Drones: Soon, But Not Yet

Although it may only be a matter of time before we start seeing drones flying over every listing, now is not the time.

Real estate professionals may be eager to get those amazing aerial shots, but keep your members informed: It is illegal to use drones for commercial purposes (unless you have a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration).

One REALTOR®, Douglas Trudeau with Tierra Antigua Realty in Tucson, Ariz., did receive a Section 333 waiver from the FAA in January for the purpose of real estate marketing. However, it is important to note that the waiver was issued to Mr. Trudeau, and did not mean the FAA loosened its rules concerning the commercial use of drones. Trudeau spent months of time and thousands of dollars on his waiver process. Even after securing the waiver, Trudeau is required to hire a licensed aircraft pilot to fly his drone for him since he does not yet have his pilot’s license. A few aerial ­photography companies for real estate marketing and inspections of home ex­teriors, including Capital Aerial Video in Texas and FalconSkyCam in California, have also recently obtained waivers.

Drone rules on the way

Congress tasked the FAA in 2012 with integrating the commercial use of drones into national airspace. The FAA has made major steps to achieving this directive. In February, it issued its notice of proposed rule-making on the operation and certifi­cation of drones, but these rules have not taken effect yet.

The proposed rule focuses on three main areas: operational limitations, operator certification and responsibilities, and aircraft requirements. At a high level, the proposed rule limits the unmanned aircraft to no more than 55 pounds, requires the unmanned aircraft to be registered and display markings in the largest practicable manner, and requires the operator to maintain the drone in safe condition for operation and inspect the drone before flight to ensure safe operation. The rules would further limit drone operation times to local official sunrise to sunset and to no more than 500 feet above ground level. The operator (or the visual observer where one is used) would be required to maintain constant visual contact with the drone without the assistance of any device. The operator of the drone also would be required to obtain an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a drone rating.

As of today, unless a member’s drone use falls within the FAA’s guidelines for hobbyist or recreational use, or a Section 333 waiver has been obtained, any impermissible use of a drone could result in an enforcement action by the FAA, along with substantial fines and penalties. In fact, the FAA brought an enforcement action against one drone enthusiast and leveled a fine for the careless or reckless operation of an unmanned aircraft (FAA v. Pirker). The FAA has specifically stated that commercial use includes for real estate marketing purposes.

Drone anticipation

Soon drones may enable real estate professionals to enhance their marketing practices, particularly as they relate to uniquely suited properties, such as large farms, properties with breathtaking views, and large commercial properties.

The FAA is seeking comment on all aspects of the proposed rule and NAR will be filing a comment letter advocating for the adoption of a final rule that allows real estate professionals to use drone technology in an efficient manner, while taking into consideration the safety concerns the FAA is balancing in drafting a rule.

For now, continue to remind members that unless they have a waiver or hire a company that does, using drones for real estate marketing purposes is illegal.

For the official government word on drones and updates, direct members to the FAA website at faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=76381. Also, link to the nar.realtor “Field Guide to Drones and Real Estate” at nar.realtor/field-guides/field-guide-to-drones-and-real-estate

Lesley Walker is an associate counsel at the National Association of REALTORS®. Contact her at 312-329-8834 or

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