Go deep

By: 
May. 27, 2016

Football analogies come naturally to David Hitchcock and Clay Taylor, who together, from Polk County, form one of Florida's leading commercial real estate duos with a focus specifically on land.

It makes sense. Hitchcock played defensive tackle for the Florida Gators, and was the co-captain and most valuable player of the 1973 team. Taylor was an assistant football coach at Lakeland High School for a decade, during an era when the team won six state championships and “mythical” national championship twice.

The duo, the Taylor-Hitchcock Land Team, run out of Lakeland-based Coldwell Banker Commercial Saunders Real Estate, has closed nearly $20 million in land deals in each of the last three years. That's in the top 2% of Coldwell Banker land brokers nationwide. It's also high volume for a land-focused duo in the region, where many others run solo-based entities, such as Bill “Dirt Dog” Eshenbaugh and Bruce Erhardt, both based in Tampa.

“David and I both have different roles in getting deals done based on our strengths and weaknesses, where separately it might not have been accomplished,” says Taylor. “We have always felt our team was one plus one equals three.”  

That philosophy led to a big deal last year, when the pair represented the buyer and seller in an $8.2 million deal for a 1,295-acre ranch on Lake Hatchineha in Polk County. Each broker had information regarding the off-market property, with an 11,000-square-foot house on the lake, three other homes, a boathouse and stables.

Taylor brought it to a buyer with whom he was working. The deal fell through, but the pair eventually won the listing and quickly found another buyer, for a deal that did close. The Realtors Land Institute recently awarded the team an Accredited Land Consultant Networking Award for the deal.

On other deals, Taylor, 54, and Hitchcock, 64, aren't shy about playing detective. For example, they once found a property in Manatee County when scouting for other deals. They tracked down the owner. He didn't want to sell that plot, but he owned development land in Naples he was thinking about putting up for sale. The team won that listing, and put a deal together.

Taylor and Hitchcock have 60 active listings. Several are nearing the closing stage. “We have a lot of deals under contract,” says Hitchcock. “We have a lot of good things going.”

The listing-to-closing process can take up to two years, Taylor says. But the biggest challenge the brokers face isn't sales cycle. It's having enough inventory to get into the cycle. The team regularly fields calls from would-be clients seeking plots at least 500 acres. “There are more ranch buyers,” says Hitchcock, “than ranches for sale.”

Land developers are also poking around for new communities to build, says Taylor. The team, for example, has seen heavy interest in Secret Promise, a potential master-planned mixed-use community on an undeveloped 3,747-acre site in Leesburg. The list price for the site, about 85 miles northeast of Tampa and 44 miles outside Orlando, is $95 million.

“The residential builders are buying,” says Taylor. “They are a lot more careful than last time, but they are back.”

Hitchcock and Taylor met through mutual friends. Hitchcock worked in the Florida agribusiness industry for 30 years before he got into real estate in 2005. Taylor was with the Polk County School District for 23 years, where he taught math and later ran the in-school-suspension program. With football, Taylor coached defensive backs for 21 years and was the defensive coordinator for 11 years. Says Taylor: “I loved being there and coaching.”

Seeking a higher income bracket, Taylor got into commercial real estate in 2006. “I didn't know a lot about real estate,” Taylor says. “But I knew how to work hard. So I dove right in.”

Taylor and Hitchcock joined forces in 2008. In casual conversations about the industry, or their love for football, the brokers sometimes finish each other's sentences. The end game for both dealmakers: victory.

“We both know how to compete and compete hard,” Hitchcock says. “We want to win.”

Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon