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Search and Research

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  • | 6:00 p.m. April 25, 2008
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Search and Research

commercial real estate by Mark Gordon | Managing Editor

For one Realtor, coordinating tricky land deals comes down to the simple, yet often overlooked, element of research - lots of research. Bob Anderson says he could never do too much.

Robert Anderson's multimillion-dollar real estate career got its start somewhere between a midnight shift at a Pasco County packaging plant, where he peeled orange rinds for oil drops, and a gig at a phosphate mining operation in Polk County.

It was during those two jobs, while a University of South Florida college student in the early 1980s, that Anderson came to this easily understood conclusion: He wanted more, a lot more, in life.

Another two decades would pass though, before Anderson found his niche assembling complicated land deals and selling commercial and residential real estate, focusing exclusively on Sarasota County.

Those 20 years were filled with entrepreneurial ups and downs, including a few years when he ran a frozen pizza company with plants in Wisconsin and Minnesota that ultimately failed. He also compiled more than three million frequent flier miles as an executive and a consultant with several giant food companies, such as Kraft Foods, Pillsbury and Land O'Lakes.

But real estate is where Anderson found his greatest business success. A recent highlight includes playing point man in assembling a $74 million land deal in downtown Sarasota, on which local developer Gary Moyer hopes to build a proposed billion dollar mixed-use project with an 800-seat theater and a Waldorf-Astoria hotel.

If that deal closes as planned this summer, Anderson stands to make at least $5 million for his role in it, both from selling his own property and a commission.

And in an industry where awards, accolades and all-star style status are passed out with near-comical ease, Anderson's real estate statistics stand out. Working for international real estate giant Re/Max, Anderson has quietly become one of the firm's top producers in the country the last five years, exceeding $1 million in gross income every year since 2003.

More remarkably, Anderson's sales and commissions have increased as the real estate market has tanked. In 2006, his sales were strong enough to rank him fifth in Florida sales volume among 6,000 Re/Max agents in the state and 99th in the country, out of more than 100,000 agents. And last year, Anderson moved up to third in the state rankings and 33rd in the national rankings.

What's more, Anderson, who heads up the Anderson Group of Sarasota from a small office in Siesta Key, passed $100 million in lifetime sales volume last year, making him eligible for the company's lifetime achievement award.

"I'm not the pomp and circumstance beauty queen," Anderson says. "But if you engage me, I will bring you to a new level."

But many of the 4,000-plus registered Realtors with the Sarasota Association of Realtors hope to bring clients to a new level. Some of those who have worked with and know Anderson say he does it by combining his business and research skills with a knack for understanding people. In addition to his past career, his business credits include an MBA from the Carlson School of Business at the University of Minnesota.

"He has all the characteristics of being a very good business person," says Dudley Carson, a Sarasota Re/Max agent who has worked with Anderson. "He has a wonderful gift to be able to relate and talk to anybody."

The glue

That gift was particularly important during the past four years, as Anderson spent a good amount of time on the land assembly project in downtown Sarasota. The space covers two blocks of property, bounded by Tamiami Trail to the west, Cocoanut Avenue to the east, Boulevard of the Arts to the north and Fourth Street to the south.

Anderson initially became involved in the project through his research. When he relocated to Sarasota full-time in 2003 after giving up his corporate career, he thoroughly researched Sarasota's zoning code and how the county and city planned to grow. He studied the ins and outs of both entities' master plans and became intimately familiar with Andres Duany, a planning and architecture consultant who has worked with Sarasota officials on building new urbanism projects in the city.

From there, it was all about risk. The first risk was money-based: Anderson paid about $2.3 million for a little more than one acre of the commercial and residential district, which on its own would not have significant value past the purchase price.

The next risky element was whether Anderson could convince a large and unusually diverse group of 22 landowners spread over the six acres to agree on a sale price and on a buyer. The group included two corporations, two LLCs, a handful of longtime residents, the Florida Studio Theater, a couple of estates and more than a dozen attorneys. "You really had it all," says Anderson. "That's why it was so hard to keep it together."

Again though, Anderson thoroughly researched the district's owners and fanatically kept up with who owned what. And he stayed aggressive, too. For instance, the day after Sarasota resident and part-time real estate investor Mike Dull closed on a 10,500-square-foot mixed-use property in the area in 2005, he got a knock on his door from Anderson.

Anderson told Dull about his plans for the property. Dull would later witness Anderson talk to the other property owners, using a fair and patient approach. "Bob is the glue that has kept these projects together," says Dull. "I was very surprised and impressed with his ability to get all these parts to work together."

Of course, if getting such a large group of entities and egos to agree on a sale price and an allocation of proceeds based on complicated zoning and income potential formulas wasn't hard enough, another challenge lingered: Selling the property for the best price to a developer with big, yet achievable, ambitions.

The Anderson-led group of investors looked at four official proposals and took dozens more phone calls and meetings from 2005 through early last year. The group of interested buyers was a mix of out-of-state investors and local developers. Moyer was actually part of the first group to propose a deal, but the price was to low, Anderson says.

Moyer came back again last year, and this time, both sides were able to negotiate a deal that is currently under contract for $74 million. Moyer's project, known as the Proscenium for a large archway near the front of a stage through which an audience can view a play, is currently winding its way through the city of Sarasota approval process.

While Anderson monitors that deal before its scheduled August closing date, he is also working on a trio of other land assembly deals in Sarasota, including one downtown, one on Siesta Key and one in Englewood covering more than 10 acres.

It's DiGiorno

Still, Anderson says land assembly projects are a minor, albeit lucrative, part of his overall business. "I indulge myself in these kinds of activities," Anderson says, "because I seem to be kind of good at it."

But purely representing buyers and sellers of real estate is the core of Anderson's business. And he realizes generating sustained success at it takes more than research. Some of his key principles include remaining loyal to the client and being easily reachable. Says Anderson: "It's really all about being physically available to the customer."

Anderson, a native of New York City, picked Sarasota as his home after his corporate career. He chose the area, specifically Siesta Key, because he had been here in college to visit relatives and always wanted to return.

He moved to the area in 2003, soon after getting out of the frozen pizza business. He co-owned a Wisconsin-based company, C & B Pizza, which sold the pizzas in bulk to groceries, retailers and a few private labels. Clients included Costco, Sysco and Kraft Foods. The company even made the pizzas sold under the DiGiorno brand for a short time. "That was my first entrepreneurial experience on my own," says Anderson.

But the experience ended badly when the company failed to get funding for a much needed factory expansion. While Anderson didn't declare bankruptcy in the venture, he did lose his own personal investment in the company - about $2.5 million.

Anderson made the money back relatively soon after he moved to Sarasota, when he began focusing on real estate. It helped, of course, that he timed his new career with the beginning of the market boom. But he says he's in the industry to stay now, not to cash out.

"I'm addicted to what I do," says Anderson. "I never feel like I'm at work."

Real estate tips

Sarasota-based Robert Anderson has become one of the most successful Re/Max Realtors in the country over the last five years. His business focuses on land assembly deals and selling residential and commercial property. Here are some of Anderson's tips on how to grow a real estate business:

• Have extensive knowledge of the market, both public and private properties;

• Have a working knowledge of math and finance, to keep track of opportunities;

• Have a better work ethic than the competition. "Be there," Anderson says. "Real estate isn't a part-time business."

• Be loyal to clients and expect it in return. Says Anderson: "Treat all parties in every transaction as if they are to be partners throughout your career."


Industry. Real Estate

Who. Robert Anderson, Re/Max Realtor, Sarasota

Key. Anderson has built a multimillion-dollar real estate career through meticulous research and fierce loyalty to clients.


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