibit commercial use of drones may set back efforts to convince the FAA to allow the safe use of drones for commercial filming in the United States. If people can’t see the value of the technology, it will be much easier for the FAA to prohibit the use of drones in commercial settings. The FAA went so far as to issue a subpoena to obtain drone-related records from a New York City real estate company and its photography vendor, demanding documentation. The FAA action stopped NRT’s use of drone photography in its tracks. The NRT has completely acceded to the FAA’s authority in this case. In fact, the policies of the FAA are being interpreted so strictly that if a home owner decides to use a small drone to film his own property for fun, NRT will tell the home owner that those images can not be used in their own home listing.
The FAA considers it illegal to fly drones for commercial purposes, including real estate photography. Recently, courts have been helpful in the argument. In 2014, a judge struck down the FAA ban on commercial real estate drone flights, but the ruling is being appealed by the FAA. Real estate agents face a possible $10,000 fine from the FAA for using the equipment.
The actions of the federal regulators have motivated many real estate consumers to find alternative ways to obtain aerial drone footage of their properties.
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