At 18, an age when most teens don't have a clue about what they want from the future, Tony Veldkamp knew both what he wanted to do and with whom he wanted to spend his life.
A year after he could vote, Veldkamp graduated from Florida State, married his college sweetheart and went into the real estate business, first as an appraiser and then as a land broker. Over time, he diversified into industrial and office properties, believing they were a natural outgrowth of the land business.
Three decades later, the Tallahassee native is still married to the same college sweetheart and is still in real estate, heading the Sarasota and Bradenton operations for commercial brokerage firm Sperry Van Ness, a Boston-based brokerage with more than 200 offices nationwide.
“At our firm, it's really about the agents,” says Veldkamp, who joined SVN in 2011 as managing director after more than a decade at Michael Saunders & Co., in Sarasota. “That's trite, but it's also true here. Our philosophy as a brokerage is to provide the best platform possible, but mainly we focus on getting the best people and having a structure that allows them to succeed.”
The firm is unique in Sarasota and Bradenton because it is part of a national chain that franchises its operations. Larry Starr, a former ResortQuest Southwest Florida rental property executive, controls a territory that includes Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties. The next closest geographic SVN franchise is in Naples.
Veldkamp is unique, too, in that he both directs the offices and executes deals for himself and his own clients.
In all, he oversees a roster of 17 mostly seasoned agents who average two decades of real estate experience.
Despite being in a tertiary market, especially in comparison to cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami, Veldkamp's shop generated $110 million in transactions last year, ranking the firm sixth among all SVN offices.
In 2014, the local SVN operation had a volume of $100 million, placing it in the top five within the company.
“We work with a lot of brokerages in (Sarasota), and for us it's all about who we're confident in and who we feel can get us to the finish line,” says Jim Bridges, whose Jebco Ventures has built condominiums and retail stores regionally, and is now developing an 18-story Embassy Suites hotel in downtown Sarasota. “We've found SVN can do everything we expect and they do it well.”
Pat Neal, the head of Lakewood Ranch-based homebuilder Neal Communities, recently hired Veldkamp and SVN to market a 77-acre commercial tract in Venice, adjacent to a community it's developing there.
“I regard Tony Veldkamp highly as a real estate professional,” says Neal. “He has two particular strengths: He's straightforward and he's fact-based. And, he's also unusually creative in putting buyers and sellers together.”
Veldkamp broadened his experience and skill set in the mid-1990s working for this father-in-law, broker and developer Tom Brown, who was carving a 1,000-acre tract in Manatee County into what today is the Pomello Ranches community.
These days, he tries to instill the importance of market knowledge and a multi-faceted approach in SVN agents.
“I tell all the agents here they have to specialize in something. You have to have your elevator speech to sell yourself, but you also have to be willing to do everything in a tertiary market to succeed.”
When last decade's economic recession struck, for instance, Veldkamp took on real estate-owned properties taken through foreclosure by SunTrust and Liberty Savings; pitched in on an Englewood residential subdivision; and negotiated leases for a regional charter school.
To maintain SVN's current momentum, Veldkamp is eyeing opening a Charlotte County office, and he hopes to bring property management responsibilities that are currently outsourced in house.
“I think there's a lot of potential to expand in the future, and the fact that there's no other national brokerage in this market will help us differentiate ourselves.”