Don't Be Afraid of Drones - Aerial Photography is Trending

Real Estate Agent with CO-RE Group, LLC -Real estate sales and services ER100036445

The development and use of UAS's is still at the beginning. Rules will develop around this new technology, but most likely lawmakers will be too slow to keep up with the development.

Real estate was and is one of the first industries to (try) and welcome aerial photography with open arms, though there is insecurity on what is legal and what is not.

Just like with any other innovation, there is a lot of fear that goes along with it - my husband who owns a "drone company" - tries to shed some light onto the subject, after there had been a post in our neighborhood FB page:

(oh, and please ask your questions in the comments, if you have any - I will have him look and answer)

"From my Neighborhood Watch via email: “Everyone, watch out for drones filming houses…this is an invasion of privacy. After a drone was filming a golf course and a neighboring home by two males, two homes were burglarized. Call the police if you see a drone flying around.”

I’m sure the police get these calls around town so perhaps a good time put some context to a drone siting and how NOT to treat it like a shark sighting. Sharks actually DO present a credible threat!

If you’ve ever watched a reputable documentary on sharks you come away with two rather-settling conclusions; first is that a shark is an amazingly-adapted machine, efficient, and almost single-minded in purpose that wants to swim. Second is that shark encounters with people are about as personal as changes in the weather. Most often we look like food to them only to be “Not Food,” to put it in shark-speak. Nothing personal.

Drones…and henceforth we’ll call them more appropriately, Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)…have unfortunately earned a similar reputation to sharks as I read through a number of comments posted on a social media site when one was spotted over our neighborhood. Since we don’t have the equivalent of Discovery Channel’s “Shark-Week” to educate the public (maybe that’s a good thing, eh, Sharkageddon?) I’ll try and provide some context to what you are seeing in the sky.

DCIM100MEDIASo why DO we see them in neighborhoods? Because 1) Colorado doesn’t have a testing site (yet) and 2) UAS-drivers love to fly and test and fly again. As an Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) designer, builder, flyer and occasional crasher, I have this intense desire to see these systems performing all kinds of amazing aerial feats that can one day turn into a capability that serves our needs whether its delivering medical supplies to remote locations or capturing imagery to support disaster recovery efforts. For that you have to fly to test and you have to fly outdoors at some point. The idea of a test facility is a novel concept and there are a few around the country…but not where I live…nor even close.

The fact that a UAS even flies at all is the result of an evolution of sorts, with countless hours of development, trial and error, testing, and the systems continue to evolve as “good ideas” seem to drop from the skies (sorry, bad pun.) The point is to have an appreciation for the science, skill, and ambition that the UAS represents by the people behind it, and not a cold-hearted, robotic, unthinking machine out to get you. Which gets me to my next point, that tethered to a UAS is a person…always.

Most UASs (for discussion I’ll refer to multicopters) are inherently unstable and cannot fly without technology balancing all of the forces required for flight. But they still require a person to “fly” it, which is to say, tell it what to do. Every aspect of its flight happens as a result of input from the “UAS-driver”, keenly aware of what is going on with his craft.

So lets review what allows them Airspaceto fly over your neighborhood…Federal Aviation Advisory (FAA) Advisory Circular 91-57, that’s what! You might own the land but the FAA controls the airspace and the FAA provides nominal guidance at the moment. New, more UAS-specific guidance is currently in review, but not expected until September 2015 at the earliest so in the meantime, amateur UAS-drivers can continue to blaze the skies (under 400 feet as per AC 91-57…which isn’t true either…technically they can fly up to 1200 feet in Class-G (formerly known as Uncontrolled) Airspace.)

