Remote Sensing Technology: Drones Take Real Estate to New Heights
(L-R) Spear; Shlaes; McDow; Crosby
Speakers: Benjamin Crosby, Broker/Owner, Crosby & Associates, Inc.
Caleb McDow, Sales Associate, Crosby & Associates, Inc.
Stephanie Spear, Regulatory Policy Representative for Commercial Real Estate, National Association of Realtors
Moderator: Noah Shlaes, CRE, Senior Managing Director, Global Corporate Services, Newmark Grubb Knight Frank
As new technology enters our lives, the heady promise of possibilities must ultimately be counterbalanced by considered responses to emerging problems. The effort to achieve an equilibrium between the remarkable new opportunities afforded by drones and sensible regulations protecting public safety was explored during a panel discussion moderated by Noah Shlaes, CRE, at the 2015 Counselors Convention in Charlotte.
The promise side of the equation starts with expanding the characterization of a drone from a remote controlled flying machine to an aerial device for communicating visual information about a property over distance, in real time.
Benjamin Crosby and Caleb McDow of Crosby and Associates detailed the advantages of drone technology in acquiring visual information to help analyze and sell large agricultural tracts. For example, while Google Earth can provide photographs of a property, the imagery will be dated. For some purposes this is adequate, but for other buyers timely information matters. In the case of a citrus grove or forest land, for example, up-to-date, detailed imagery can be a tool to assess crop health, among other things.
Drones are significantly more portable, less expensive and less time-consuming to operate compared to traditional aircraft. And in contrast to planes, they can safely function at lower altitudes while hovering to focus on particular details. The acquired video can also be streamed to a potential buyer anywhere in the world, in real time, allowing for the possibility of addressing client questions literally on the fly.
Crosby also highlighted the advantages of using a drone to provide detailed video examination of the exteriors of large buildings, such as high rises, that would otherwise be very difficult to access. Shlaes pointed out that the benefit of touring building interiors by drone must be counterbalanced by the increased flying skill necessary, because the built-in GPS controls are rendered less effective indoors.
Stephanie Spear, the Commercial Regulatory Policy Representative of the National Association of Realtors offered some intriguing examples illustrating the broad potential range of imaginative applications. For instance, visual information can come in the form of geothermal scans to determine the energy efficiency of buildings. Drones also provide immediate access to otherwise inaccessible locations, meaning they can expediently generate information for assessment and intervention in disaster situations, as was done in the 2015 Nepal earthquake. Other mapping and surveying applications were mentioned, such as examining tidal erosion after storms like Hurricane Sandy, where high-resolution images down to 2 cm. can be tagged with GPS data, reducing study time frames from a year to two days.
As for anticipated developments, examples included using drones to construct a rope bridge; to deliver a defibrillator; to carry a robot to a problematic location; to assess damage for insurance purposes; to provide programmed inspections, e.g., of oil or agricultural facilities; and to deliver surveillance information.
The cautions side of the equation involves not putting people in harm’s way. The FAA has policies in place, with the expected issuance of new rules in early 2016. Hobbyists are less restricted, but the defaults limit commercial use of drones to those who have acquired an exemption. To date, about 1,800 have been approved.
Even then, procedures for commercial users are in place. Some examples: The drone must remain in the line of sight. One may not fly within 500 feet of non-participants, which limits applications like creating videos of malls or beaches when the intent is to capture the vibrancy of activity. There are also size limitations for the vehicle. More detailed information about the FAA rules, safety considerations, and the exemption process is available on the CRE site under “Drones.”
Rules notwithstanding, issues of knowledge and expertise are pertinent. Both Crosby and McDow are licensed pilots. With all that in mind, Spear suggested that for Real Estate purposes, one should consider hiring a professional to manage the drone. This provides the freedom to focus on the marketing goals behind the technology.
Written by: Maribel Koella, CRE
NAI Knoxville, Knoxville, Tennessee