Brand EditorialEPMEPM: Technology & Social

A game of drones: Sharon Fox-Slater

The use of drones in real estate is on the rise – but there are a few insurance matters agents need to consider, says Sharon Fox-Slater of EBM’s RentCover.

It wasn’t long ago that drones were developed only for military purposes. Today, remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are mainstream and flocks can be seen flying over local parks and beaches every weekend.But it’s not only enthusiastic families taking to the skies; real estate agents have been quick to adopt the technology.

When the first commercial drones came on the scene, early adopter agents hired professional drone operators to produce impressive flyovers and fly-throughs to help sell property. Dramatic camera drone photography and video tours took online listings to a new level.

Calling in the pros is still the best way to get impressive footage with all the bells and whistles, like 3D maps, graphic overlays, commentary and music. However, if an agent is engaging a commercial drone operator, they should be properly licensed/qualified, experienced, aware of the regulations and local requirements, and adequately insured (public liability is a must).

In 2016, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) relaxed regulations around commercial drone use which has meant that agents (or their contractors) have been able to operate certain types of drones themselves.

Today it is easy for an agent to produce cost-effective imagery using drones piloted under the ‘excluded’ category. This applies to any RPAS device under 2kg and flown for commercial reasons, subject to a number of conditions such as only flying during the day, notifying CASA beforehand, flying less than 120m above ground level and not within 30m of people or 5.5km of controlled airspace.

‘Commercial usage’ refers to use other than for sport or recreation, so would include all the uses an agent would have for flying a drone. Anyone who flies a commercial drone not in the ‘excluded’ category (for example, weighing more than 2kg), still requires a UAV Operator’s Certificate and Remote Pilot Licence.

“WE HAVE LIFT-OFF”

Currently the most popular real estate use for drones is in marketing property. Just a few years ago, the only way to capture quality aerial imagery was to hire a photographer using a helicopter or light aircraft, making it cost-prohibitive for all but the most exclusive listings.

According to a report from QBE, one in 50 drones crash.

Today, aerial photography and video is adding an edge to property sales and marketing, with agents using drones to offer potential buyers or tenants new angles on properties and the surrounding areas to better tell the ‘lifestyle’ story. Footage showcasing and highlighting major selling points like landscaping, outdoor features or vast acreage can make it easier to sell or lease a property.

The features of a home can also be highlighted very quickly with a quality virtual tour rather than still photographs and trying to describe it all in lengthy text. Capturing imagery, often overlayed with distances and so on, can also give substance to claims that the property is ‘close to schools, shops, parks, public transport, playgrounds and medical centres…’.

There is also a growing use of drones to conduct inspections. Drones can get a close-up look at aspects of a property that may otherwise be inaccessible or expensive to survey. Sending a drone to inspect a roof, chimney, fence line, skylight, high-rise window or balcony, or trees overhanging a home, is often a far safer option too and avoids the significant resources, planning, time and costs required to arrange for the inspections to be conducted manually.

A visual record of the state of a property captured with drone photos and video can help a property manager explain the need for repairs and maintenance.

Commercial drones can also be fitted with tech tools to provide a more thorough inspection. For example, thermal imaging cameras can be fitted to detect insulation problems, roof leaks or even HVAC/air-con problems in the ducts. The use of a hi-def camera can also gather evidence of defects, which can then be analysed by a property manager, building inspector or technical specialist.

A visual record of a property captured with drone photos and video can also help a property manager explain the need for repairs and maintenance to an owner or body corporate. The footage can also be used to document damage from storms or fires to assist with insurance claims.

“HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM”

As with all technology, flying a commercial drone comes with its own set of risks. First and foremost is the risk of accident and third-party liability. Each time a drone is launched into the skies there is a risk of collision or crash. Even a 2kg drone can inflict a lot of damage – and the drone operator or owner will be held legally responsible for damage or injury.

According to a report from QBE, one in 50 drones crash. This equates to one crash occurring for approximately every 2,000 hours of operation. QBE claims data also shows crash rates are doubling every year.

Another factor that drone operators need to take into consideration is privacy. They should check whether they need permission from owners for flying over private property, or council approval for flying over parks and public streets.

Importantly, as drones are used for surveillance or data collection, they are generally fitted with cameras and/or video recorders and sensors, which means they could inadvertently breach privacy laws.

The collection of footage could result in a privacy violation if that footage is used in an ad, broadcast or telecast – and there have been some prime examples of this happening in the real estate industry. A couple of years back, a woman from Mt Martha was snapped sunbaking topless in her backyard by a drone and the picture appeared on the sales board of the million-dollar property next door. With privacy a growing concern, these kinds of breaches could have serious ramifications – financial and reputational – for agents.

THE TAKE-OUT BEFORE TAKE-OFF

If you are going to use drones in your business, you should make sure that you have insurance that specifically covers their use. There are now dedicated RPAS policies available to agents and their contractors to cover the risks unique to drone operation; your insurance broker should be able to point you in the right direction. Armed with the right insurance cover, agents can ‘release the drones’ and take their business to new heights!

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