Well over 40 percent of builders continue to use aerial drones, according to special questions on the March 2019 survey for the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). The first of these questions asks the single-family builders in the HMI panel if they have ever used drones in their businesses, including any cases where they may have hired third parties to operate them. Not everyone can fly a drone legally, even if the drone is relatively small, as use is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In particular, the FAA’s regulations require that the drone be registered, and that the operator be certified and follow certain rules while flying it.
Overall, 44 percent of builders reported using drones in 2019, little changed from the 46 percent in 2018, but considerably higher than the 22 percent who reported using drones the first time NAHB asked the question in 2016.
Builder size considers to matter when it comes to drone use. In fact, use has become even more skewed toward the larger builders recently. In the latest survey, a below-average although still significant 31 percent of builders with fewer than 6 units started in 2018 reported using drones. As in previous iterations of the survey, the share rises systematically with builder size, to 40 percent among builders with 6 to 24 starts, 55 percent among those with 25 to 99 starts, and three-fourths of those with 100 or more homes started in 2018.
With so many builders, especially the larger ones, using aerial drones, it makes sense to investigate how the drones are being used. Although some builders reported using them for a variety of purposes in the March 2019 survey, aerial photographs for promotional materials were by far the most common—reported by 84 percent of the builders, compared to under 30 percent for any of the other listed possibilities.