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So, you want to use a drone for real estate purposes. Your competitor is doing it and their videos are coming out in 4K high definition footage and are being posted across their social media channels and websites. So why can’t you do the same? Well, you can, but the answer is a bit more complicated than that. Let’s take an in-depth look at this topic so you can have a better understanding of what’s going on in the world of drones.

Commercial drone use is currently banned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States. However, the FAA does allow the use of drones for recreation. The FAA specifically defines hobby or recreation use as “Taking photographs with a model aircraft for personal use.” On the other hand, they define commercial use as “A realtor using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he is trying to sell and using the photos in the property’s real estate listing.” That’s pretty black and white. So is your competitor who’s posting aerial footage of his newest property breaking the law? If they don’t have an exemption from the FAA, then yes, they are.

They might be breaking the law, but the FAA isn’t running around writing citations for every real estate company using a drone to film a property. They just don’t have the resources for that. Your competition might be breaking FAA regulations, but a lot of companies are, but those companies could face heavy consequences including large fines. If you want to use drones to take videos or pictures of your properties, then you’ll need to be granted permission by obtaining an FAA Section 333 Exemption.

The FAA isn’t sitting around denying businesses the Section 333 Exemption either. They’re actually approving a surprising number of exemptions due to pressure coming from all types of businesses, not just real estate companies. As of July 2015, the FAA has officially approved 840+ exemptions , allowing companies to use drones for commercial use. The process isn’t quick, as you can expect when working with a government agency like the FAA, but it has been sped up a lot since last year. Currently, it only takes two to three months to be approved.

Real estate companies across the nation are getting approved, so if you’re interested, look into applying. If you plan on flying anything that isn’t custom built (like the DJI Phantom 3, Inspire 1 or Parrot BeBop), you should apply online. Adam at Aeroworks Productions, LLC created a step-by-step video with instructions on how to apply. It’s extremely comprehensive and should provide all the details you need. You can watch the video here.

Exemptions are made on a per-case basis and someone flying for agricultural purposes (in the middle of a field) has a higher likelihood of being approved because there aren’t as many considerable risks. If you’re planning on flying something that’s larger than a consumer drone or are filming in a heavily populated area, you might have more success if you hire a law firm to help you. Most firms are charging a flat fee of around $5000 per application.

If you’re not willing or able to invest the time and money needed to get an exemption, don’t worry. Michael Whitaker, the FAA Deputy Administrator, discussed lessening their restrictions with a House Oversight Committee and stated “the rule will be in place within the year, hopefully before June 17, 2016.” Whitaker is, of course, referring to the rules concerning commercial drones. The FAA is notoriously slow on finalizing these types of decisions, so don’t hold your breath. If you’re serious about getting in the game, try  filing for an exemption and you could be capturing the footage you want within two months. Either way, fly safe and fly smart.