Chances are good that in 2015 you read an article, heard a news story, or overheard a conversation about the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, in real estate and other businesses. But it seems that there are still more questions than answers about this emerging technology, especially when it comes to real estate. To help real estate professionals better understand the conversation surrounding drones, below is some basic information on the use of drones in real estate.
What is a drone?
A drone, or UAS, is an unmanned aircraft and all of the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment, etc., necessary to operate it.
Drones may be controlled either autonomously by onboard computers and communication links or by a pilot via a ground control system. The machines being used for real estate purposes are mostly micro drones, which weigh 4.4 pounds or less, have a short battery life of about 20 minutes, and typically have four rotors.
Which government agency has oversight over drones?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has jurisdiction over the operation of drones in the National Air Space.
What is happening with regulations related to the use of drones?
Currently, the commercial use of drones is prohibited, except for those operators who successfully obtain a Section 333 waiver from the FAA. Currently, there are over 3,000 operators in the U.S. who have obtained a Section 333 waiver. At this time, having and complying with the waiver is the only path to the lawful commercial use of a drone.
However, change is on the horizon. It is anticipated that the FAA will issue its final rule in the summer of 2016, which will govern the commercial use of small drones. The final rule will provide guidance on the safe and lawful operation of drones, as well as the required training, certification and registration of drone operators.
Additionally, the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has convened a multi-stakeholder working group to develop a set of voluntary “best practices” for the safe and responsible operation of drones. It is anticipated that the NTIA will publish these “best practices” in early 2016.
Why and how are drones being used in real estate?
For real estate professionals, drones have several applications that could dramatically enhance different aspects of the business. The use of drone technology will serve to elevate and enhance a real estate professional’s ability to market property listings. Large properties, listings with large acreage, and waterfront properties are just some of the types of properties that are ideally suited for this new technology. In addition, the use of drones is a faster and more cost-efficient method of obtaining aerial images than traditional methods, such as a manned aircraft. Drones will also likely have a significant impact on real estate-related services, such as roof inspections, appraisals, mapping, property management and insurance inspections.
Does NAR support the use of drones in real estate?
At the November 2014 REALTORS® Conference and Expo in New Orleans, the NAR Board of Directors adopted a policy statement addressing the use of drones in real estate, which cautions REALTORS® about the current prohibition on the commercial use of drones, and pledges NAR’s support and continued efforts to encourage the adoption of federal laws that allow for the commercial use of drones, including in real estate, in a safe, efficient and cost-effective manner. NAR has been active in various regulatory and legislative efforts related to drones, including testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, commenting on the FAA’s proposed rulemaking on drones and as a participant in the NTIA privacy working group. NAR has also submitted several letters of support to Congress and the Administration on the use of drones in real estate, and senior FAA officials have spoken at several REALTORS® Conference and Expo events.
Where can I find more information about drones in real estate?
A wealth of information is available at www.realtor.org/drones, including a series of FAQs, which answer common questions regarding the legal and regulatory landscape of drones and a real estate professional’s ability to use this emerging technology. NAR has created this dedicated webpage, which provides legal and regulatory updates on this issue, as well as other relevant drone news and information, in response to real estate professionals’ growing interest in drones.
This column is brought to you by the NAR Real Estate Services group.
Stephanie Spear is a commercial regulatory policy representative for the National Association of REALTORS®.
For more information, visit www.realtor.org.