Brokerage Giant Warns Agents Against Drones

NRT—the nation’s largest residential real estate brokerage company, which includes Coldwell Banker—is advising its members to stop flying drones to capture listings, and also stop using drone footage or photography to market properties.

NRT’s warning to all of its agents comes after the Federal Aviation Administration released its interpretation of a guideline that has been causing confusion about whether real estate use of model aircrafts constitutes recreational or hobby use, which is permitted under FAA guidelines. In the interpretation, FAA clarified its stance when it comes to real estate use of drone photography:

“A REALTOR® using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he (or she) is trying to sell and using the photos in the property’s real estate listing does not constitute hobby or recreational use,” the FAA’s interpretation read. The FAA also said that a “person photographing a property or event and selling the photos to someone else” does not qualify for the hobby or recreation exemption. As such, this applies to photographers hired by agents or brokers to shoot aerial photos of a property.

As the cost of drones comes down, real estate professionals have been testing using them to capture aerial views of their listings. However, Gregory S. McNeal, a professor specializing in law and public policy, argued in a commentary on the issue at that the FAA has jurisdiction over airspace, not the footage used by real estate professionals. The issue of drone use has been a confusing one for the real estate community, as it awaits more clarity from FAA, which is to release rules on drones next year.

Still, attorneys with Coldwell Banker Preferred issued a letter to members urging them to stay away from drones completely in their business. The letter states: “The FAA continues to take an aggressive stance regarding the use of drones specifically for real estate marketing purposes, even indicating that the agency considers the use of drone aircraft by or on behalf of real estate agents to be commercial in nature. The FAA has indicated that it is actively investigating suspected violations, a position that appears to be verified by media reports of the recent subpoena of drone-related records from a New York area real estate company and its photography vendor. … Until the FAA issues clearly-defined rules, our companies in the Northeast and Eastern Seaboard regions will not be procuring drone photography from any vendor, nor will we process and distribute any drone photography provided to the company by an affiliated sales associate.”

The agency is also directing its agents not to use images derived from drones and not to seek out drone photography services from an independent contractor, lest they be held responsible for fines, penalties, costs, and fees related to the use of that photography. Real estate agents could face a $10,000 fine from the FAA for using drones for commercial purposes.

The National Association of REALTORS® has advised its members not to use drones until the FAA clarifies its regulations. FAA’s interpretation is open for public comment through July 25.

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