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Are You Flying A UAV For Real Estate Photography or Video With or Without The FAAs Blessings?

Published: 24/07/2015
By: larry
Currently, if you wish to fly a drone commercially in the US with the FAA's blessing you can petition the FAA for a section 333 exemption. One of the conditions for obtaining this exemption is you must be a licensed pilot. Here is what you need to do to file for a Section 333 Exemption and here is a list of all the people that have been granted an exemption. At this writing, the FAA has granted 797 of these exemptions. You can hire a lawyer to help you through the process of submitting a request to the FAA for a Section 333 exemption.Here is a recent article about one such Chicago law office that will help you through the exemption process.Here is an article on Douglas Trudeau, the Tucson Realtor that was the first Realtor to obtain a Section 333 exemption. I seriously doubt that there are many listing agents are technically adept enough to fly a UAV and have pilot's licenses so it makes more sense for the majority of listing agents to hire a photographer/videographer when the want UAV video. This creates a huge expanding business opportunity for professional real estate photographers/videographers since use of UAV video clips and photos are a very compelling as a marketing tool.  Despite the FAAs section 333 exemption process, Peter Sachs at the has reported that:

The FAA has not attempted to enforce its claimed new rules in the Interpretation. Nor has it ever attempted to enforce its long-claimed commercial use ban. Not once. Unless someone operates recklessly, at most they will receive an "educational letter" sent by FAA non-attorneys, that are carefully worded to encourage, but never order the recipient to do or not to do anything. Only FAA legal may issue such orders to do or not to do something, despite non-attorney FAA employees having issued such orders wrongfully and repeatedly over the past few years.

Because of the above and the fact that the demand for UAV photos and video of real estate is so huge, my sense is that most people flying UAVs for real estate photography right now are not flying with the FAAs blessing. So I thought would be interesting to sample in an anonymous way (poll) how many readers are flying with and without the FAAs blessing.

[polldaddy poll=8988527]

13 comments on “Are You Flying A UAV For Real Estate Photography or Video With or Without The FAAs Blessings?”

  1. The barriers to entry mean that UAV photography cannot be a cheap service (except in relation to manned aircraft charter) and thus the opportunities will not be the ones envisioned by the pioneers in the field seeing $400 UAVs.
    In the end, most real estate photography budgets do not have funds to include aerial photography of even the most pedestrian ambitions. Thus it will remain a niche product for only the highest end properties with agents who have generous budgets.

  2. I do not have a 333 exemption, but I adhere to the safety guidelines; fly below 400-feet AGL, fly 5+ miles from a controlled airport and do not fly over stadiums or densely populated crowds of people. I have an active FAA Medical Certificate, I am studying to pass the FAA General Knowledge Exam and I have $500K in aerial liability insurance with the following clause in the policy:

    "The carrier will not exclude coverage if a client has or does not have the exemption." An endorsement reflects this policy.

    Regardless of the arbitrary regulatory environment, it is important that commercial photographers conduct business as "professionals".

  3. I have flown mine some, but I also drove over the speed limit to work today - I'm not sure which one was more dangerous to the publics safety (although that might not be the point). I educate everyone who asks about it first, and then we decide if it gets done. I have had my fare share of brokers who decided against it for the time being.

  4. ^^ Mark, you're 100% correct. I dropped $1,500 on a drone this year thinking that there was going to be a big market for it. Boy was I wrong. I had a few people take me up on an introductory package of basically 1-5 images for $125 but that was it. It's been 3 months without a single listing on it. This definitely depends on what type of market you're working in but I can say that I'm shoot mostly middle-class/upper middle class homes (NJ properties ranging from $300-$750k) so I would think there would be some interest. I've never had the need to advertise so I don't. I'm hoping that's the reason why I'm not getting the work but word of mouth has always traveled quite well for me in the past. Emails and flyers will be going out soon and hopefully this will change things. I would love to start paying off my $1,500 drone that's collecting dust in my office!

  5. The Nail in the coffin for this fad will be when the brokers/agents find out that they could be held liable for anything that happens with these toys. Even if they are not found liable, they will have spent a pretty dime on lawyers....

    There will be a market for those very high end properties where the agents are doing it just as much for their exposure as the properties. The latest "music video" RE marketing piece that is all the rage, will ultimately be of more value to the agent/broker's business than the sell of that property.

  6. I fly mine on a pretty regular basis without an exemption. My clients love it. A lot of the properties I shoot have very nice views and nice lots. I think that getting a pilot license to do this is ridiculous. And if the cops ever come say anything I would just say I'm not being paid for it.(a cool cop told me to say that if I were ever questioned) But I follow the rules and fly responsibly. I even spent the extra money on my Inspire 1 for the dual operator feature. If I'm doing video, I always have a dedicated pilot and I control the camera. Until they come take it from me, I'll continue flying, and when more reasonable requirements come out, I'll definitely get the proper credentials. Till then, I'm not turning down the money.

