LEWISBURG — The owners of a drone that began flying the skies over Greenbrier County last month come in peace, although they do plan to eventually target local real estate.
Paul and Richard Grist of Lewisburg’s Foxfire Realty are testing the commercial possibilities of using the camera-mounted, four-propeller, remote-controlled helicopter to provide panoramic aerial views of the farms and country estates they are marketing on behalf of their clients.
“It’s kind of exciting to be the first ones in this area to implement this technology,” Richard Grist said. “You can see how this will bring about a lot of change in real estate marketing.”
The drone, named Chopper Foxfire, carries a high-resolution Go-Pro camera capable of taking high-definition video and still photos.
“It can stay up for about 20 minutes per battery charge,” Richard Grist said. “The control pad shows how much power is left.”
The drone can hover in place, pan 360 degrees and use an on-board GPS system to automatically return home if its pilot loses sight of it. Its camera can zoom in all directions, including up and down.
“Whatever the camera is seeing from the air, we view in real time on our on-ground tablet,” said the aircraft’s pilot, Jonathan Collins of Lewisburg.
The drone has a range of about one mile and flies at altitudes up to 200 feet above the ground.
Although the Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act signed last year by President Obama allows the commercial use of drones by real estate professionals, regulations for commercial use are not expected to be in place until September of next year. Until those regulations are implemented, the National Association of Realtors advises drone-owning real estate professionals to proceed with caution, which Grist and his son, Paul, an associate broker with Foxfire, plan to do.
“Until the Federal Aviation Administration releases its commercial guidelines, we will use Chopper Foxfire experimentally and outside our commercial marketing,” Paul Grist said. “Our first priorities include safety, privacy, security and working within state and federal guidelines.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the government severely limits private applications of drone use,” Richard Grist said. “Privacy will be the biggest issue, and that’s something we take very seriously.”
The Grists plan to make their drone available to cover community events, such as parades and festivals, to provide sponsoring organizations and news outlets with promotional photos and video footage.
“Offering a bird’s-eye view to a local event is just one of the ways we will be able to use our new Chopper Firefox as we experiment with commercial marketing,” Paul Grist said.
So far, local reaction to the drone has been mostly positive, Richard Grist said.
“We’ve had some interesting feedback, with much of it coming from people who are excited by the new technology,” he said. “But we’ve also heard from some people who have told us that the drone won’t be coming back if it’s seen flying over their property. I think, if we use the drone judiciously and take people’s privacy concerns seriously, we can make it work as a real estate marketing tool. You can get shots of property that you couldn’t otherwise get without a helicopter.”
Richard Grist said experimental use of the drone has shown that cattle aren’t big fans of drone and its fan-like flight noise. “You can spook livestock with it, if you’re not careful,” he said.
So far, the Grists have invested about $4,000 in the drone, and are confident the remote-controlled aircraft will more than pay for itself over time.
Meanwhile, “It’s really cool to see it fly and see what it photographs” Richard Grist said.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at email@example.com or 304-348-5169.