- October 19, 2012
Lee DeLieto Sr. began selling and leasing commercial real estate in Sarasota in the early 1980s, when Maas Bros. still operated what it called “the largest department store between Tampa and Miami” on the city's Main Street.
In the nearly three decades since, DeLieto has worked on projects that have shaped and defined modern Southwest Florida, helped numerous businesses grow and become the veritable dean of commercial agents in the area. He outlasted Maas Bros., too, which closed in the early 1990s.
“When you're with Lee, it's like walking down the street with the mayor -- everyone knows him,” says Richard Perlman, executive chairman of ExamWorks Group Inc., an Atlanta-based company that has worked with DeLieto in buying property in Sarasota.
“And as a broker, he's balanced, he's thoughtful and careful,” Perlman adds. “He takes pride in what he does. I'd give him an 11 on a scale of one to 10.”
For his part, DeLieto credits his brokerage prowess to a 15-year career in marketing at Xerox Corp. that taught him business fundamentals, an M.B.A. from the University of Rochester, in New York, a willingness to work on various product types and diverse geography, and the powerhouse referral network comprising more than 500 residential agents at Michael Saunders & Co., the brokerage firm he has worked with since 1994. When he joined Saunders, he was one of five commercial agents. Today, the firm has 18 agents devoted to commercial real estate.
Clients maintain that DeLieto has another edge: a winning personality.
“He's a very professional person, very fair,” said Butch Isaac, a principal in Ohio-based Isaac Group Holdings, a firm that planned the $200 million Pineapple Square development downtown a decade ago and acquired property with DeLieto's help. “He knows the market extremely well, and he's the most ethical real estate broker I know, a person of great character.”
That market knowledge has manifested itself in some of the most ambitious real estate projects in Sarasota history.
In addition to Pineapple Square, DeLieto has worked on the Mission Harbor project, today the home of the Renaissance and Alinari condominium towers and the Hotel Indigo at Boulevard of the Arts and U.S. 41; and the mixed-use complex planned for 10 acres across from Payne Park.
In the late 1980s, he also did commercial leasing for giant homebuilder Pat Neal and was a founding board member of Insignia Bank.
“Commercial real estate is very quantitative, which is a good fit with my business background,” says DeLieto, 72. “And I'm still of a mindset that I like eye contact, I like to learn about people and their businesses and their goals. And I work a lot with investors who make decisions — those are the kind of people I like to work with.”
DeLieto also clearly enjoys working his son, Lee Jr., who became his business partner in 2005 after selling residential real estate in Plantation.
“It's been like a marriage,” says DeLieto Jr., 50. “We've had to learn just how far we can push each other's buttons. But he established our name here 25 years ago. I felt pressure from day one.”
The senior DeLieto, too, says working with his son has been energizing and expanded the duo's capabilities.
“The reason I come to work now, primarily, is to try and keep up with junior,” says DeLieto.
But that doesn't mean he's thinking about succession anytime soon.
“I'm going to work as long as my health will allow,” DeLieto says. “I've seen too many people deteriorate mentally and physically because they retire and don't have enough to do.”