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FAA Fining Realtors® $11,000 who hire unlicensed drone pilots

OK, you’re a real estate agent and you need killer aerial footage of your your new listing to move it fast. The licensed and insured drone pilots you’ve found online are too expensive for your taste. You’re tempted to to hire the high school kid down the street with a drone . You figure what’s the harm in helping out a young entrepreneur and saving a few bucks in the process? Apparently plenty from legal, liability, and safety standpoints, not to mention tens of thousands of dollars in federal fines.

Thinking about buying a drone and doing it yourself? Unless you’re willing to dole out a lot of money and commit to a minimum of 40 hours of actual flight training and studying to pass the quite difficult Part 107 Remote Pilot Airman Knowledge Test, you might want to think again…The FAA has stated that unlicensed drone pilots can face fines starting at $1,100 per occurrence and those who knowingly hire unlicensed pilots can face fines starting at $11,000. You read that correctly: the PERSON WHO KNOWINGLY HIRES AN UNCERTIFICATED REMOTE PILOT FOR A COMMERCIAL OPERATION CAN BE FINED AS MUCH AS 10 X MORE THAN THE PILOT. Licensed drone pilot Paul Charbonnet of Louisiana received an email from the FAA’s UAS Help Team specifically addressing this very issue. In other words, if you are an unlicensed drone pilot and you’re flying over one of your own listings you can be fined twice, adding up to $12,100 in fines.

Having been in real estate since 2006, both as a licensed sales agent and today as a broker, I can tell you the competition can be downright cutthroat. I’ve seen agents getting hauled into Realtor Board hearings from an “anonymous” complaint because someone thinks the agent may have bent a rule. If you’re shooting your own aerials, or using unlicensed pilots, you’re likely posting these ill-gotten images all over the web and the MLS. It doesn’t take long for a competitor to drop a dime and get the word out. You may not only face federal fines, but sanctions from the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), who have stressed over and over in recent years to ONLY use professional licensed drone pilots.

Ask yourself a few simple questions:

1. Do you (or your unlicensed pilot) know how to handle an in-flight emergency? Of course these never happen, right? (drone fly-aways, broken connection link, emergency landing at a site not of your choosing?)

2. Do you or your unlicensed pilot carry $1 Million in aviation liability insurance? (Of course you don't!). Your E & O Policy will likely NOT cover a drone accident that strikes a person or causes more than $500 in damage.

3. Do you have the TIME to fly and shoot your own aerials, download and edit the images and video, and deliver them in a professional format (with royalty free music, voice-overs, and titles) to be uploaded to Zillow, and your MLS?

and lastly..

4. How would you feel if an unlicensed "agent" was selling homes in your area? Selling without a license that YOU worked so very hard for and pay into Realtor® dues and MLS fees to maintain? I'd gather you'd feel quite perturbed - and rightfully so!

Respect and professionalism is a two-way street. You will get better results from a licensed drone pilot. According to MLS statistics, homes with aerial images sold 68 percent faster than homes with standard images. Video tours that incorporate drone footage are also a great way to make your property stand out and to attract new listings. According to the National Association of REALTORS, 73 percent of homeowners say that they are more likely to list with a real estate agent who uses video to market their home; however, only 9 percent of agents create listing videos. An Australian real estate group reported seeing a 403% increase in traffic for listings that included video as compared to listings without.

Lastly, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing the licensed drone pilot in command is the final authority to the safe outcome of a commercial UAS operation. And your wallet won’t be at least $11,000 lighter.

Joelle J. Coughlin is a Licensed Associate Broker in New York and the Administrative Assistant/Social Media manager for ALL ISLAND AERIAL in Long Island, NY.

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