- July 12, 2019
In an industry full of boasters, Polk County commercial real estate broker Dean Saunders has a legitimate claim to being one of the best.
Part of that assertion comes from an eye-popping $562 million deal for 380,000 acres of timber in north Florida the politician-turned-Realtor helped broker last year. Saunders had a role in more than $650 million in sales last year, for which he was named the top producing Coldwell Banker Commercial broker in North America. It's the fourth time he's won the No. 1 spot. (He also won it in 2008, 2010 and 2011.)
But success just doesn't come to Saunders. He's been working for 30 years to build relationships and credibility. Saunders, who isn't related to Sarasota-based real estate entrepreneur Michael Saunders, keeps the momentum going by surrounding himself with the best people. He has a high likability factor and, as a former Florida state representative and aide to U.S. Sen. Lawton Chiles, he's one of the most well-connected brokers in town, if not the state. Those are some of the keys to how Saunders has been able to succeed, no matter the state of the market.
“There may be fewer deals happening overall,” he says. “But, if I can focus on delivering the best products with the best service, I'll hopefully get my share.”
Saunders and his team, which includes marketing and public relations professionals and two videographers, are constantly looking at ways to improve. For example, he recently discovered the company's website was viewed in 158 countries. In an effort to better serve the non-English speaking virtual visitors, now there are subtitles on the videos in four other languages, plus English for the hearing impaired.
“If you want to know how to be excellent, be excellent,” he said. “Everything ... everything has got to be better.”
Saunders is also known for his annual “Lay of the Land” report. It's an in-depth study for business leaders and clients containing verified real estate data from the past year. It includes a plethora of information on real estate sales by type, county and more. A by-invitation-only seminar is held to present the information.
Saunders Real Estate CBC, concentrating in land, has posted more than $1.69 billion in sales since it was founded in 1996. Saunders is also a broker and owner for CBC Saunders Ralston Dantzler Realty, specializing in commercial properties. That company includes his partners, Greg Ralston and Todd Dantzler. Combined, the two companies have more than 15 full-time sales associates plus staff in two offices — one in Lakeland and the second in High Springs to serve the north Florida timberland area.
“If I look at my entire body of work, I am proudest of the contributions I have made to conserving land in Florida from more intense development,” Saunders said.
That includes helping to create the first program to purchase development rights from landowners, now called conservation easements, when he was in the state Legislature. Since then, as a real estate broker, he has closed more than 50 conservation transactions that have directly contributed to protecting approximately 150,000 acres of Florida land.
“There's no doubt I have a passion for land and conservation because I don't want to see everything developed,” he said. “I want to help make Florida a better place to live.”
Dean Saunders proves the old business axiom that the best deals are all about relationships.
A notable example is the $562 million sale of 380,000 acres of timber in north Florida. Salt Lake City-based AgReserves purchased the land from St. Joe's Timberland largely from an unplanned meeting: Saunders and his wife, Gina, stopped in to say hello to their friend, AgReserves Chairman Paul Genho, while on vacation in the Midwest in 2013.
Recalls Saunders: “Paul said to me, 'I'd like to buy something in Florida and you are going to find me something.'”
With that, the deal of a lifetime was in the making.