4 questions for a pro: Tom Wagner


Tom Wagner used to manage a computer network for a health care system in Des Moines, Iowa.

When he and his wife got tired of the cold, they moved to Sarasota. In 2001, at the suggestion of Linda Dickinson, a Realtor with Michael Saunders & Co., he got into the real estate business. Now with RE/MAX Alliance Group, he has focused almost exclusively on Manasota Key. Last year, he was the top producer on the key.

Correspondent Chris Angermann talked with him about how he got to where he is and how his high-end clients approach the luxury waterfront property.

Q:How did you get started in real estate?

A:Since I had no customers, I filled up a pot of coffee and drove from Anna Maria Island to Boca Grande, in and out of neighborhoods, because I wanted to know the area. Once I started figuring things out, I rented a helicopter, and we filmed the entire coastline from the air. I also rented a Hummer and drove with a professional cameraman through all the coastline neighborhoods. From the footage, I had a video made, and mailed and marked it to 5,000 wealthy people around the country. Some of them called me, and I sold to them.

Q:What made you focus on Manasota Key?

A:I was attracted to Manasota Key because of the lush vegetation. It's a natural environment and not saturated with people. It also wasn't being marketed much.

The first house I sold belonged to a former vice president of Columbia Motion Pictures. It was overgrown like a jungle — you couldn't see the water. I knew anybody spending $5 million on a home wants to be able to see the water. I told her, "You need to let me do what I do to sell your house," and although she was apprehensive, she agreed. I brought in three Dumpsters and we ended up trimming more than 350 palm trees and cleaning the property up. Then I ran big ads in magazines and ended up selling it for $4.75 million.

I did the same to another home. I was ready to do anything. I'm not in the business of "remodeling" anymore, but I had to do it to get going.

Q:How have clients changed in the past year?

A:I have always sold property to people who want to buy to enjoy it while using it as a hard asset. Most of my buyers are cash buyers. They look at it as an investment, but not like their market portfolio. The financial appreciation factor is great to have, but they buy it to live in and raise their family in first.

In recent months, however, I've been getting a lot of calls from the West Coast market. I sold a home on Manasota Key to someone from California who owns many houses there. When I asked him what brought him to Florida, he said, "What do you think? The taxes!" He felt that California was not a good value anymore and wanted to get out.

Another client who sold his business in California is looking to buy something substantial here for the same reason — the tax burden. It was the same thing for a guy from Portland, Ore., who also bought a house on Manasota Key.

Q:What about moving forward?

A:The anticipation of the fiscal cliff was part of the reason people bought late last year. December was my best December on record. I closed $6.8 million that month. People were uncertain about what would happen in the new year regarding taxes. They were worried about what was coming down the pike, and wanted to move their assets.

I didn't know if the lights were going to go off after Dec. 31, but it's really picked up. I think people are becoming more comfortable with the financial conditions of the country, since the stock market has been going strong. A lot of the people I'm getting calls from who want property in Florida find out that Manasota Key is a great option. They look at the Naples and Fort Myers market — Sanibel and Captiva — and discover it's overrun with people. So they see my ads about how beautiful, relaxed and quiet Manasota Key is, and they call me.


Last modified: March 1, 2013
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