How to Know if Your Realtor is Using Legal Drone Photos

Back in June I wrote a post about how I passed my FAA Part 107 test, and I’m now making legal drone photos.  Drone photos and video were another service we wanted to begin providing our sellers, but first I needed to be fully certified and obeying the law.  Although studying for the test was some work, it turned out that a lot of what I learned has made me a better and safer drone pilot.

Plus, U.S. law is clear: As of August 29, 2016, a Realtor or photographer must possess a Remote Pilot Certificate before they can legally use a drone to capture aerial photos or video that will be used to market your home.  It doesn’t matter if no money changes hands; the FAA clearly defines real estate photography as a “commercial purpose,” and even uses it as a key example of the difference between commercial and recreational flight.  The same would be true of roof inspectors flying their own drones; the key phrase used by the FAA in these situations is “in furtherance of a business.”

To add further clarity, the FAA actually defines “recreational” and “hobby” use:  “Recreational or hobby UAS use is flying for enjoyment and not for work, business purposes, or for compensation or hire.  In the FAA’s Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, the FAA relied on the ordinary, dictionary definition of these terms. UAS use for hobby is a ‘pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.’  UAS use for recreation is ‘refreshment of strength and spirits after work; a means of refreshment or division.’”  As far as the FAA is concerned, fun is fun and work is work.

So if a Realtor or photographer is about to take aerial photos or videos of your home, make sure they’re doing so legally and safely.  When flying a small UAS for commercial purposes (and that includes anything related to real estate), pilots here in the U.S. are required by law to have their Remote Pilot Certificate with them at all times.  Liability for unauthorized operations can fall on both the pilot and the person who hires the pilot.  The pilot would face a fine of $1,100 per violation, and the “person who causes the operation” could be liable for a fine of up to $11,000.

Repeat violators who still haven’t heard from the FAA shouldn’t relax just yet.  The most recent figures show an average of 151 days between the date of the first violation and the initial notice from the FAA.  That number ranged from 0 to 1,294 days.

So…  How can you be sure your Realtor or their photographer is complying with the law?  Other than asking to see their Remote Pilot Certificate before signing a listing contract, is there any way to check ahead of time?  As a matter of fact there is.

The FAA makes it easy to verify that someone is a licensed drone pilot—and also to verify other pilot or aircraft maintenance certifications.  Just click here to reach the FAA’s Airmen Inquiry Search Page.  (Sorry for the rather dated term that’s not quite gender-neutral.  That’s the official name of the page.)  The answer to your question is just a few clicks away.

Of course, being a licensed drone pilot is just the beginning.  Drone photography is still real photography.  This isn’t a job for your neighbor’s teenager who loves drones, phones, and video games.  It’s a job for a skilled real estate photographer who occasionally uses a camera that flies.  Just as with terrestrial photography, there’s more to this than just buying a camera and clicking a button.

Check out my gallery pages for examples of the stunning images that can make your home stand out from the crowd.  For more still, check out my wife’s blog and website over at www.JeanHedrenRealtor.com.  And for fun drone videos, check out her YouTube channel at Jean Hedren, Your NW Wisconsin Realtor.

About alcambronne

Real estate & architectural photographer. FAA-licensed Part 107 drone pilot. Author of DEERLAND: America’s Hunt for Ecological Balance & the Essence of Wildness.
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