  7. Unless I hit an unexpected windfall, for tax planning purposes deferring a drone until next year as current year focusing on video - both skill development and equipment acquisition. By then, should have more definition from the FAA. While the Ronin-m I just picked up (SWEET!) is around the same cost as a drone, it has far more utility throughout a video. With a drone, 20 seconds of film...max, otherwise it is like a bee buzzing the house. I had a client, unbeknownst to me, purchase a drone flight of the same property (1/4 acre lakefront) and had 3 minutes of flight, no interior video. Suspect that is what you are going to run into with the hobbyist selling video. Mark is right as it is for high end listings, but even today, I can find $1M+ listings that have one photo and/or obvious amateur photography which as a Realtor, I actively go after the listing when appropriate. Likewise, I would have no problem true video (not Ken Burns effect mp4 video) with drone sequences on a $200K home that was my listing. Salivating as I type this as it puts pressure raising the bar and creating a competitive advantage on the lower end.

    While can't find it now, in my research say a discussion where a side component was an adhoc discussion the 333 exemption was the surprising suggestion not to seek it and simply fly in the safe manner as defined by the FAA and as Orlando RE Photo noted above. Interesting rationale that if granted the exemption, then subject to all FAA regs above and beyond "safe flight." Of course, if the FAA creates rules without shortcuts through the administrative rule making procedure then that rationale may go out the window. Then you would presumably need to be licensed, register the aircraft as current require in the 333 application, etc. I use to be a private pilot, so the written wouldn't be difficult for me, but passing the physical might be an issue.

    That brings up another scenario that no one has addressed but illustrated by a recent viral video where a recreational operator was flying a drone that a lady took exception to and began beating him up. Her story to police differed from the facts as they looked at the iPhone video he took and they arrested her for assault. Don't know if they have thought about this, but thinking of it as a pilot, what if was a commercial drone operator with stiffened FAA rules requiring licensing, registered aircraft, and (rumored) filing a flight plan, might you be talking about not necessarily assault, but federal hijacking laws even for simple interference of pilot in control of a licensed aircraft. OUCH!

  8. I'm not sure what the market will be for aerials in the Palm Springs area... but I bought an Inspire 1 with two Remote controllers, two iPad2's, eight batteries, a GoProfessional case that allows the drone to travel WITH the camera on, sun shades, ... then, because my Inspire 1 crashed and I needed to send it back to DJI for repairs, and DJI told me it was six to eight weeks turn-around, and if I bug them about the status it will start the time all over again, I bought another Inspire 1 as a backup. DJI is the worst on customer service but I love the Inspire 1. I think they are used to dealing with hobbyists and not commercial users. Anyway, what I'm doing is offering free aerials (3 to 7 images) with any full property shoot for July and August... this is our slow season... so it allows other to experience the benefits of aerials and lets me gain experience with flying. At the moment I am only doing stills... only shot one property with video.

  9. I do wonder if the market for drone photography will fade somewhat for the following reasons:

    1) Many homes are being shot in this way that actually do NOT benefit from it. Do I need to see the roof with A/C systems, and do I need to see your neighbor's property? I think much of the demand is from its new and shiny nature. Super high properties that afford incredible views and are perched on dramatic hillsides are a sensible application. However, examples I've seen that really add value are either SUPER high end (and can cost up to $5K each to produce). I can't help but wonder if this will be eclipsed by 3D tours like Matterport. That has tangible benefits if the home is right. Drones just seem like such a 'bolt on' product.

    The one thing that I wish I had it for was low altitude shots. Essentially pole photography without the hassle of a pole. Particularly helpful when the house you are shooting is on a hill above the road and the terrain makes finding a suitable position otherwise impossible. That said, the liability, and the propensity of these things to occasionally fly away have me shying away for now. I truly believe it's only a matter of time before a major accident happens and gets the attention of both legislators and those who are hiring or performing this type of work commercially without the quasi-required exemptions.

  10. This is missing the point: the threat to photographers is not the FAA. It's their insurance company as soon as some poor soul flies the drone into little Cindy Lou Hoo on the playground; OR into the Audi in the neighbor's driveway; OR into a condo building down the street. THEN their insurance company will void the policy ("you're using this for commercial purposes? Shocked, just shocked! We cannot cover this. It is against FAA regulations"). At that point little Cindy Lou Hoo's trial lawyer will own your business or your entire net worth. Bet your bottom dollar the brokerage will prove you're an independent contractor who they have NO control over and you will be left to defend yourself alone.

  11. What prevents me from seeking an exemption is all of the photographers using drones without an exemption. As the poll shows, many are using drones without having an exemption. I sure don't want to spend the money to operate legally and try to compete with the guys that don't. If/when the FAA starts to take action against rogue operators it will make getting an exemption worthwhile.

  12. This is very interesting!

    I actually have my FAA commercial pilots license and doing real estate photos and videos. After the new drone law passed, fines were also implemented and technically it is illegal to fly commercially if you don't have your part 107 license.

    I urge people to follow the law but if the laws are not backed up, a lot of people will disregard it and fly drones without a license, until they get fined.

    It is also peace of mind that you won't be slapped with a fine for flying illegally.

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