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Everyone Is Doing What They Want With Real Estate Videography Drones

In: ,
Published: 27/12/2013
By: larry

NYTimesSeveral Readers pointed out the Dec 23rd article in on I think this is a noteworthy article for several reasons:

  • It's focus is specifically on shooting real estate with small UAVs. There are lots of articles on drones in general, this is one of the few that is reporting specifically on UAV use in shooting real estate in the US. It points out that many real estate broker are involved in use of small UAVs for marketing listings... yes, we've seen that from the videos that I've featured here on PFRE.
  • Most real estate videographers in the US are using UAVs but not talking about it publically. However, Matthew Leone, Director of web marketing at Halstead Property is on-camera on the front page of promoting Halstead Property's use of drone videography in marketing multi-million dollar homes. He doesn't seem concerned by being shutdown by the FAA. He apparently thinks he's operating with in the law.
  • Leone and others interviewed in this article appear to be claiming that as long as they say below 400 feet and only fly over private property that they are following FAA guidelines. Where did they come up with this idea? As I read the FAA guide lines it has nothing to do with operating over private property.
  • The FAA was specifically asked to comment on the article, and the FAA response was: " F.A.A. spokesman said that the model airplane guidelines did not apply to commercial drones and that drone operators needed special approval from the agency. The spokesman added that no real estate agency had been granted permission."

One can only infer from all this that no one in the real estate industry is paying much attention to the FAA guidelines about flying commercial UAVs and the FAA is effectively not paying any attention to the fact that hundreds and thousands of people are ignoring the FAA's guidelines. So far only Trappy has been busted, and it's not clear to whether he was fined for being reckless or because he was flying for hire, or perhaps both.



21 comments on “Everyone Is Doing What They Want With Real Estate Videography Drones”

  1. I think your comments are completely accurate. I would not be surprised to see this go the way of the CB radio and the FCC.

  2. Is the fine $10,000? I think I heard that somewhere. These guys probably look at it the same as the Do Not Call List. If its so lucrative and profitable then the fine is worth it if they ever get spanked by the FAA. The successful agents will dial numbers all day long with no regard to the DNCL because that's how they make a living, and they make so much they look at the fines as a cost of doing business.....then others get on TV and blab about it!!!!! I look to see a fine for Halstead soon...oh yea and then there is the whole "competitor turn you in thing"..duh!

  3. Here's an important legal take on the subject: "Leave the Flying to the Pros: Real Estate Sales Associates Likely Not Insured for Drone Accidents" by Joel Rothman,

  4. @Jonathan - That hasn's been settled legally yet. The court case that I site FAA v Pirker ( is challenging that there are any enforceable laws for model airplanes under 400 feet.

    @Jason - $10,000 is what the only instance the FAA fining anyone for this is... out of thousands of people doing this and it is being challenged in court, so this area is still a legal grey area.

  5. These guys are making crazy assumptions about regulations from the FAA. And we all know where that leads.... Here's one example:

    "Mark Segal, president of SkyPan International, which took the photos for Alchemy, said his company did not seek F.A.A. approval at the time because the agency did not have a system for managing commercial drones below 400 feet. He added that most developers believed that once they purchased air rights over future development sites, “view images created by robots, drones or blimps should be allowed without F.A.A. involvement as long as these airships stay directly over the property footprint and follow certain safety procedures.”"

    Whatever happened to critical thinking??!! Siiiiiiiigh...

  6. Talk about throwing caution to the wind, but he's right, there is no law against aerial real-estate photography. AP is proving to be a good value added service and a great way to differentiate one listing from another, why wouldn't honest hardworking people want to provide this sort of service?

    The FAA is simply getting in the way of a lot of other service providers, such as insurance and MR manufacturers, entering this market and making it safer and more manageable.

    Critical thinking flew out the window when the FAA got involved. How can the FAA claim that the only way to operate legally is with a permit but then not provide the mechanism for getting a permit and then come out and make the statement that they wouldn't issue the permits even if you could apply for them?

    Good for this guy taking this on and shedding some light on this hypocrisy.

  7. Here is Inman's top prediction for 2014 - 1. A drone accident masterminded by a maverick real estate agent will make national news. Any ideas :)?

  8. The FAA regs won't stop many operators. Clients figuring out that they are legally exposed to serious liability might do the trick. I retired my large hexacopter as it became clear that my corporate clients were actively discussing telling their agents that they were not permitting any RC aerial work. The major agencies don't need to shoulder the risk.

    I'll stick to traditional aerial video and photos for a couple years, and come back to RC platforms after the safety systems are better developed, and the regs are in place. At least by then, we'll all be able to pick up liability insurance that will cover the activity.

