Commercial realtors in Sarasota and Manatee are a happy bunch these days. Commercial properties have appreciated significantly in the last few years and buyers are coming from all over the country. Still, even in a booming market, commercial deals take patience-often years of cultivating relationships-and the stakes, especially when a long-waited, multimillion-dollar deal goes bad, can be high.
About 277 commercial realtors are licensed in Sarasota and Manatee counties, and only those with financial knowledge, tenacity and creativity make it to the top. We asked real estate firms to provide the names of their top producers, along with sales volume (based on the purchase price of the properties they sold or the value of leasing agreements) and their top deal for the year ending July 1, 2004. To be included, the realtor must have made $20 million or more in that 12-month period. Then we asked those top commercial guns to divulge their secrets and market tips.
Most were surprisingly candid, although a few chose not to reveal their sales figures. That's why two big names in local real estate, Ian Black of Ian Black Real Estate and John Harshman of Harshman & Company, Inc. are not on our list. (Black, for example, leased 34,000 square feet in Five Point Plaza to VenVest for approximately $13 million this year, has expanded to larger offices and says he's had his best year in real estate in four decades.)
What do these top commercial producers know that we don't? Read and learn.
Lee De Lieto, Michael Saunders & Company
When Lee De Lieto became a realtor in 1973, he sold one house and decided never again. "Too emotional," he says about residential buyers and sellers. "Commercial is all bottom line." De Lieto, who also studies Italian, reads biographies, sits on community boards, works out every day, and is restoring a 1910 Sears kit home, says he owes his success partly to entrepreneurial parents, sales training at Xerox and, he jokes, "a good dry martini."
Sales volume: $30,865,541
Year's top deal: $7.5-million sale of the former 27,000-square-foot Jacobson's store on St. Armands Circle to Casto Lifestyle Properties and private investors.
Secret: "I do a lot of cold calling."
Market tip: "I recommend North Trail acquisition for commercial or mixed use development, and Englewood and North Port because of value, pricing and opportunities for residential development."
Jag Grewal and Michele Fuller, Coldwell Banker Commercial
Australian-born engineer Jag Grewal moved to the United States six years ago and began investing in commercial properties out West. A chance meeting with longtime Sarasota developer Gil Waters convinced him to take the plunge in Southwest Florida real estate in 2001. Fuller ran a small boutique hotel in Martha's Vineyard, opened restaurants, worked in the wine industry and invested in commercial property before she headed to Sarasota, met Grewal and became his real estate partner Grewal confesses to a "desperation" when he started in Florida. "It was enthusiasm," says the more diplomatic Fuller.
Sales volume: $21 million
Year's top deal: $6.8 million. Sold 2.3 acres on north Longboat Key to a residential developer who will build six homes.
Secret: "Numbers. In commercial real estate, an investor can tell right away if you don't understand the numbers," says Grewal.
Market tip: "The local commercial market will stay strong. Look at Naples. We're still immature compared to Naples," Says Grewal.
Doug Kremer, Re/Max Properties Commercial
Former Chicago-area residential real estate broker Doug Kremer turned into a self-described "dirt salesman" when he moved to Florida and started selling large tracts of land to residential developers. These days, he fields calls from developers all over North America. It's not always easy to establish relationships with longtime ranchers or farmers who tends to be wise about property values and leery of outsiders, but Kremer is persistent. His latest deal took seven years.
Sales volume: $24.9 million
Year's top deal: $8.9 million. Sold 289 acres of farmland adjacent to Lakewood Ranch to a developer.
Secret: "A lot of people get into this for the short term. You can't. You have to develop a clientele. Personal referral is the name of the game."
Market prediction: "Baby boomers are going to keep us busy. Best markets for residential land will be Palmetto, Englewood and Punta Gorda."
Brian Kennelly, Osprey Land Management
Brian Kennelly grew up in the business of commercial real estate, first changing lightbulbs for the properties his father, a Miami real estate broker, managed, then getting a degree in real estate from Florida State University. After experience as a commercial appraiser and as a homebuilder outside of Chicago, Kennelly came back to Florida six years ago, specializing in leasing. "You could see the opportunity even at that time," he says. "The market has exceeded my expectations."
Leasing volume: $28,166,000
Year's top deal: $11-million lease with Republic Bank in a downtown St. Petersburg office building.
Secret: "We retain our existing clients, making sure their operation is taken care of. We lease no more space than they need so they don't have a burden to bear."
