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Keeping the Neighbors Near a Drone Real Estate Shoot Happy

Published: 13/07/2018

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Now that more and more people understand what drones are, what they do, and what they are capable of, the neighbors around the homes you photograph are becoming more sensitive about having a drone near their home. The video to the right shows a great example of someone who doesn't like a drone near his home.

So you may want to think twice about using a drone to shoot elevated front exterior shots unless it is absolutely necessary. Of course, there are some properties where drones are essential for getting the best shots but for the majority of low-end properties that aren't on acreage or near a waterfront, the old fashioned elevated shooting techniques like poles, giant tripods, and ladders may save aggravating the neighbors.

Another alternative would be to talk to all the neighbors around the property you are going to shoot and let them know when and where you are going to be flying to assure them your intention is not to photograph their home.

Has anyone had trouble with this kind of thing?

Larry Lohrman

13 comments on “Keeping the Neighbors Near a Drone Real Estate Shoot Happy”

  1. I know I sound like a spokesperson for poles, but I made the choice 2 years ago to go with Pole Pixie (goes up 23' and triggered from my phone) and I have never had a crazy person as they can clearly see where I am aiming it. On super windy days I can still go up part way and get some aerial. The only times I wish I had a drone is for big spread-out lots with multiple acres, but my aerial takes me only 5 minutes start to finish and then I can concentrate on the interior!

  2. Use a small drone, and plan your flight. Get up in elevation fast where jobody can hear it. If you must, shoot the comps that are closer to the ground last. If you shootmjust ine or two angles, launch right below where you will shoot, and you will be done in 3 minutes.

    Do all that right there and 85% of your problems go away. Whip out a behemoth of a drone because "the image quality is so much better", and show it to the neighborhood kids, and yeah, you're going to have problems.

  3. I use a drone on almost every shoot (for video).... so I'm using it 4-6 times a day. The 'conflict' is less about using a drone and more about WHY I'm shooting a house. I do not feel it is my place to tell neighbors that someone is selling their home (sometimes I shoot in the summer for a winter sale so it's very much delayed).

    They can clearly see I'm taking PHOTOS, but they want to know WHY as they are very nosey. Even though I am not shooting THEIR house or THEM.

    THAT is what aggravates people... even though Mr. Clueless only needs to look at the big logo on the back of my shirt that I wear everyday, or my license plate which clearly says REAL ESTATE VIDEO AND PHOTOGRAPHY.

    Last spring in a matter of 5 days I had 4 people call the police, and one dude physically confronted me. Yelling, pushing me, he even grabbed my drone (I grabbed it too... a little wishbone action there). I invited him to call the police, but he just was more interested in yelling and swearing at me and getting other neighbors onto the scene. I even volunteered to call the cops if he didn't. It was bizarre. He was taking pictures of my car, of me... Unhinged for sure.

    Having said that, and again, I use a drone 3-4 times a day usually, I generally have NO issues. In fact, I have more issues with me taking photos with my CAMERA than I do with the drone! I was in police blotters a half dozen times before drones were even invented. Cameras scare people too. (maybe it shoots bullets too?)

    Curiosity mostly. More people than you would think don't even care.. it may as well be a squirrel.....

  4. I'm not using a drone, but I thought notifying owners of adjacent properties was part of the FAA rules. Or was that just a proposal before they finalized the regulations?

  5. Just now got a drone, but never dealt with too many people being mean about me taking photos of any kind. Most people just get out of the way or make jokes about keeping them out of the shots, and I joke back with them.

    But then, most houses I shoot already have signs in front of them, and some neighborhoods have multiple homes for sale with different realtors so I imagine with the rise in professional photography that many neighbors have seen photographers doing our thing. Most of them probably pay no attention, when they see a camera I think they just write it off. I have never once been in a confrontation with a neighbor or had the police called on me (or even a threat of calling the police on me).

