Right now, the big thing in real estate photography is drones. I’m often asked if I do drone photography, of which I don’t. Would love to but the expense and regulations of operating a drone, and it being profitable, prohibit me from offering this service.

I had someone call me a few days ago, from out-of-state, requesting drone work for one of their properties in the area. I explained that I didn’t do drone work and why. When he learned the why’s he was floored as he didn’t know that there were so many laws pertaining to commercial drone photography.

Now, if you or I were to use a drone for our own personal use that’s a different story. We can fly and take pictures or video and post it on our Facebook page, Twitter, or use it for any other non-commercial purpose. But once those same images or video are used for any commercial purpose, it’s a whole new ballgame. Using drone images or video to market real estate is a commercial purpose.

Any drone used to take images or video for commercial use requires that the operator of that drone be licensed by the FAA. There’s a test, insurance, and then there’s the part about where one can legally fly the drone.

To obtain a drone (include maintenance and repairs), pay the insurance, and take full responsibility for operating the drone legally would require a fee of several hundred or even thousands of dollars to do one commercial shoot. This cost would prohibit most in our area from using this service.

I’m sure there are legal operators in our area, but a word of caution to anyone hiring a drone operator to take images or video of a property. If the operator is operating illegally (not licensed for commercial work), you (the person hiring) can be fined $11,000 by the FAA for using an unlicensed drone operator for a commercial purpose. The drone operator will be fined $1,100 for illegal operation. Now if the one doing the hiring and the one operating are one in the same, you get both fines. Remember, this is per violation.

We’re not talking a few bucks, this is a federal fine and depending on the violation can be as little as a few hundred dollars to a fine of 5-digits or more. One commercial drone company was fined by the FAA nearly $2 million and settled for $200,000. A hobbyist (recreational operator) in Minnesota was notified by the FAA of potential fines totaling $55,000, even though he provided the drone services for free. Right now, the FAA is reportedly investigating YouTube celebrity Casey Neistat for illegal drone use. If you fly it illegally, they will come.

Some may think that since we’re in a small area compared to the big picture that we’re safe, we can get away with it. But when you post those images or video on the internet, anyone from anywhere can find them, and they will. One day you’ll check your mailbox and find that dreaded nasty letter from the FAA. No one wants that letter.

I’m not trying to discourage drone photography as I think it’s great (personally I think the rules are really off the mark for real estate purposes, but…). Just be sure that when hiring an operator, even if you are the operator, that the operator is licensed, insured, and know the rules. Remember, it’s not just the operator that gets in trouble, it’s also the person that hired them.

Thanks, and talk soon…