In the commercial real estate business, brokers who take to the skies have enjoyed an advantage over those who are earthbound. 


First, there were aerial photos of a development area, then Google Inc. came out with Web-based mapping functions that could put prospective buyers on the street in front of or behind a property or give them a view from a more global perspective.


But those views represent snapshots in time. West Des Moines-based NAI Optimum believes it is heads above its competitors, at least for the short term, by offering frequently updated videos that are filmed by a drone outfitted with a high-definition camera.


Since January, President Kurt Mumm and crew at the commercial brokerage have offered clients the ability to use video to stay abreast of progress in developments or provide a glimpse to potential buyers of traffic flowing in and out and around a commercial space.


"Everybody we show it to says it's the coolest thing and wants us to fly by their site or building," Mumm said. "It's a great way to get a different look at a piece of property."


NAI Optimum is ahead of other commercial brokerages in the use of drones, but Mumm doubts that he will be ahead for long.


"These will be commonplace in next 12 months," he said. "For now, we're telling people that we crashed our first one and we were well into the use of our second one before anyone else in the market thought of getting one."'


Mumm's model costs about $1,300. Not long after acquiring the drone, which looks like a four-legged bug and sounds something like a swarm of flies, Mumm was demonstrating it to his son when a warning light flashed. Mumm decided it was a false alarm. He was wrong. The drone lost altitude, splashed into the Des Moines River and floated away.


"It's a long, deep sigh when you see something going wrong and there is nothing you can do about it," he said.


The idea of using drones as a commercial real estate service came from RoboFlight Systems LLC, a Denver-based firm that found an office in Johnston with the help of NAI Optimum.


Matt Lundberg, an NAI Optimum vice president, worked with the company, which collects data from GPS-referenced imagery that is gathered by drones, planes and satellites and provides it to a range of industries, including agriculture, livestock, environmental, wildlife, utilities and insurance.


Mumm, a fan of remote-controlled helicopters and "that kind of stuff," was easily convinced that drones would be useful in the commercial real estate business.


The drone has been in use marketing Colby Investments' Midtown Office Park in West Des Moines and a planned development along Jordan Creek Parkway in West Des Moines. The city of Waukee keeps track of construction progress on Grand Prairie Parkway via updates from the NAI Optimum drone. Click here for NAI Optimum's views from the drone.


"We've sent those videos to some of these development firms to give them an idea of the lay of the land," said Dan Dutcher, Waukee's community and economic development director. In addition to progress on Grand Prairie Parkway, the videos provide a view of the city's 1,500-acre Kettlestone development area that will straddle the roadway.


So far as seeking approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for use of the drone, Mumm said that by flying under an altitude of 400 feet and steering clear of restricted air space, he does not need official clearance from the agency.


"It's nice to find a legitimate use for an expensive hobby," Mumm said