Money & Business

A Real Headache: Realtors' Excitement for Drones Outpaces Regulators'

By / Jul 9, 2014 (iStock Editorial/Thinkstock)

The real estate industry has jumped on drones as a way to promote properties for sale. But with the FAA slow to move on regulating the devices, the National Association of Realtors wants its members to slow their roll.

Movie studios, farmers, and journalists can’t wait to use drones, even if the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) isn’t ready to give the go-ahead.

And now there’s another category of professionals to add to that list of drone enthusiasts: real estate brokers.

In recent months, the remote-controlled aircraft with cameras have found a home among Realtors, as drones make it easy to take photos and create dynamic, high-flying videos of a property. But this has created a problem for trade groups in the industry, which find themselves having to balance their members’ excitement for the technology with the slow-moving mechanisms of federal law.

While the FAA has allowed some initial tests of the unmanned aircraft, the agency has been slow to come up with rules for their commercial use, prompting some to jump the gun and use the technology commercially even though that use isn’t currently legal.

And now real estate firms are facing legal action. Last week, in an investigation into how the technology is being deployed in selling property, the FAA subpoenaed several large real estate companies that use drones around New York City. And, according to Mashable, FAA officials recently clarified the rules on drones to specifically ban their use for real estate purposes.

Where Associations Stand

At the moment, the National Association of Realtors is discouraging its members from using drones until regulations are in place, citing a 2007 FAA ban. In January, Realtor magazine talked with NAR senior regulatory policy representative Russell Riggs about the issue, shooting a video with him:

“You can just walk into a Radio Shack today and buy a drone if you’re a hobbyist and want to go fly it around in the field,” Riggs said. “But as a real estate professional, you have to be very careful.”

NAR did, however, sign a letter, along with many other industry groups, asking the FAA to provide interim guidance before it releases official rules on unmanned aerial vehicles, expected later this year. The lead organization on that letter, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), suggests that further delays could do more harm than good for regulatory efforts.

“The concern here is that this industry is starting to form itself, and the longer the FAA waits to write the rules, the more difficult it’s going to be to get the horse back in the barn,” AUVSI’s Ben Gielow told The Baltimore Sun.

But according to Iowa Association of Realtors attorney Paul McLaughlin, the FAA is currently in a hard place. Earlier this year the agency lost a court case involving enthusiast Raphael Pirker, in which an administrative law judge found that the agency had no jurisdiction to regulate drones. The FAA appealed to the National Transportation Safety Board earlier this month.

“The only risk right now is a cease-and-desist [order] from the FAA, and I would think those would be few and far between,” McLaughlin told The Des Moines Register.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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