Juanita Dennis had a vision of bringing all her real estate agents together in one place. And in 1994, the co-owner of Dennis Realty did just that, opening what would become a landmark on Land O’ Lakes Boulevard and County Line Road.
It was a family philosophy both Dennis, and her husband Robert, had stood by since Dennis Realty was founded 40 years ago in 1973. And it’s that philosophy that has helped the business continue to thrive through the rollercoaster ride of the housing market, and be on top of its game today.
“We’re the big fish in the small pond, but we’ve learned from experience how to stay strong, no matter what the market throws at us,” said Carl Stratton, the broker and general manager at Dennis Realty, who first joined the company in 1999. “There are very few offices where you can walk in the front door, and have your choice of agents already there waiting for you.”
There have been several housing bubbles since Dennis Realty first opened its doors, but none were as devastating as the most recent one that burst in late 2006, not long after Stratton was promoted to general manager.
Everyone suffered, especially Realtors. Dennis Realty went from a peak of selling 120 homes in a month, to just eight. The company also closed a pair of satellite offices, and centralized all of its operations back in Lutz.
“Even when we were losing money, the one thing we did do was keep our advertising up,” Stratton said. “Our agents have been through this cycle before, and we knew at some point it would come back up. The agents that stayed in the business and kept their marketing going, they are the ones who are finding success right now.”
Dennis Realty now partners with 85 full-time agents, but does more than just sell homes. During the last decade or so, the company has expanded to include a title company, property management, insurance and more.
And all of it is in the two-story building that brought the first commercial elevator to Lutz.
“We have traditional values, and we adhere to those values,” Stratton said. “There are a lot of companies out there who think they have a better way of doing things, like discount brokers. But there is a lot of sacrifice in discounting — something has to give.”
Home values are on the rise. This past spring, the average sales price of a home jumped nearly 12 percent compared to the year before, according to Florida Realtors. And the number of days a home is sitting on the market is now less than two months, compared to nearly three months in spring 2011.
Yet many homes are not on the market, but are still in the middle of foreclosure. And many homes bought as investments are still finding plenty of people willing to rent.
“I don’t have a statistic, but I think people renting homes is at an all-time historic high in America,” Stratton said. “The fact is there are a lot of folks who lost their homes and are now renting houses because they are not able to buy homes. There’s just a big base of renters right now.”
That has promoted Dennis Realty to expand its efforts to help investors manage those properties, since no landlord is looking forward to that call in the middle of the night for an emergency repair.
In 2009, Dennis Realty managed the rentals of just 50 homes. Today, it’s 550. And it continues to grow.
“We focus on individuals who own homes, and not big corporations that might have hundreds of them.” Stratton said. “These are people who are upside-down on their house, and don’t want to short-sell or let their house go. We are offering ways to help.”
Sadly, Juanita Dennis died on 2001, but Robert keeps things moving, and staying close to the original philosophy.
The next 40 years should be an interesting time for Dennis Realty. But if history has any say, the company is ready for whatever the housing market might throw at it.
“We are a marketing company, and if you’re not out there marketing, then what are you doing? You’re out of business,” Stratton said. “It’s all about paying attention to the client, and giving good service. That’s what has always carried us through.”