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Drones: Is there a place for them in real estate?

The invention of the cell phone changed the way people communicate, as did the revolution of the smartphone and tablet. Real estate professionals were able to access data and connect with their clients without needing to be in the office. Technology has continued to influence the real estate industry and business in general as the constant progression allows transactions to be concluded in a far more efficient manner. With technology continually evolving and making an impact on the world, it begs the question: what’s next?

Adrian Goslett, Regional Director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, says that one of the latest technological advancements that could feature in the future of real estate marketing is the drone. “Essentially drones are unmanned aerial crafts that are currently being used in various ways by the military and by people who require aerial video footage. There is also talk that drones are the next step in door-to-door delivery services as well as the postal service,” says Goslett. “A pilot is able to control the drone from the ground and survey an area from the air through a camera mounted on the drone. This will enable the person to record aerial footage that can be used to market a property, for example.”

In terms of the property there are several beneficial uses for drones, such as providing images of the condition of a property’s roof without a ladder or the common ground areas of a development. It can also be used to give the buyer a tour of the neighbourhood or golf course on the estate. “With security a priority for many homeowners, low-flying drones could be used in the future to patrol large areas for trespassers and automatically relay information to a security tower or the police,” says Goslett.

Currently what is possible in terms of the technology and what can be done with drones surpasses what is legislated in South Africa. While they can be flown under certain circumstances, the use of drones is prohibited for any commercial purposes.  The current Civil Aviation Regulations prescribe specific requirements for operating an aircraft in the South African civil airspace, and to date no unmanned aircraft system has been able to comply with these requirements.  However South Africa, much like the rest of the world, has since embarked on the process to enable people to operate drones in the national airspace. As a part of an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), South Africa is actively involved in ICAO Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Group to develop guidance material and standards to guide contracting states in development of their national guidance material and regulations.

Currently, the concern is that unmanned aircraft could be a danger if used by someone with no aviation experience. There is the risk that they could collide with each other or other aircraft. “There is also the issue of privacy, as drones will be able to take video footage of homes without the homeowner’s consent. Laws would have to be put in place to address this and regulate the use of drones to only shoot footage over a property where the homeowner has given written permission,” says Goslett.

He says that once regulations have been set that specifically deal with drones, it is predicted that by around 2020 more than 30 000 small drones will be used for commercial purposes in the countries such the US, a trend that will more than likely follow suit here in South Africa.

“With technology changing the way people live and interact, the evolution of unmanned aircraft could have a positive impact on the real estate sector, provided the correct regulations have been put in place. Used in the right way, drones could be a valuable marketing tool for the real estate professional of the future,” Goslett concludes.


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