The use of aerial photography in real estate marketing has been a popular tactic at least since Levitt & Sons built and sold 17,400 homes in New York’s Levittown. What’s different now is that the photography is less costly and more precise thanks to drones, despite attempts by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to restrict their commercial use until regulations are in place. Once the rules are set, the use of drones in construction likely will extend well beyond photography.
Drones (also called unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs) have put aerial photography in reach for more builders and developers. “The cost is $15,000 for a helicopter versus under $1,000 for me,” says Luke Pierzina, founder of Arizona-based Aerial Raiders, which uses small UAVs to photograph real estate in the Phoenix area and does nearly 80 percent of its business with realtors and developers. In New York, SkyCamUsa secures about one-third of its business from photographing homes, half of which are new construction, and some of which is to conduct inspections for public works. Similarly, California-based private builder The New Home Co. has used UAV photography to market presale multifamily properties in communities, including one outside Newport Beach and another in the San Francisco market.
The growth in the use of UAVs is occurring despite a muddled regulatory environment. In December, the FAA designated six UAV testing sites across the U.S. to inform regulations for their commercial use. In March, however, a federal judge ruled that the FAA could not fine a UAV operator for filming an advertisement, protecting their current use with few limitations. “That federal judge is a hero to all of us who wish to use UAVs as a tool,” says Christopher Mayer, who aerially photographs communities in California for The New Home Co.
The employment of UAVs in real estate development is not necessarily confined to photography. Depending on the FAA’s regulations, drones could become common on building sites. There are some in the industry who believe the use of drones will expand to include security, remote site monitoring, materials transport and delivery, and perhaps even construction itself. In an article by content editor Randy Nelson, the real estate site Movoto went so far as to estimate that it would take 160 UAVs an hour to deliver the materials necessary to construct the average 2,500-square-foot home.
“Fully assembling a home using drones is probably more than a decade away, but I suspect that even within a few years we’ll see cargo drones delivering building materials to jobsites, while smaller drones carry them around and move modular prefabricated pieces into place,” Nelson says.