Of the more than 15,000 Realtors in the Tampa Bay area, many chalk up only a few sales a year. Then there are those like Will Wiard.
Last year, Wiard and his team at Coastal Real Estate Collection ranked No. 1 in total sales volume in Pinellas County. The Belleair Beach group tallied more than 700 transactions.
Wiard, 37, was born on the Caribbean island of Tortola, where his father worked for the Moorings, a yacht and sailboat rental company. After the family moved to Clearwater, Moorings' headquarters, Wiard went away to Clemson University, "traveled the world a little bit" and eventually returned to Pinellas County and a career in real estate.
Today Wiard and his mother, Diane, are part of what he calls an eight-member "team of specialists." Each agent has an area of expertise — one, for example, might represent the buyer while another might handle the nitty-gritty of the sales contract. When a deal closes, the commission is split among all team members.
"A lot of agents try to be jack-of-all-trades," Wiard says. "We don't think an agent can be an expert in all aspects of real estate."
Wiard recently spoke with the Tampa Bay Times.
Some Tampa Bay agents have very high sales volumes because they deal in very expensive properties. Yet your team got to $112.6 million last year with a lot of moderately priced homes. Why is that?
We were approached by a couple of hedge funds buying in the local area, which is really what bumped our numbers. Progress Residential out of New York — we do the majority of their acquisitions in Tampa (Bay).
Blackstone and American Homes 4 Rent are the two biggest, but Progress is one of the top three. We started buying for Progress about 21/2 years ago.
Were many of the homes you bought foreclosures?
It used to be that 50 percent of the acquisitions we buy for hedge fund use were foreclosures, but that's come down to 15 percent as the banks filter through a lot of bad debt.
Are hedge funds starting to sell the homes they bought for rental purposes now that the market is picking up?
They sell only their problem properties. They'll have a couple here or there that don't meet their particular financial standards, or had a flood or a problem neighbor. There's very little talk about a major dump or selloff because they'd lose the value of their assets. It would be real hard to process thousands and thousands of homes and not hurt their own value.
Do you see any evidence of a "shadow inventory" of foreclosed homes that the banks have yet to put on the market?
It seems like we've been through one phase of shadow inventory and there are rumors of another level coming through, though we haven't seen anything to this point.
Last year, Florida licensed almost 29,000 new real estate agents, bringing the total to 221,000. Do you think there is a glut of agents?
I absolutely do. A license is a minimum, but it doesn't mean you understand trends and are qualified to represent people. A large number of transactions are done by a small percentage of the agents out there. We did over 750 transactions last year, so we get to work with a lot of other agents that had only one or two, and it's hard to be professional and stay up with your skill set if you do only one or two transactions. Personally, I don't think the license and continuing education (requirements) are stringent enough.
What's the biggest mistake sellers make?
Price, No. 1. Your home is always the best, but we're trying to get people to be realistic on their price. We have an acronym, PAMPR, for the five things you need to do to sell a home. Price is always the most important. Then there's access — when a qualified buyer comes around, you need to give them access because they may not come back. M is for MLS (Multiple Listing Service) — it's the No. 1 way to sell a home. P is for photos; 94 percent of buyers see homes first online. If you don't have nice representation digitally, they're never going to see your home. We've started to implement a new virtual tour so you can "walk'' through the home without being there. R is for responsiveness. Should you get an offer, you need to respond as fast as you can. Do those five things and you don't need open houses, you don't need brochures.
What's the biggest challenge facing the real estate industry today?
Accepting technology and new ways to do transactions. My mom tells me MLS used to be a book; you had to thumb through a book. Nowadays, buyers are calling me and telling me what home they want to see because the technology is so good; they've seen it on Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com.
The average buyer is much more educated than they used to be. This information that we used to hold to our chests to create value is now public information.
Technology is also making it easier for people to sell their homes themselves. Are many sellers asking agents to lower the typical 6 percent commission?
Typically, we hold on to our commissions. There is value in what we do. But we do offer a couple of levels of commission depending on what the seller needs. If you want just limited representation and just our marketing or just our negotiating, we do negotiate a la carte service.
What's your prediction for Tampa Bay's real estate market this year?
I think we're going to see a nice, steady appreciation. Supply is going to stay low, demand is going to stay high. Supply is going to be our biggest challenge of the year.