Drones fly into focus for commercial real estate

 —  Article by Iain Aitch
drone hovering round building
Image credit: Shutterstock

Whether they’re hovering round difficult to reach parts of a building to inspect storm damage or taking photos for use in glossy brochures, drones are slowly but steadily gaining in prominence within real estate.

In fact, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has predicted that there will be over 7 million drones in the air by 2020, with 19 percent of those being used for real estate and aerial photography purposes.

For now drones are usually seen as a “nice to have” rather than an essential, yet Gina Kacamburas, JLL’s Director of Marketing Technology, believes that drone photography is poised to become a must-have in the real estate industry.

“I would put money on the fact that this is not going away,” says Kacamburas. “It will become a core way of viewing properties or assets. A lot of residential agents have their own drones, and people will come to expect it on the commercial side as well. But in order to do that right, it’s critical to use third-party vendors that are FAA regulated.”

Getting the bird’s eye view

FAA guidelines and the skills needed to efficiently pilot drones are currently the barrier to every realtor having a high-powered drone on call. Any drone over 0.55 pounds must be registered online with the FAA and privacy concerns still abound over their use around buildings. But Kacamburas believes that these concerns will dissipate as people see how useful drones can be.

“When drones were first introduced outside of the private sector, there were virtually no restrictions, and then the pendulum quickly swung to the other side of the spectrum and the FAA put a number of stringent rules in place for “Unmanned Aircraft Systems” (UAS) to address the risks involved,” says Kacamburas. “Naturally, the pendulum will swing back to the other side and we’ll land somewhere in the middle with fewer restrictions in the future, as drones become more mainstream and the FAA, corporations and individual users alike become more comfortable with the technology.”

The rules may change, but for now, that means following the letter to a tee, either by securing the permit and other requirements directly, or working only with vendors that meet all the same requirements.

Erik Vik, Senior Vice President, Engineering Services at JLL is an enthusiastic amateur drone pilot and his use of the technology has given him great insight into their use in the industry, especially in facilities management.

“I fly a DJI Phantom 3, which is a popular mid-range drone,” says Vik. “You can get a 360-degree viewpoint of a building, if you want to look at the roof or difficult to reach spot.”

He believes that drones have huge potential in leasing decisions, as well as in maintenance.

“We had one high tech client looking for office space in Atlanta and they had very sophisticated demands, in terms of what the site contained,” he says. “They were interested in lakes, baseball fields, where staff could go for a little workout. It would have been great to fly a drone up and show off the amenities, as well as show them what the community looks like.”

Troubleshooting from the sky

It’s not just a case of showing a building at its best. “I’ve more recently had a site in the area with a troublesome roof leak,” says Vik. “It’s great that you don’t necessarily have to put on safety equipment, climb up there and look at the issue when you can just fly the drone, view it in real time and take pictures to send to the repair contractor.”

Drones could be used for site management or to plan delivery routes for construction projects, detailing a forthcoming stadium build as an example of how drone photos could aid the logistics of installing thousands of seats. Detroit-based Sachse Construction have already utilized drones in the construction of a Nike store and apartment blocks.

“They will be great for due diligence on property sales, too,” Vik says. “You can see if someone has damaged the roof during equipment installation, for instance, so you may want to ask for a reduction in costs. That’s great for all parties, because it’s disclosure. That’s going to be everywhere.”

While demand may be rising, regulations both in the U.S. and the rest of the world will determine just how widely drones will be used throughout the real estate industry. However, as drone technology advances and prices head downwards, opportunities abound for making buildings easier to maintain and market.

Read more of this article