    Now, besides being in class D airspace inside an MOA, I have some neighbors who are hyper-vigilant because our homes are on a street mostly secluded from the main road so anyone driving by they don't recognize is instantly being watched (they are all retired and have little else to do). I imagine the second I take the drone out with proper notification and authorization they'd be all over it. So until I get my part 107 I'll have to go elsewhere and find class G. I don't know what it is about drones that make some people go bonkers, but they don't care about your permission or your right to be there. They think their misconstrued privacy rights trump you.

    I've heard of some real estate photographers who have their own signs with their logos on it saying a real estate shoot is in progress and exactly what they will be doing, call a number with questions or whatever. That seems like a good idea but as Fred Light pointed out, without a sign already in the yard saying the home is for sale, not really our place to tell neighbors why exactly I'm there so it is certainly a bit of a conundrum.

  6. When asked either by a neighbor or just a watcher I tell them I have tried to get close to my own windows a look in. It just isn't like the movies, you can't see anything because of glass glare and it's brighter outside. Besides, your ugly and nobody wants to watch you anyway, except maybe the ugly police and homeland security.

  7. Lots of experience using drones, going back to 2011 before they went mainstream. A few recommendations: launch the drone from the backyard or a relatively private area if possible. When operating the drone, stay out of site, I usually stand on the side of the house so that I'm out of view in the footage and so that neighbors don't see me. Be quick about your business, get the drone up, get your shots, land, and move on. Shoot the drone footage last, after the ground shoots are done, so that you can breakdown and leave as soon as you are done; shooting the inside after a drone session can leave the door open for an over-zealous neighbor to come knocking on the door. I usually assemble and breakdown the equipment from the trunk of my car, where it's relatively concealed. In the event anyone asks what's going on, I let them know that I'm a photographer hired to capture images of the listing only, I'm licensed by the FAA with legal clearance to complete my job, and that I'll be respectful and work quick while in their neighborhood. In the past 7 years, I've had maybe 2-3 incidents where someone was displeased about my presence, and literally hundreds of positive interactions where people were just generally curious or excited to see a drone in action. Lastly, be smart about your environment and don't be afraid to decline using a drone if the conditions seem difficult or suspect.

  8. @Jim Gross - we also use a pole for aerial shots. We rigged up a boom pole by adding another 4 ft of length so we're at 16.5 ft which is high enough to get nice aerials. As long as the house is either on flat ground or slightly lower than where you are standing, they come out really nice. If the house is up on a grade then pole aerials don't work as well unless you get fairly close. It's a juggling act no matter how you approach it. But, we feel more comfortable shooting pole aerials as no one bothers you.

    We hired a drone pilot twice in the past year to shoot for us and although he did a good job it wasn't cost effective. We've been toying with the idea of buying a mini-drone but after reading about all the problems shooters have I'm not so sure we want to go there. Besides, most of the houses we shoot are in developments so the pole aerials work fine.

  9. Ah yes. The furious neighbor. I shoot most of my still shoots using both ground based and drone shots. And most of those still shoots include shooting video both on ground and aerial. So no way can I shoot my shots in 3 minutes.

    But I think the best way to deal with unset neighbors is to make sure they don't get upset in the first place. After having the cops called on me last summer for backing up over the fence line of a 130 acre property and the accusation was trespassing and dealing with a cop who knew nothing of FAA rules, we had an amicable finish with both the home owner and the cop learning a lot. And not only each state but each county and each community have their own regulations which may or may not trample all over the FAA rules and guide lines.

    So now I have an aerial property release. A larger one that also deals with post sale use of the photos since Zillow and crowd never remove the property photos so I do't want the following owner coming after me to take down photos I have no control over and a very short "Aerial Property Waiver" for the immediate neighbors. I have had to up my price for drone shooting since it takes longer now when I have to add in a visit to the neighbors to get them to sign the waiver. But what I have found is that no one so far has objected. What they appreciate is the civility and thought of asking their permission first, alerting them to the type of work being done and that I will do everything NOT to include them or much of their property in the shots. But there is only so much you can do since many properties are long and narrow and some even pie shaped so inevitably you get some in. And I explain that.

    What I find more often than not is that they are fascinated and come out when I am shooting just to watch not realizing that if they do, they will be in the shots. So more time taken to explain that to them. Great waste of battery fuel time!

