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What Every Realtor Needs to Know about Drones

Updated: May 30, 2023



by Troy McDonald


There is nothing more exciting than getting a listing to sell a truly great property. When we get those listings, we start imagining the video taken from a drone that will show how amazing the property is, ensuring an offer well above full price. Once you've got the home ready for pictures the FAA Licensed drone pilot you hired swoops in and gets the most amazing video of the home. He or she starts by flying the drone up the driveway from the road. Then an aerial shot showing the grandeur of the property. Next, he goes around back and flies along the dock and past the boat on the lift just in time to catch the sun setting in the background. Right after he or she is finished making the video you get the invoice. It is at that moment you realized you just paid $500 for one video, and you can buy a drone for $700. That’s when you say to yourself: I will just buy a drone and do it myself. How hard can it be? The new drones all but fly themselves and they take amazing pictures. With just two listings you will be ahead of the game. Sounds good in theory. Can Real Estate Agents do their own Drone Photography? As a Realtor, can you do your own Drone Photography? The answer is both yes and no. You can if you have a FAA Remote Pilots Certificate. More on that later. If you do not have a FAA issued Remote Pilots Certificate you cannot fly the drone yourself and get those amazing pictures you need. It is against the Law. The Federal Aviation Administration’s website says the following as it relates to commercial drone activity: “If you have a small drone that is less than 55 pounds, you can fly for work or business by following the Part 107 guidelines.” Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations is what regulates commercial drone activity. Federal Aviation Regulations Part 107 Here is a link to the FAA website: https://www.faa.gov/uas/commercial_operators Commercial Operations include a Real Estate Agent doing their own aerial photography with a drone. What’s the big deal? I won’t get caught, and if I do what can they do to me? Fines for operating a drone without a Remote Pilot Certificate start at $1100 per occurrence. That means each and every time you used your drone to shoot a listing. For a busy agent, that can add up quickly. Here is a link to good article I found about real estate agents getting fined. http://fosterfollynews.net/2022/05/23/federal-aviation-administration-fines-realtor-11000-for-hiring-unlicensed-drone-pilots/#:~:text=The%20FAA%20has%20stated%20that,face%20fines%20starting%20at%20%2411%2C000 My Photographer has a Drone We all have photographers that we just love. They are so talented. Bad lighting, no problem. They make small, closed in spaces look large and open. Most importantly, they show up on time and prepared for whatever the day may bring. That includes drone photography. Do you know if your photographer licensed? Have you asked? If not, you will want to. Fines for causing someone to act as an Airman (hiring an unlicensed drone pilot) start at $11,000. YES, YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY, $11,000!!! I found this article on the subject. Here is a link: https://www.realestateimagingservice.com/ris/realtors-liable-11000-faa-fines-hiring-unlicensed-drone-operators/

The above-referenced fines are Civil Fines, but criminal charges can also be brought with fines up to $250,000 and up to three years in prison. I want to get my License!!! You decided you want to become a Drone Pilot, but don’t know where to start. Start with the FAA’s website. From the website you can navigate the whole process. https://www.faa.gov/uas/commercial_operators/become_a_drone_pilot#keepCurrent

There are two paths to getting your Remote Pilot Certificate. Here are the basics: First-Time Pilots

  • Must Be at least 16 years old

  • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English

  • Be in a physical and mental condition to safely fly a drone

  • Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam: “Unmanned Aircraft General – Small (UAG)”

Licensed Pilots

The FAA has really streamlined the process to obtain you license. I hold a Commercial Pilot’s Certificate with Single, Multi-Engine and Instrument Ratings so I was able to obtain my Remote Pilot Certificate with relative ease. The (free) online course and test was not difficult and I was able to complete both in less that 3 hours. Navigating all of the different FAA websites was the most difficult part of the process. Time to Buy a Drone Where do I even start. There are so many options out there. Before I purchased my first drone, I did a lot of research. There are some great websites out there with a lot of info. One I found after I purchased my drone is The Drone Girl. There is a wealth of info on the site. Not only about purchasing a drone, there is also everything from getting your license, insurance, photography and the business of operating drones. Here is a link: https://www.thedronegirl.com/ I ended up making a checklist of what I wanted.

  • Budget – Under $1000.00

  • Controller with built-in screen

  • Easy to Fly

  • Weighs less than 250 grams (a Class 1 Drone)

  • Camara that shoots both horizontal and vertical

  • Subject Tracking

  • Master Shots

  • Minimum of 30 minutes of flight time

I settled on the DJI Mini 3 Pro. It checked all of the boxes and was less than $1000. At the same time also purchased DJI’s protection plan. It will replace the drone up to 3 times due to damage and/or Fly Aways over a two-year period. Important note on the protection plan. You must purchase it prior to activating you drone. Once you get your drone you will need to register it with the FAA. Registration is completed through the FAA’s The Drone Zone website. It is a simple process. It took about 5 minutes to complete. The FAA charges $5.00 and it is valid for 3 years. This is required for all drones, even if you are not using it for commercial purposes. Once you complete the registration process you will need to put the registration numbers on your drone. I used a label maker to put the registration on my drone. I have seen other use a black marker. Time to Fly Before your first flight you will want to go to the App Store for your phone and get the Aloft Air Control app. This app will show you what airspace you are in. I live near and airport and with in Class D airspace. It will also tell you if the maximum altitude is less than 400’ AGL (Above Ground Level). For example, I live within Class D Airspace and the maximum altitude I can fly at my house is 100” AGL. Due to my home being within Class D Airspace, in addition to the altitude limitations I need to get clearance. You obtain you clearance from LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability). The app is connected to the LAANC and once you answer all of the questions, in most cases clearance only takes a few minutes. There may be other app out there. This was the one on the FAA’s website. Now run through your check and launch your drone. You have arrived. Follow the Rules and Enjoy Yourself Whether you are using a drone for business or pleasure, have fun. A drone can bring you a lot of enjoyment. Just make sure you follow the rules. Here are a few more website for you to look at: https://www.nar.realtor/drones www.dji.com/mini-3?gclid=Cj0KCQiAtbqdBhDvARIsAGYnXBNQueR-Fhz2jfzLJ_hm7LSg1yQ7H9PmtigEIIIn4Sc7HRjZm6JShHYaAteMEALw_wcB https://youtube.com/watch?v=R2Zt5O6ENaE&feature=shares

What Every Realtor Needs to Know about Drones was written by Troy McDonald who is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Realty in Stuart, Florida. He is also an Elected City Commissioner and Mayor of Stuart, Florida. Troy McDonald also holds a Remote Pilot Certificate. Feel free to contact him anytime with questions. Troy McDonald’s Bio (findyour-floridahome.com)

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