Drones for Real Estate Photography

Aerial photography is becoming increasingly popular in marketing real property. It is trending in the real estate industry to rely on drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), to film aerial videos and photographs to showcase homes. An aerial video can serve as a virtual tour and also a great form of innovative promotion for selling a property. However, it is important for real estate professionals to understand the legal regulations and risks associated with drones before getting started with aerial photography.
FAA Regulations
Current FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regulations generally prohibit the commercial use of drones, which includes for the purpose of real estate marketing. The FAA specified that “any aircraft operation in the national airspace requires a certificated and registered aircraft, a licensed pilot, and operational approval.” You or your client may opt to use drones for marketing real estate, but unless you have received a Section 333 waiver from the FAA or hired a company or an individual that has obtained a Section 333 waiver, the current regulation does not allow the use of drones commercially. The Section 333 exemption is being granted on a case-by-case basis for certain UAS to perform commercial operations prior to the finalization of the UAS Rule. However, before the law on UAS is enacted, be sure to verify that the individual or company hired for drone operations has successfully obtained a Section 333 waiver from the FAA.  

Legal Risks

Insurance coverage is another aspect. Beyond the FAA regulations, you could be subjected to legal risk if someone is injured or someone’s privacy or property rights are infringed upon as a result of the UAS operation. Make sure the individual or company that you hired is insured for the UAS operation, and make sure you will be named as an additional insured related to the UAS operation and the insurance should cover both property and personal injuries. Further, you should request that the UAS operator and the party who demanded the use of UAS to indemnify you against any actions, suits, damages and expenses (attorneys’ fees and costs and such) arising from or related to the use of UAS.

Future Trend

Using drones for commercial purposes including real estate photography is inevitable. Many industries are petitioning to the FAA for reform on the current regulations. In fact, the FAA issued 500 permits for commercial use in last year, with more than 30 percent of that coming from real estate businesses. Once the FAA regulations and state law approves drones for commercial purposes, drone operation will quickly escalate in the real estate industry. So be ready to see more drones in the future. But if you are considering drones for your next new listing, be aware of the aforementioned FAA regulations and legal risks.