    But with all the yahoos out there invading people's personal space, I actually have sympathy for home owners. That cop said if it was his home, he would get out his shot gun and blow my drone out of the sky. When I mentioned that he could be arrested for willful destruction of private property, he simmered down and actually admitted that that was true.

    We also discussed the aspect of trespassing. I do with governments would actually address this issue. All my research suggests that trespassing is only a ground level activity. Flying over property has not been nailed down since helicopters, aircraft, hang gliders even satellites fly over private property. Without problem. So why are drones any different? There was a ruling about a farmer whose farm was at the end of an Air Force runway since the landing planes bothered his chickens so they would no longer lay eggs. A judge ruled that the planes had to stay at leas 85 feet above the ground over his farm when landing. That has been used to suggest that drones can't fly less than 85' over private property. But this ruling is about fixed wing planes landing and taking off, not about helicopters or drones.

    And that is all I have been able to find.

    But "Invasion of Privacy" becomes a more popular issue. So if you hover at 10 feet over a person sunbathing by the side of their pool, but are not standing on the ground or trespassing in the traditional manner, are you actually invading their privacy. Only if you shoot photos or videos apparently. So the onus then falls on the home owner, family and friends to prove that you were actually invading their privacy and publishing the results. All very complicated legally. Many opinions but so far few actual laws I can find that apply to drones.

    But for RE photography, I don't want anyone in my shots anyways. I do feel that people have a right to privacy whether it is from drones, helicopters or high resolution helicopter cameras, but so far, only drones have been targeted. And I think that is from the paranoia created by the media and a few brain dead non-commercial flyers. But I also think on this new frontier, that we have to pick up the slack caused by the confusion and delay of the lawmakers, and do our best to both educate those around us and give due consideration to the feelings of those whose properties border with the properties we shoot.

    And as far as that video goes, why was the kid flying at a beach with all the people around?

  10. This is a subject I know well.

    I personally have had a handful of incidents in the last year with two being in the same neighbourhood and both very aggressive in nature. One time a guy thought I was filming his daughters in the pool and once I explained he reluctantly calmed down quickly. I think these people have visions of saving the world from the drone flying overhead and they've already decided in their minds that a confrontation is going to take place therefore they are right and the pilot is some pervert with his dick in his hand filming their pool guests.

    The first aggressive approach I had a guy drove up the long driveway on the large acreage I was filming, stopped his truck, jumped out and body slammed me as I was landing the drone. Oh by the way he was foaming at the mouth and spitting as he yelled at me. I landed my drone, explained why I was there (all while he was yelling profanities at me) and then in the end grabbed my phone and said I'm calling the police and we'll let them sort out why it is you're so upset by me filming. That was the end of him because whatever he was so upset about he definitely didn't want to the cops to come and discover it. This is usually the case in rural areas I've found.

    The second aggressive incident happened a couple weeks ago and this one involved discharging a firearm. I was flying over an area where I didn't even see a house and was setting up to fly a pass over the home I was filming when I heard a loud crack. In the back of my mind I thought "was that a gun" and then just in case I started flying away and heard it again and this time I was over the home I was filming. About 15 mins later I landed the drone and heard some guy yelling at the end of a long gated driveway "hey is that your drone we want to talk to you". After rolling my eyes I went and spoke to the young kids about 22 or 23 I'd guess. One acted tough while his side kick just stood there puffing up his chest trying to look tough but failing miserably. A few F bombs were dropped and I remained calm and explained the whole scenario to them at which point they calmed down. Then a truck pulled up very fast and a guy jumps out saying "are you the f**khead that is flying over my property?" as he was running up to the gate that separated us (probably a good thing for my safety at this point). I said Yes I am the f**khead how can I help you" Anyways you can see the way this was going. He spat and foamed at me for a few minutes then I educated him that he does not own a tunnel of air above his house all the way to heaven and the rules state I must stay 150 feet away from his property which I was and then he let me know I'm lucky he didn't hit my drone with his bullet. I asked if he shot at my drone and his response was actually "Yes and that I was lucky he missed it" He then said if I had flown over his neighbours home I would be dead already. This is the point where the cell phone comes out and I start "fake" calling the cops and gave him the statement "let's call the cops and see how they feel about all this and especially about you discharging a firearm inside of city limits". Oh and this isn't the USA where guns are more commonly discharged, we actually strongly enforce this kind of behaviour so I'm sure this guy had a criminal record and the reality of the situation just hit him like a ton of bricks because immediately this little 5 foot pitbull with a 6'5 side kick completely changed his face and tuned into a poodle right in front of me. Started talking about how cool my drone was and how tough it must be for me to make a living with people hating them etc etc.

    Bottom line, drones are here to stay and we shouldn't have to settle for cheap, small quiet drones or taking off and hiding then fleeing the scene like we're committing a crime or it will continue like paying off local cops in Mexico out of fear. If we stop treating it as acceptable it will eventually be reduced.

    It's a valid business and some of us play by the rules. It's like anything new, people hate it. When snowboards first started hitting the slopes a war broke out between skiers and boarders and now it's mainstream and accepted after many altercations I'm sure. Marijuana was illegal and anyone with it was a hard it's legal in Canada and it's going to take time to erase the stigma associated with it. We are the pioneers in our field of real estate marketing and unfortunately have to keep a cool head and do as much preventative work ahead of time which involves preplanning. I now give a google screenshot of the home and put a 300m radius circle over it to my clients and tell them every house in that circle needs to be notified. I also provide them with a PDF pamphlet to hand out to those not home explaining a drone is operating in the area on which day and time and what it's for. If the agent doesn't want to go and do it I explain that most can be contacted by phone from the owner of the property and those that aren't I will take care of it at an extra cost which usually solves me having to go and do it.

    Eventually people will come to accept these swarms of bees flying overhead and understand they are probably filming real estate and until then, push on and educate. It NEVER pays to play tough guy back to these guys as they are already proving their intelligence by the way they're approaching the situation with aggression so try to remain calm like this kid did in the video, but be prepared ahead of time for confrontations like this. Wear a high vis vest and have your radio on your hip even if you're not using it. For some reason to these guys it spells authority and they're less likely to think you're a creep than if you're wearing board shorts and a hoody. Even wear a hard hat as that ups the credibility even more. Tell them you're surveying with your drone for real estate, it sounds better than "filming". Hand them a business card and apologize for disturbing their peace. If you do all of this it puts water on their fire...or at least a green branch.

  11. @Matt - I got a laugh out of those encounters of yours but I'm sure it wasn't funny at the time. I'm not familiar with BC but it sounds a little like upstate PA which can get a little gamey. It's the kind of mentality you describe. As an outsider (Greater Phila area), walking into an upstate diner all the heads turn making you feel like you're on display. You have to tippy-toe around those people and hope they don't threaten you with a shotgun. Speaking of which, I'm glad you made it out safely. These are lessons to be learned in the evolution of the drone and all those who have the courage to fly them. Safe flying!!!

  12. Horror stories like these are the collective primary reason I have no interest in buying a drone. I really don't see how having these conversations with the neighbors is the photographer's responsibility. More time, more paperwork, more hassle in an industry already experiencing downward pressure.

  13. @Matt, I think you have the best approach with putting on a high-vis vest and hard hat. I'd recommend adding a placard on the back of the vest that reads "Survey Pilot" or something like that. Doing all of that and using the drone last on a job might calm down an aggressive neighbor. Going to the extreme, you could string up some yellow warning tape, but that might be overkill. You could go as far as having a patch on the front that reads "City Services". It sounds official without quite crossing the line too far. If you were confronted by somebody while wearing that, they might decide to shift into reverse in a big hurry. Hmmmm, time to check out what I might find on eBay.

    Trying to notify the neighbors sounds good in theory, but takes a bunch of time and you have to distribute the notices a day or so in advance so there is a better chance of people seeing them before you fly. I often don't get that much notice for a job and if I were to rely on the agent to distribute flyers or have people sign a waiver, it would never get done. Personally, I would never sign a waiver in the first place. I'm not legally obligated to and I have no idea if the person asking is who they say they are.

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