Drones get above it all for sweeping real estate photos

When you browse through real estate photos, you may notice that more and more of them have aerial photography. This perk was once reserved for only the swankiest of properties, since it's not cheap to hire a plane or helicopter to take up a photographer. But remote controlled drones are making it much easier to include expansive shots of a property in your listing.

While drones can be helpful in showcasing a home, you'll also want to make sure you are using them properly. The devices have raised concerns about privacy, and there are certain rules a drone pilot needs to follow.

In June 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration finalized its rules on the use of drones, or "small unmanned aircraft," for commercial purposes. The National Association of Realtors says anyone using a drone weighing less than 55 pounds for real estate purposes needs to get a remote pilot certificate from the FAA. Anyone applying for this certificate needs to be at least 16 years old, mentally and physically fit enough to safely operate a drone, and capable of reading, writing, and understanding English. They must also pass a test to demonstrate their aeronautical knowledge, and take a refresher test every two years.

In addition, drones can only be operated in certain areas and conditions. They must be flown during daytime hours, although they can also be used during civil twilight if they have appropriate anti-collision lighting. It is illegal to fly drones higher than 400 feet above the ground.

Some real estate agents may be qualified to use a drone. Others may hire a drone pilot for this purpose, but since this comes at a cost the agent may only be willing to take aerial photography of certain properties. In some cases, the seller might be an experienced drone flyer and willing to get a certificate to operate it commercially, although this also requires a $150 fee for the initial test.

Drones can easily provide more visually interesting pictures than a simple shot of a home's façade from the ground level. Nancy Robbers, writing for the real estate site Zillow, says an overhead photo can encompass the entire property. You can also get a general view of the neighborhood as a whole.

For these reasons, drones are often ideal for high-end homes. Thomas Henthorne, a luxury home real estate agent in Greenbrae, Calif., says drone photography is helpful for residences on large lots, since it shows the home in relation to the surrounding area. This can also give a sense of nearby amenities and what a commute might look like.

Photos taken by drones might be helpful for reasons other than marketing a property. Dartdrones, a drone pilot training company based in Jessup, Pa., says drones give you the option to examine parts of the property that are more difficult to inspect. You can get a closer look at areas such as the roof and chimney to see if repairs are necessary; if not, these images can be used to further demonstrate the property's quality.

In addition to still images, drones can take videos during a flight. Henthorne says this footage can be used to put together a video tour of the property, including shots of nearby attractions. The footage lends a cinematic quality to the home tour, and the drone may even be able to swoop through a great room or other large areas of the property.

Anyone using a drone should do so safely. Check to see if the drone may interfere with the flight paths of other aircraft, especially if the property is near an airport. Robbers says drones should also not be flown over stadiums or other places with large groups of people. They should be kept away from children and animals.

The neighbors may be less than pleased to see a drone buzzing past their windows. Let them know when you are planning to take aerial photography of your home, and get permission if you intend to fly over any private property.

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