I think the real issue here is the camera (that may or may not be mounted…I rarely fly with one unless on a mission).  Generally speaking, flying a UAS with a camera and imaging private property, people and activities whether on public OR private land is NOT, by law, an invasion of privacy (Good article on UAS photography in Seattle), although you may have grounds for legal actions if the UAS is able to photograph you in a place generally accepted as private (inside your house, for example). Otherwise, your house and your property can all be recorded from public vantage points (satellites have already done from space…Google likely did it from the road) and even you can be recorded when you are in a public place (on a sidewalk) or in your backyard which is not generally considered a private location).

While an overhead UAS taking pictures may seem “personal” and invasive (albeit creepy and rude), it’s more like a shark mistaking a wet suited surfer as a seal than a villainous shark out to shut down your beach vacation with a nip to a surfer. Odds are the UAS-driver will never even review the imagery and if they do, today’s cameras, while impressive at some things like stopping fast-moving sports, are terrible for intelligence collection.


The comments I was reading about our local event (the UAS in the neighborhood…which wasn’t mine since it’s in pieces in the lab from a recent crash…sigh) had folks correlating the UAS flyover with recent burglaries and for people to “be on the lookout”, warning them to report when they see


a UAS. This stirs negative perceptions and plays to fears of a surveillance-effort behind the sighting (perhaps it’s hubris that makes us think our property and activities are worthy of another’s interest?) that ultimately creates bad policy and laws that impair progress towards allowing the UASs to serve society.  We need to temper our initial fear

with a more complete understanding and appreciation for what it takes to allow developers keep innovating (and UASs from lawn-darting).

Or…maybe…we are at the beginning of Drone-ageddon?  It will make great TV."


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Comments (50)

Gene Riemenschneider
Home Point Real Estate - Brentwood, CA
Turning Houses into Homes

I think they are a good tool for business and government will attempt to over regulate.  However, I do think people have an expectation of privacy in there own back yard.  Neighbor homes with over looking windows may be an exception.  These planes will no doubt be a tool of peeping toms every where.

Sep 15, 2014 04:21 AM
Nathan Gesner
American West Realty and Management - Cody, WY
Broker / Property Manager

My feeling on the subject is that a majority of opinions are downright misinformed or fear-mongers. The FAA doesn't regulate airspace below 400 feet, though they apparently want to change the rules so they can increase their own authority and reduce our freedom. No surprise there. As for the fear of criminal behavior, I don't know many REALTORS that have a lot of free time to peep through windows. We're typically busy trying to serve our clients and make money! 

Who do you honestly think is more likely to invade your privacy: the REALTOR trying to sell the home next door (or a block away) or the government?

My money is on the latter and they are the ones trying to INCREASE their authority while REDUCING ours!

Sep 15, 2014 06:18 AM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about aerial video or photo operation.  For me, "Drone" is a very negative word, it conjures up a military purpose of spying or worse!  This is not what it is used for.  

My husband has always been on the cutting edge of technology.  We met in college when he was studing Comercial Flight to be a pilot.  This is in his wheel house. He purchased a quadcopter for aerial photos and video in 2013, specifically to enhance listing presentations as a  hobby.  Go to my website and check out examples under Aerial Video.  Rick operates or "pilots" the quadcopter within the FAA regs. and FARs.   There is a disclaimer on each video and the website (  We offer this service to our sellers.  Many homes here in Sedona are better showcased using an aerial perspective.  Rick is working a 3 more aerial videos to post.  You can also go to Sedona Select Properties on FaceBook to see a youtube video on a property in Highland Estates.

As for licensing... It is anyone's guess what will be required.  Currenlty - Ultra-light pilots don't require a license or medical certificate under Part 103 of the FARs.  My guess is that if you want to "charge" for taking aerial video as a business - there may be some training involved with a certification.  BUT, there are thousands and thousands of hobbyists that fly remote controlled planes and helicopters.  They have been doing this for a long time.  I don't see a big change here.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK!  There are a lot of angles to be looked at!

