Using Drones To Sell Commercial Real Estate

Using Drones To Sell Commercial Real Estate

It won’t be long before these things are used to sell single family houses. I am already seeing drone use on ultra-high end houses in Pittsburgh.

I gathered this article from the CCIM newsletter.  While this newsletter is aimed at commercial real estate, it has some carryover to our world.


Drones Take Off?

Use of unmanned aircraft systems is up in the air.


by Brad Boyd



Mainstream media has been focusing increased coverage on stories involving unmanned aircraft systems, also commonly referred to as drones. Glamorized notions of using UAS for delivering packages ordered online or beer to ice fishing houses tend to underplay the useful potential of this leading-edge technology.


No Fly Zone


There are numerous commercial uses for UAS, many of which could be invaluable within the commercial real estate industry as tools to improve safety, make site review more efficient, reduce costs, and improve the marketing of sites. Some users would like to utilize the technology today, but without Federal Aviation Administration approval, their commercial plans are grounded.


In cities throughout the country, UAS are being launched by businesses that want to survey land, take photos for real estate listings with a birds-eye view of surrounding features and amenities, or review construction projects. Unfortunately, many businesses fail to realize that just because the technology is available doesn’t mean it can be used without restriction. Current FAA rules draw a line in the sand, specifically allowing UAS for recreational use while strictly prohibiting UAS for commercial use unless FAA approval is obtained.


In February the FAA announced a long-awaited proposal that would set parameters for allowed commercial use of small UAS. Those rules will require not only public comment but considerable discussion from various interest groups before they are implemented. Until then, while these proposed rules provide an insight to what the future may hold, we’re not there yet.


Even recreational and hobby UAS users must follow some basic rules to maintain safety within controlled airspace and minimize the risk of personal injury and property damage. A summary of those rules can be found at


Potential Industry Use


Savvy contractors and developers are already considering how to utilize UAS to monitor construction progress or review potential development sites. Architects and surveyors could use UAS to take photos instead of relying on costly helicopters and professional photographers.


Commercial and residential real estate brokerage companies could launch cameras attached to quadcopters 50 feet into the air to capture a sprawling estate with amazing lakeshore or ocean views or to illustrate a retail space’s proximity to freeways and compatible businesses.


These are all commercial uses that require FAA approval. Some businesses that have been early adopters of UAS suggest that their use is appropriate so long as they don’t sell the photos or videos obtained. That argument is unlikely to fly with the FAA if the UAS was utilized for a commercial purpose.


While UAS enhance efficiency, economic value, and competitive advantage for real estate professionals, the uses are currently stymied, as the law evolves to catch up to current technology. While business users envision the benefits of the technology, everyday citizens may fear how this technology could invade privacy or cause property damage, or worse, personal injury.


Authorized Uses


Due to legitimate concerns regarding safety of the airspace that it regulates, the FAA prohibits commercial use of UAS, absent explicit authorization. This authorization can come in various forms, the most common of which is (for commercial users) a Section 333 authorization. As of the date of this writing, 159 such authorizations have been issued.


While the list of organizations that have received the FAA’s permission to fly UAS for commercial use is continually expanding, it’s fair to assume that many of the commercial users that are currently taking photos with UAS for business purposes are doing so illegally. In the real estate industry, some users may be unaware of the current restrictions on commercial use of this technology, while others may be ignoring the rules. Others are hopeful that the FAA’s proposed rules announced February 15 will be implemented soon.


Although no one knows for sure how long this will take, many are speculating that it could take until 2017. Even then, the FAA will not be the only rule-making entity involved, as states and cities have recently begun enacting their own laws to guide whether, where, and how UAS may be operated. As is typically the case with emerging law, this is a fluid and dynamic area, where the regulations will likely evolve dramatically over time.


If your business has considered using UAS for commercial purposes or has done so in the past unaware of the rules, it may be time to check in with an attorney who is familiar with these rules, to explore whether there is a compelling reason, such as economics or safety, to consider pursuing an FAA authorization in advance of any change to the rules or to maintain compliance with the rules that emerge in the near-term future.


While some businesses wait patiently on the sidelines, others realize that there are huge economic, logistics, safety, and efficiency arguments in favor of using this technology as soon as possible, even if it requires an investment of time and cost to get FAA authorization. For many real estate businesses, being on the leading edge and adopting technology that improves business efficiency is an essential component of its business plan.




Brad Boyd is senior counsel at Fafinski Mark & Johnson in Eden Prairie, Minn. Contact him at


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