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Business Observer Monday, Nov. 25, 2013 8 years ago

Warren Buffett's firm smiles on Gulf Coast

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Prominent residential real estate broker Helen Sosso says a key lesson she learned in the downturn was the power of a brand name to sell a home.

Prominent residential real estate broker Helen Sosso says a key lesson she learned in the downturn was the power of a brand name to sell a home.

“You need a professional brand and a national identity,” says Sosso, who once ran a Prudential real estate franchise with nearly 200 agents. “That's essential.”

Lesson learned: Sosso's firm, made up of about 40 brokers in Sarasota and Manatee counties, is now connected to Berkshire Hathaway, the $162 billion conglomerate run by Warren Buffett. That's because Bonita Springs-based WCI Communities, through its subsidiary, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty, recently acquired Sosso's Elite Preferred Realty. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty has 39 offices and more than 1,300 agents in Florida. It covers markets in Tampa, Venice and Naples, but this is its first foray into markets like downtown Sarasota and east Manatee County. “I was thrilled that Berkshire Hathaway chose our company to make its entrance into Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota,” Sosso tells Coffee Talk. “The Berkshire Hathaway name is second to none.”

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty is a new flag on what was formerly Prudential Florida Realty. Prudential's decision to forgo real estate franchising to focus on insurance left an opportunity for Berkshire Hathaway to get into the industry. Berkshire Hathaway acquired Prudential Florida Realty in July, and made the name change official in October.

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty President and CEO Rei Mesa says the Prudential to Berkshire Hathaway shift is the ultimate transition. “In 30 years of real estate,” Mesa says a statement, “I haven't experienced a brand opportunity of this magnitude.”

The opportunity with Elite, meanwhile, reunites Mesa with Sosso. The pair never worked directly together, but Sosso headed Prudential Palms Realty in Sarasota and Prudential Lakewood Ranch in east Manatee County for nearly a decade until she founded Elite last year. That familiarity, says Mesa, led to a smooth deal.

Now Mesa expects to grow — quickly — in the firm's newest market. “We want to be in luxury markets with second home buyers where there's a higher sales price,” Mesa tells Coffee Talk. “We are confident we will be able to come into this market and increase market share in a short period of time.”

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