Realtors weigh in on drone rules
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The nation’s most powerful realtor lobbying firm will participate in talks with the Federal Aviation Administration on the use of drones, a prohibited yet growing tool in the sale of high-end real estate in South Florida.
The National Association of Realtors announced last week it was invited to sit on a newly formed working group focused on regulating drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, and how to integrate them into the ‘‘national airspace system.’’
According to the FAA, drones require special approval in commercial settings, including use by realtors or photographers to make marketing films of Palm Beach mansions or Wellington equestrian estates.
South Florida realtors, however, said they have no plans to put their drone use on hold while rules are puzzled out and have rebelled against their national association’s pleas to end the practice.
‘‘Aerial real estate photography and videography is nothing new,’’ said Brian Saver, a principal with McWilliams Ballard in West Palm Beach who uses video taken from drone flights to market his listings. ‘‘It’s just been done from real helicopters for ages. Where was the outrage there? Drones simply make it more affordable and accessible to more realtors.’’
As a hobbyist, a person can fly a drone without permission and under only a few airport-related restrictions. Professional real estate photographers question the logic of allowing casual drone use but barring them from the burgeoning technology when they are targeting a specific property with permission from the owner.
Many say the demand for drone work, and money to be earned, outweighs the risk of getting a cease and desist order from the FAA.
‘‘From an economic standpoint, we can’t just stand by and let this business pass,’’ Paul Morris, owner of Miami Aerial, told The Palm Beach Post last month. ‘‘My bone of contention is an amateur can go fly when a professional can’t. Who is more apt to have a problem?’’
The FAA is expected to release a proposed rule by the end of the year on the operation of drones weighing 55 pounds or less, and 22 people, including one Arizona realtor, have applied for a legal exemption to rules banning the use of drones for commercial gain.
Congress also asked the FAA to come up with a plan for the safe integration of drone use by Sept. 20, 2015.
Luxury realtor Dana Koch of Corcoran Group Palm Beach said he’s still using old-fashioned helicopters to take aerial shots of his waterfront estates, but is open to using drones and isn’t cowed by the FAA.
Unwieldy balloons attached to string are also used to take aerial photos, but are more susceptible to wind than a drone and more difficult for the photographer to pilot.
‘‘We’re taking pictures of a single-family [home]. It’s not going to cause issues with the FAA in my opinion,’’ Koch said. ‘‘Drones are obviously the wave of the future.’’
The new FAA working group that the National Realtors Association was invited to become a member of will focus on drone use ‘‘beyond the visual line of sight’’ and what immediate and long-term hurdles there may be in using drone technology.
Robb Heering, a Wellington attorney who specializes in federal regulatory law and is a licensed realtor with his own firm, said the FAA’s warnings against commercial use are all bluster.
He doesn’t believe it has any authority to stop realtors from using drones.
He uses a $1,200 drone he bought to create videos for his firm’s real estate listings.
‘‘The FAA is barking loud, but at this point it has no teeth,’’ Herring said. ‘‘The FAA does need to issue regulations, but they need to do it fast because a whole new industry has been birthed by these drones.’’