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Land Discussion Blog

Drone use in Real Estate

Picture of DJI Phantam 2 Drone

(According to the Gov. this is a UAS, or unmanned aircraft system, not a drone. You can call them what you wish – we’ll keep calling them drones —  but, one thing is for sure, they have become extremely popular these days).





up in the sky!

It’s a bird!

It’s a plane!

No…no…wait a minute….

it’s…’s….it’s a…..



Yes, a drone.

These things – drones – or “UAS” as they are referred to by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), that is, unmanned aircraft systems, have quite literally, and excuse the pun, sky-rocketed in use and popularity over just the past five years or so.

And no wonder.

Drones are a fun to fly and relatively easy to fly as well. And thanks to explosive technology and the competitive nature of that sector, the costs of these things keeps coming down, while the feature set they offer to drone buying consumers continues to go up.

drone in the sky...a DJI Phantom 2

A big reason for the popularity is their intrigue. Drones didn’t even exist, at the consumer level, a decade ago and really only have been on the consumer purchase scene for the last five years (with the advent of the Parrot AR Drone, first introduced to the public at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2010).

Who doesn’t have a little bit of kid still inside of them? And, who doesn’t want to have, and to fly, their very own “space ship” that can hover in place, fly using really cool GPS technology, and even take HD broadcast quality videos and pictures from above? Who doesn’t want to buzz around their land or farm with a bird’s-eye look from above, creating almost unbelievable, and sometimes, spectacular pictorial views of their own property? Seeing, first hand, through the lens of a camera hanging somewhere beneath the spinning props, in-the-moment views of wildlife and other features of the land. Maybe even catching a trespasser red-handed? These things are not the kid’s toys that some may believe. Sure they are fun. But, they are also very useful tools.

Farmers are now using drones to monitor crops. Rescue workers use them to find people. Hollywood movie studious are using drones to film multi-million dollar movies and to film commercials and large sporting events. Real estate agents are using drones to film everything from vast tracts of farm and commercial land, and multi-million dollar homes, to commercial buildings, and even your every-day run-of-the-mill box home that most of us actually live in.

(In just a few minutes, one can shot a scene like the example aerial video clip that I shot above with the help of an on-board camera using a drone)  


Modern day tools drones have become! (As Yoda from the great Star Trek series might say).


Modern day tools drones have most definitely become!

But these soaring tools aren’t just for chores. They are also for play.

In fact, so many people want to fly these things these days. People are swapping them up off the shelves like today is the last day one can buy them. There are more drones in our skies today than ever before and that seems likely to continue.

In fact, the increase number of drones in our skies worries FAA official and pilots who have reported seeing twice as many this year than they did during 2014. The rapid increase in use of drones has prompted the FAA to not only regulate these things but to require them to be registered by all individual users. In fact, the goal of the FAA is to have some sort of national registry program in place by the end of this holiday season (an expected 750,000 drones to sell this holiday season which would need to be registered, along with all drones already owned by individuals or companies in the United States).

We’ll just have to wait and see if, indeed, this actually happens and just how fast any regulatory laws pop into place. The FAA has had a history of missing deadlines with these sorts of things. So, it is hard to say for sure.

And as for business use with these modern day flying tools we call drones.

It is, at present, totally illegal to use a drone for anything business related unless you have a current exemption, license, from the FAA.  This according to the FAA: Presently, the FAA is drafting a rule to address small UAS (less than 55 lbs.). Until that rule is promulgated, anyone wishing to operate a UAS for purposes other than hobby/recreational must obtain a grant of exemption issued under Section 333 or type and airworthiness certificate.

Say What?

The bottom line here is that anyone using a drone for business use must have a FAA pilot’s license and have a valid Airworthiness Certificate.  (The Aircraft Certification Service, AIR-113 at FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C. holds this responsibility and can be reached via email or telephone at 202-267-1575). According to the FAA one can expect this process to take approximately 120 days.

Anyone opting to instead violate the law and operate their drone, for business use, without the required section 333 FAA exemption could be fined for up to $11,000 per violation. The big question is if the FAA has the man-power or even the desire, to try to enforce it’s own rules. Until recently there have been few or no fines issued to anyone for operating a drone for business use without having the required exemption. However, early this fall SkyPan International was fined to the tune of $1.9 Million dollars for 65 unauthorized flights and being unlicensed. (The FAA decided to up the fines in this instance possibly for being so blatant about it). (

Having the FAA exemption to legally fly a drone for commercial/business is a heavy weight on the ankles of those wanting to use drones for real estate sales – of course, this would include real estate agents, brokers, appraisers, and the like, but also the individual land or homeowner the way the law seems to read. It is quite clear, that using a drone to help sell real estate for a real estate professional would be illegal under the current FAA ruling.

On the other hand, it doesn’t seem completely clear that selling one’s own land/and or home with the useful aid of a drone is truly considered “business use”, though it would probably wo best be interpreted that way. After all, most people’s intent to sell a property falls closer to the lines of “business” use than it does “recreational” use and and any profit from a sale would line it right up with “business use”.

What about recreational use, you ask?

Can your twelve-year old kid go out in the back yard and wiz one of these things around the back forty, without needing extensive schooling to become a pilot? Sure thing! You heard me right – if you aren’t intending to use a drone for commercial or business use then you don’t need any license whatsoever.  (Maybe you can think of better reasoning for this than I can).

However, the FAA is apparently coming up with a new set of regulations that will govern UAS (drones) by the year 2017.

So wait we must!

drone photo. DJI Phantom 2.

(It may be “cool” to see the lights but FAA guidelines suggest flying drones only between the hours of sunrise and sunset).

In the meantime, here are some guidelines for recreational use of drones by the FAA:

  1. Don’t fly above 400ft
  2. Don’t fly within 3 miles of an airport/landing strip
  3. Keep your craft within line of sight
  4. Don’t fly in flight restricted areas
  5. Fly only between sunrise and sunset.
  6. Fly safely (not near pedestrians, wildlife, buildings/property, etc. – common sense)

What is projected to change with the new laws currently under development?

You can check out this: “Drone Proposed Law Changes Summary