Sep 15, 2014 06:20 AM
Dianne McKenzie
Kachina Mountain Realty - Santa Fe, NM
Marketing properties & cultivating relationships

I think drones are a great marketing tool. With the majority of home buyers searching online for homes prior to contacting a real estate broker, drone videos can show the neighborhoods and the context of the house sighting.

I asked Paul Aitken, from Ride Media in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to discuss the legal issues of using drones in real estate marketing. Paul recently showed a drone demo at a realtors tour in Las Campanas. I was very impressed with his presentation and I am looking forward to using his services in my next real estate listing. This is Paul’s article.  You can read his article at:



Sep 15, 2014 06:24 AM
Wayne L. Brown
Franklin Advantage Inc. - Alpine, CA

Bartley # 29 brought up some excellent points.

As a former enthusiast of flying RC planes and helicopter, I certainly hope that we keep these out of the hands of the "Inexperienced"

While flying RC, we so often saw inexperienced fliers too often crash and burn.

This is too dangerous for many reasons for someone who does not have strict clearance.

Just my opinion.

Sep 15, 2014 06:44 AM
Lyn Sims
Schaumburg, IL
Real Estate Broker Retired

I think this is a great idea & until lately people have been going bonkers about them. I think that you should have a 'contract' or reason to fly & film an area such as a house to sell, etc. I know that the media is afraid of peeping toms with celebrities but those instances are really not the norm.

If I listed an upscale home, I'd have a video done of it.

Sep 15, 2014 07:16 AM
Marcie Sandalow
Marcie Sandalow, Compass 301.758.4894 - Bethesda, MD
Bethesda Chevy Chase DC real estate

So, I hear that drone photography is expensive... I've never looked into it, but I'm intrigued.  What does a typical shoot cost, and how many seconds/minutes of material do you get?  Do the companies that film also provide editing services?  Are there any Active Rain tutorials out there that point out the do's and dont's?  I'd love to learn more.  Great post, Susanna

Sep 15, 2014 09:10 AM
Laura Moore
Coldwell Banker - Granite Bay, CA
Competent ~ Caring ~ Committed

Thank you for the excellent post. I am following with interest the issue of using them for "comercial use". I believe they are essential to marketing certain properties and areas.

Sep 15, 2014 10:20 AM
Sharon Alters
Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty - 904-673-2308 - Fleming Island, FL
Realtor - Homes for Sale Fleming Island FL

Our photographer quit using his drone because of the FAA looking at it closely. I am watching this closely because I loved the aerial shots he was able to get using the drone. Thanks for the heads up about farms and golf courses, etc. 

Sep 15, 2014 01:05 PM
Bartley Wilson
Virtual Pictures Corp. (VPiX) - Monument, CO
VR Software and 360° Solutions

You're welcome.  Training is going to be the key and this is what the FAA we think is headed toward.  Making sure people are trained and licensed to fly these things.

A friend of mine that works in the business, said the insurance companies are already (silently) preparing the underwriting of business policies right now to cover UAV businesses.   Apparrently they see this sector as a new "cash cow," just as many of them do for E & O policies for us REALTORs, too.

Sep 15, 2014 01:22 PM
Sharon Parisi
United Real Estate Dallas - Dallas, TX
Dallas Homes

Susanna, although I like the idea of aerial photography for real estate purposes, the privacy of homeowners is of concern.

Sep 15, 2014 03:23 PM
Susan Harding, HomeStar Video Tours
Portland, OR
Showcasing You and Your Listings, 855-579-6284

Thanks for the post Susanna! A recent positive development for those of us who provide (or want to use) aerial videography. The FAA is now reaching out to the real estate community for feedback.  It has invited NAR to sit at a working group to offer input on drone regulations. I agree with Bartley that the key will be making sure people are trained and eventually, licensed.

Sep 16, 2014 09:24 AM
Susanna Haynie
CO-RE Group, LLC -Real estate sales and services - Colorado Springs, CO
Colorado Springs Realtor GRI CNE MCNE ePro MRP

Susan Harding, HomeStar Video Tours Where does this take place? Can you give me more info ? Thanks

Bartley Wilson You are definitely ahead of the pack with all you do! There is no stopping this - maybe regulating-tops.

Marcie Sandalow I am not sure - I saw Virtuence offering it for $349 I think - Susan Harding, HomeStar Video Tours  can you give Marcie an estimate?



Sep 16, 2014 09:34 AM
Susanna Haynie
CO-RE Group, LLC -Real estate sales and services - Colorado Springs, CO
Colorado Springs Realtor GRI CNE MCNE ePro MRP

Dianne McKenzie What a great post, Dianne - thank you so much for the link! At first it'll be an uphill battle to educate folks that it's "alright" to do the vidoe or aerial shots. Until realtors using those shots are making more $$.

Sheri Sperry - I very much agree with you. "Drone" is a horrible word. I just used it in the headline to add some of that negative feeling. Generally, I hear, quadcopters, hexcopters, multicopters and that seems less threatening and much more "recreational".

Rod Pierson I have forwarded your request to my husband in regards to quadcopters - he builts his own - as they need to meet specifics for precision ag purposes. Of course, he has opinions. :-) I'll get with you as soon as possible.





Sep 16, 2014 09:47 AM
Susan Harding, HomeStar Video Tours
Portland, OR
Showcasing You and Your Listings, 855-579-6284

Sure Susanna. Here's a link to some more (limited) info on the upcoming NAR meeting with the FAA.

Marcie Sandalow  The cost for aerial video can vary quite a bit but most operators we work with charge between $300 - $499 depending on the size of the property and if the agent also wants internal video/photography as well. I'd say $350 is probably the average. It should be enough video for a two to three minute piece. It should also include editing as that's just as important (or perhaps more important) than the shooting. Just let me know if you have any other questions!


Sep 16, 2014 10:03 AM
Rod Pierson

Hi Susan,

Thank you for your response. I am looking forward, building one sounds like it would be up my alley too. I have been a pilot since 1972 so I am well versed in air space requirements for fixed wing aircraft, never even ventured to see what is allowed for RC control planes.

I have many times completed my aerials using my plane and let the agent take the photos, always give me an opportunity to stretch my wings.

Looking forward to the information, thank you again

Sep 16, 2014 10:16 AM
Rod Pierson
Wilson Realty Inc - Redding, CA
Northern California - An Agent you can trust

Hi Susan, 

I am not sure this is posting,  Thank you for your response, I am looking forward, building one sounds like it would be up my alley too.  I have been a pilot since 1972 so I am well versed in air space requirements for fixed wng aircraft, never even ventured to see what is allowed for RC control planes. 

I have many times taking aerials using my plane and many time let agents take the photos, always give me an opportunity to stretch my wings. 

Looking forward to the information, thank you again. 

Sep 16, 2014 10:31 AM
Marcie Sandalow
Marcie Sandalow, Compass 301.758.4894 - Bethesda, MD
Bethesda Chevy Chase DC real estate

Thanks, Susan Harding! I really appreciate your input and look forward to learning more about it. 

Sep 16, 2014 12:10 PM
Sondra Meyer:
EXP Realty, LLC - Corpus Christi, TX
See It. Experience It. Live It.

Hi Sussana!  Your hubby wrote an excellent article about unmanned aerial vehicles.    

I've been wanting to purchase a Quadropro since last December but haven't been able to "reward" myself with one yet.  

This is one of the most informative articles that I've come across.   The comments have been very informative also.  

i just wish that the hobbiest owners of UAVs would use a little bit of common sense.   

By the way, we need to get together for lunch again sometime soon.  



Sep 18, 2014 09:24 AM
Winston Heverly
Winston Realty, Inc. - Atlantis, FL

It is a bit of a treat going back and reading some of Active Rains best archives  like this one. Should be shared again.

Mar 29, 2015 01:10 PM