  9. @Dan - Yes, I think you are right... there is substantial risk in doing UAV photography now because the legality is so unclear. Many have ask what to do for insurance. Although I've not done any research in this area yet, it seems unlikely that any insurer is going to cover an activity like this where the legality is not clear... perhaps Loyds of London, they will insure anything.

  10. In Oz you can only get insurance if you are legally qualified - NO ONE will even attempt to insure you without the appropriate operators certificate and controllers certificate with CASA approval - (Civil Aviation Safety Authority )

    still there are loads of cowboys out there flying in the inner city, over highways and crowded spaces.

    I expect a few unsavoury news stories to emerge soon about drones after some young kids seemingly innocent Xmas UAV causes some serious damage to someone somewhere soon -

  11. @Fred Light There is a statement from Hill & Usher that they have posted:

    "Please be aware that the Aerial Pak program was not designed to pay or indemnify you
    for fines or sanctions levied against you by government authorities or the FAA. Any such
    expenses or fines are excluded from the policy. Furthermore, our decision to continue coverage
    is in no way an endorsement to you or your company to operate illegally."

    Every insurance policy I have and have ever had always excludes coverage if one is doing something illegal. The use of drones is currently in the realm of 18% gray and one might find that the insurance they thought would cover them has just been wasted money. The comment I saw posted about "scratching the Bentley" is scary. The cost to repair a scratch on an expensive car could be a couple of thousand dollars. The same goes for refinishing an antique cabinet. Having good reliable insurance will be sine qua non for operators. Informed agents and brokers will ask for insurance certificates and permits. I didn't spend a lot of time on the U&H website, but I didn't see any links to the fine print.

    The process of getting the FAA up to speed might be hastened if a RC or photographers association (or both) draft some sample regulations and work with the FAA to craft the guidelines that will be necessary. I know that some people don't want any regulations at all or only a very few vague regulations that have broad interpretation. Having a well defined set of operational rules will greatly benefit the industry. Professional operators would be in a better business position if there are some standards one must meet before they can operate commercially such as passing practical and theory exams, taking classes and carrying a minimum level of qualified insurance. If the AP industry gets started with a bunch of maverick operators that cause accidents, the market will be hesitant to use any UAV services. A certain barrier to entering the market with UAV photography will aid in keeping it profitable. If there aren't any formal regulations and there are serious accidents that get into the mainstream news, politicians will push through poorly crafted and overly restrictive laws to be seen to be "doing something". It's almost a guarantee that local municipalities will enact the most restrictive measures if an accident occurs in their jurisdiction. The easiest measure is an outright ban in the city. Much of this thinking I picked up from Burt Rutan as he developed Space Ship One to compete in the Ansari X-Prize. The concept of somebody lobbying to get laws in place seemed very strange until I heard some of his arguments and had the chance to talk with him. Burt's fear was that other small companies will want to get involved in commercial space flight and without a regulatory framework in place, one accident might set the industry back a few decades and penalize those that are doing it right and not cutting corners.

    Did you know that you must have a special (non-government) license to use the course on the Bonneville salt flats? The licenses are classed by maximum speed one may go. You can't just show up and drive really fast. One guess why.

  12. FYI: Annual premium $1442.00

    General Liability Coverage: $2,000,000
    Products/ Complete Operations: $1,000,000
    Peronsal/ Advertising Injury EXCLUDED
    Each Occurrence $1,000,000
    Fire Legal $100,00
    Medical Payments $5,0000
    Property Damage Deductible $500

  13. @Fred - Thanks for the details!

    @Ken - the Aerial Pak disclaimer makes sense, they will insure against liability without making any judgement about whether or not you are operating legally and of course they don't pay fines.

    So it appears that UAV insurance IS available and at least Hill & Usher is not interested in determining if the insured is operating legally.

  14. @Fred Light, Are those premiums including UAV coverage? I've seen general liability insurance for photographers as low as $600/year without UAV coverage ($1million policy). E&O addons for $150. Mine runs $780/year with E&O and vehicle coverage. Limits and deductibles are about the same as you have posted IIRC except I am covered for personal injury and advertising.

  15. @Ken, there is a process that the FAA must follow to create a rule that would then be submitted to congress to become law, it called the NPRM. Until the FAA completes that process there is no law. Its not incumbent on us or insurance companies to prove that we are following the law, the onus is on the FAA to prove that we aren't and they have been largely unsuccessful because there is no law against shooting AP with RC's. That's why insurance companies can and do provide insurance.

    Its funny how bureaucracies are born. I have worked with the X-Prize organization, great group of people but the other side of that argument is that regulation also quickly restricts competition which was the whole point of the X-Prize in the first place. In the coarse of human endeavor people will get hurt or even die, its inevitable and no amount of government regulation will change that.

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