FAA cracks down on drone use by realtors

Windsor Genova – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

New York, NY, United States (4E) – Property brokers have taken the battle for customers to the air as early as six years ago when Halstead Property used drones to take aerial photos for real estate agents selling high-rise spaces. No sooner, the creative strategy of the firm with 1,000 sales and rental agents pushing prime retail offices in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut prompted Alchemy Properties, Times Equities and others to scramble their own unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to take on the competition.

Taking real estate marketing literally to new heights is SkyPan International, which touts its proprietary aerial technology, a.k.a. drones, as key to faster-selling projects. As SkyPan can show exactly the view from any floor of a building before it’s built, it’s no wonder high-end realtors are hiring SkyPan’s flying cameras to get customers sign a contract with them.

Drone photography or filming is certainly one reason why privately held Alchemy is a billion-dollar seller of multifamily and condominium residences in New York City. Its stunning views of the Empire State Building helped pre-sell the $5 million to $13 million units at 35XV, a 24-storey residential condominium on 35 West 15th Street in Manhattan to be completed before year’s end. And because the method is cheaper than hiring a photographer and a plane for an aerial shot—one drone can only cost $1,500.

But the aerial shooting also drew the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and residents crying their privacy were violated by the intrusive remote-controlled camera. FAA has issued subpoenas to Halstead demanding how it is using drones as such aircraft cannot be used for commercial purposes without a permit for safety reasons. The agency also warned realtors of fines if they don’t stop using drones. The maximum fine for careless or reckless flying of a drone is $10,000.

“To date, we have not authorized any commercial real estate UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] operations,” said FAA spokesman Les Dorr, according to New York Post.

The drone ban elicited protest from SkyPan owner Mark Segal. Segal believes that FAA should not regulate drones flying over a property and following certain safety procedures. He also argued that the agency has yet to issue rules for small UAS under 55 pounds. Halstead is aware of the safety issues so it has its own guidelines for drone operation. For example, the drone’s flight is confined to the private property being photographed or filmed and it height is limited to 30 feet.

But some NYC realtors agree with the FAA. Emphasizing the danger of drones, Leonard Steinberg, president of Urban Compass, called it a scary flying debris. His company uses a balloon rigged with a camera to do aerial photography. Andrew Saunders, president of Saunders & Associates, a broker for residential Hamptons properties, described drones as frightening and invasive.

Realtors and brokers can still make dramatic photos or videos of their listings the traditional way instead of using drones. Minnesota real estate agent Seth Nelson contracted Minneapolis real estate photographer SpaceCrafting to produce “Date Night,” a video on a $2 million unit at Edgewater, a luxury condominium overlooking Lake Calhoun in Uptown. The lifestyle-focused video posted on YouTube and website of Nelson’s firm, Lakes Sotheby’s International Realty, has become viral last month.

Virtual tours can also take the place of drones. It is actually the norm in real estate marketing with sites like Nestbuilder Agent (Nestbuilder.com) walking prospects of some 350,000 agents to their listings remotely. The virtual tours are created by the agents themselves through the website using a program developed by RealBiz Media (OTC: RBIZ) based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Nestbuilder cascades the listings of subscribers to social media, including Facebook and YouTube. The videos, programmed in HMTL 5, can be viewed in all kinds of mobile devices.

RealBiz also provides agents with micro video applications that creates microsites for each property listing. Realtors and agents can also create marketing materials such as professional flyers, ePostcards, QRCodes and sellers reports through the platform.

In Russia, a pizzeria in the city of Syktyvkar had the creativity of delivering orders via drone making it the first to do so. The DoDo Pizza drone can airdrop six pizzas in one and half hours. The drone delivery is not only fulfilling its promised 30-minute serving time but attracting more customers who want to get their orders in style. CopterExpress provided the drone that can carry up to 11 pounds and fly at 25 miles per hour. But DoDo Pizza is now facing a $6,000 fine from aviation authorities for breaking airspace rules. So real estate agents should take the cue.

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