Group establishes vice grip on selling high-end condos
In the grocery world, there is Publix. In financial services, Raymond James. In beverage distribution, Cott.
In luxury real estate in the Tampa Bay area — especially of vertical condos — there is Smith.
The list of projects it has represented is long and storied: Grand Central at Kennedy; One St. Petersburg; 400 Beach Drive; bliss in downtown St. Petersburg; Skypoint in Tampa; The Salvador in St. Petersburg, to name a few.
Equally impressive, of the major residential projects either under construction or poised to begin in downtown Tampa in the coming months — a list that includes Virage at Bayshore, Riverwalk Place, Elevate 61, The Sanctuary and Marina Pointe at Westshore Marina District — Smith & Associates is involved with nearly all of them.
“We consider ourselves stakeholders in a project,” says David Moyer, director of sales in Smith’s three-member developer services division, which was created more than a decade ago.
“So we really become entrenched in the projects we work on — it’s what separates us from other firms,” he adds. “We become, essentially, a second set of eyes for the developer, and we also distinguish ourselves by being really honest. We’ll tell you if something isn’t working out. That allows everyone to be successful.”
Smith also differentiates itself by conducting unflinching market research, both with buyers and its 300 agents in its six offices, to keep close tabs on market trends, conditions and consumer desires.
Just as importantly, it dedicates agents to particular developments to enhance dedication and product knowledge and nuances.
“We typically get involved with projects more than a year before ground breaking,” says Moyer, 36, who runs Smith’s developer services division together with Vice President Dave Traynor and Business Manager Deanna Vesey.
“We meet with their architects, we go over floor plans. Our expertise caters to the client, so that they can develop the best project for the buyer. There’s no other firm in Tampa like that.”
The strategy seems to be working. Last year, Smith generated transactional volume of $1.34 billion and revenue of $37.1 million — a 14% jump from 2016.
“We consider ourselves stakeholders in a project. So we really become entrenched in the projects we work on — it’s what separates us from other firms. We become, essentially, a second set of eyes for the developer, and we also distinguish ourselves by being really honest. We’ll tell you if something isn’t working out. That allows everyone to be successful.” — David Moyer, director of sales, Smith & Associates' developer services division.
“They really understand the luxury market in Tampa,” says Reid Boren, managing partner in Miami-based Two Roads Development, the residential partner together with Feldman Equities Ltd. and Tower Realty Partners in the planned 53-story Riverwalk Place, in downtown Tampa.
“They’re well respected by their peers and buyers alike, which seemed like a good fit for us,” adds Boren, whose firm has retained Smith to market the more than 200 luxury condominiums that will be included in the $200 million project.
“Their firm has made the biggest commitment to luxury new home marketing,” says Jay Tallman, president of Ascentia Development Group, which together with Batson-Cook Development Co. of Atlanta is constructing the Virage at Bayshore, which Smith is marketing.
“And that’s really critical to the success of a project,” says Tallman. “Others do it, but Smith’s decision to establish a separate division within the company has really distinguished them. They’ve done an excellent job for us, and we’re really fortunate to have them on our team.”
Although some of their success might be attributed to the trend toward re-urbanization and pent-up demand — prior to the 24-story Virage a new high-end condo hadn’t been built in Tampa for more than a decade — Smith has excelled beyond most market expectations.
Of the 71 residences in the project, all priced at $1 million to $5 million, more than 70% were sold within a year of the project’s debut.
But more than working just for developers, Moyers says Smith’s mission is also tailored to educating buyers about new construction and being an advocate for them.
“We’re actually pretty selective about what projects we take on,” says Moyer, the nephew of Smith President and CEO Robert Glaser. “We have to believe in a project wholeheartedly before we get involved.
“And for buyers, that’s a plus as well,” Moyer says. “If Smith is involved with a project, it means it’s been vetted to the point where we believe it’s going to happen, and that provides potential buyers with a level of confidence.”
And while its grip on the high-end condo market could be off-putting for some developers who fear a lack of focus on their offerings, developers say Smith’s integrity has allowed them to avoid potential conflicts or favoritism.
“In a market like Tampa, the luxury buyer is going to look at everything out there, because they are sophisticated purchasers,” Boren says. “In some ways, that’s better for us. We just want a shot to show them what we are delivering, and we will win or lose on our merits. We think, in most cases, when buyers realize what we’re doing, we’ll win.
“As for Smith, we’re comfortable with their integrity and dedication to Riverwalk Place,” Boren says.
Moyer hopes that level of developer confidence will carry over to Strategic Property Partners, the joint venture between Bill Gates’ Cascade Investments LLC and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, which is developing the $3 billion Water Street Tampa mixed-use project in downtown Tampa.
While the company has indicated that many of the buildings within the 50-plus-acre development will be residential, it has yet to tap a brokerage firm to market any of them.
Moyer will say only that Smith has “a good relationship” with Strategic Property, and it is hopeful that it will be chosen to market some of the residences in Water Street.
“Our goal is always to help facilitate a successful development,” he says.
And whether Strategic Property retains Smith, Moyer says the firm is already contemplating opening a downtown office to augment its six others, one that could directly serve the burgeoning residential market in the city’s core.
Going forward, Smith also may diversify further into more buyer-oriented services, including assisting clients with resales and move-ins.
But most importantly, Moyer says Smith will continue to be a stalwart of the Tampa Bay luxury residential scene, as it has since the late 1960s.
“Brokers may come and go, but Smith will continue to be here, serving clients just as we have for the past several decades.”