Drones are coming to real estate. Indeed, they’re here now, you can easily find examples of their use online, and that raises some questions: Are they safe? What about privacy? Do you want someone’s drone flying over your nicely-fenced backyard?
Drones are hot — 43 states introduced some type of drone legislation in 2013 according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Florida says the police can have drones while Maryland has coughed up $500,000 for a state-wide unmanned aerial system and North Dakota has set aside $1 million for such a system.
The catch is that when it comes to real estate the skies are not so clear: the Federal Aviation Administration says the commercial use of drones to photograph homes is neither a hobby nor an example of recreation. Commercial drone usage is banned, says the FAA, including “a Realtor using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he is trying to sell and using the photos in the property’s real estate listing” and “a person photographing a property or event and selling the photos to someone else.”
The FAA claims that the commercial use of drones is an activity it regulates but today it does not actually have regulations in place. Alternatively, the use of drones as a hobby is perfectly fine.
Drones and Real Estate
Writing in Forbes, Gregory S. McNeal explains that “while the use of drones for commercial purposes is prohibited by the FAA, the use of images or video from drones is not prohibited by the agency which only has jurisdiction over air space, not over the use of footage.”
And, indeed, a number of subpoenas to real estate-related drone users have already been reported.
The government says that “taking photographs with a model aircraft for personal use” is seen as a “hobby” or “recreation” if the plane weighs less than 55 pounds. Apparently the government believes that it’s perfectly fine to take aerial photos of a neighbor frolicking in the nude in what used to be the privacy of their fenced backyard as long as you don’t sell the photos.
So, to sum up, if a real estate agent uses an aerial photo of a home taken from a 4,000 pound satellite flying 25,000 miles above the earth that’s okay. A photo taken from a kid’s model airplane 200 feet above the ground is a no-no if the picture is used in commerce but just dandy if the photo is for funsies. A drone photo of Mrs. Klegelblurm perfecting her tan is fine if reviewed by government workers in the name of national security. If you think that doesn’t happen just see Citizens’ Racy Photos Shared Among NSA Workers, Snowden Says.
Drones and Privacy
Commercial usage is inevitable and will be allowed, slowly at first and then applications will become wider and wider as the government okays delivery drones, survey drones, traffic drones, environmental impact drones, drones to check crops, census drones, listing drones, zoning enforcement drones, etc.
So just listen for that buzz above your home. It’s the sound of new technologies changing your life as well as another way to kiss traditional notions of privacy goodbye. As Phil Ochs told us, you can hear it if you try….