Market tip: "Continued growth on the I-75 corridor between Lakewood Ranch and Bee Ridge will support new office developments. A lot of opportunities in North Port with office retail product."
Diane Lawson, CCIM, Sarasota Commercial Management
Fresh out of high school in Michigan, Diane Lawson landed a job as a receptionist at a Sarasota real estate firm while she attended Manatee Community College to become a computer programmer. Sitting behind a computer all day didn't suit her but commercial real estate's hectic work pace did. Over the last 14 years, Lawson, who specializes in leasing, rose through the ranks, handling about 20 of Sarasota developer Dr. Mark Kauffman's projects since 1990, including pre-leasing 60,000 of Courthouse Centre's 90,000 square feet of commercial space and selling all 19 of its condos.
Sales volume: $22 million
Year's top deal: $3.375-million sale of Mediterranean Plaza on Bay Isles Road on Longboat Key.
Secret: "Keep clients informed and be proactive. Don't wait for calls to come in."
Market tip: "There's a lot of potential for downtown Bradenton. It's where Sarasota was 15 years ago."
Chuck Palmieri, Prudential Palms
A developer in Buffalo, N.Y., until he moved here in 1981, Chuck Palmieri is always looking for listings. For example, recently, after shopping at a Scotty's hardware store, he noticed there were never any cars in the parking lot. "How can they stay alive?" he wondered. He called the owner up, and not only sold that store on Tamiami Trail, but also the Bee Ridge Scotty's and he has the Scotty's listing on School Avenue. Yes, his calls could get rejected, he admits, but they might also say, "Why don't you come and see us?"
Sales volume: $22,667,000
Year's top deal: $3.3 million sale of Trail Scotty's
Secret: "I call on businesses that aren't doing well."
Market tip: "Everyone's trying to buy properties that are already rented. Take some risks and use your own expertise [to get a property listed]. You'll get a better deal that way."
Barry Seidel, American Property Group, 923-0535 ext 302
When Barry Seidel left the restaurant business in Philadelphia and Atlantic City 18 years ago, Tamiami Trail properties from Marina Jack to Sarasota Square Mall were renting for $8 a foot. No longer. "I just did a deal for $29 a foot on South Trail," he says. "This area has changed dramatically." Yes, he says, he liked the old, sleepy Sarasota, "but there's no place like Sarasota. Every day I stop in my tracks and tell myself how lucky I am."
Sales volume: $40 million (estimated)
Year's top deal: $8-million sale of the 53,000-square-foot office building at the corner of Siesta Drive and U.S. 41 (the new home of Fleming's Prime Steakhouse).
Secret: "I don't care if I'm in Philadelphia, California or anywhere in the county, I can be reached. I'm a fanatic about it."
Market tip: "Downtown will rival St. Armands. North Trail will be a good investment. Osprey and Nokomis are sleepers, and people will start to discover them."
Tony Veldkamp, Michael Saunders & Company, The Commercial Group,
Tony Veldkamp says commercial land sales, his specialty, are not driven by image advertising like residential sales are. It's more about driving up and down the road, looking for opportunities. Once he finds a piece of property that has potential he makes contact with the owner over and over again. Veldkamp is closing on a piece of property in January 2005 that he's had listed since 1999. "I'm not looking for the short deal," he says.
Sales volume: $22,074,666
Year's top deal: $16.5-million sale of the 930-acre Harrison Ranch on Hwy. 301 east of I-75 to Pulte Homes.
Secret: "Understanding the zoning and approval process. I attend government meetings and speak on behalf of my clients."
Market tip: "There's a shortage of land, so we'll continue to see things torn down to make way for new projects. North Trail between downtown and University Parkway will be hot as downtown heads north. Also Palmetto, Ellenton and North Port will continue to be strong."
Carl Wise, CCIM, Preferred Commercial, Inc.
When Carl Wise's children were young, they used to complain that they would never learn to find their way home because Wise was always driving around looking at properties. "I never came home the same way twice," he says. Wise, who's been a top producer for 22 years, says these days, far more than retirees flock to Manatee and Sarasota: "All kinds of people have ideas and need a place to house them, but there's a significant lack of industrially zoned land."
Sales volume: $23,956,000
Year's top deal: $3,150,000 sale of the 2-plus acres at Ringling Boulevard and Osprey Avenue to developer Piero Rivolta for Rivo at Ringling.
Secret: "I understand the time value of money."
Market tip: North Manatee County is really south Hillsborough and Pinellas. The residential growth in that area will propel commercial and industrial development.