Jonathan Barreras, COO of SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler, has over 10 years of experience in leading SRD through expansions, creating a supportive company culture, and setting everyone up for success. JB has big plans for the future of SRD and its further integration into the Florida market.
How did SVN | SRD start? It started with Dean Saunders as Saunders Real Estate in 1996. Then in 2010, Gary [Ralston] had retired from his previous employer in Orlando and came out to Lakeland. He spoke with Dean and they formed Saunders Ralston Realty. It was just the two of them. Then Dean reached out to a fraternity brother, Todd Dantzler. Todd joined almost immediately and they formed Saunders Ralston Dantzler Realty. That was the commercial arm of the land company Dean had built. I joined probably six months after they started SRD in 2011.
Why did they start doing commercial deals? So with the land deals, a lot of [Dean’s] clients were looking to diversify. They didn't want just land, but they did want to still be in real estate. They kept requesting commercial real estate and he would have to refer out to other people. He didn't want to lose that business anymore.
How did you start at SRD? When I started, I was already doing IT for a guy that was working for Dean. He would build computers, set up servers, or set up the networks. Effectively, he would just hire me to do it. Then, he just went to Dean and said, “Hey, you need to hire this guy. I don't want to do it anymore.” That's how I started.
I had the certifications that you need for any type of computer work. I had an IT company where I was building backup systems and creating servers for attorneys and medical. That was before I started here. I did that for about three years. When I met Dean, that's what I was kind of doing for him. He was telling me he had a fire and he needed a better backup system.
Then I became the business analyst. The role then would be to look at the business and make it more efficient. When I started, everything was done by paper, so the first thing I did was digitize the listing process. We also built the data system so that you can dump all your photos, all the files of the digital contracts. We streamlined that system the best we could at the time.
What is SVN? SVN at this point is Shared Value Network. It initially started as Sperry Van Ness, but then they split and SVN became Shared Value Network. We franchised with them in 2019. So far, it's been great.
Starting small. I do have my hands in everything. This is mostly because we were a small company when I started. We had four staff members and that was effectively it. So when you start a small company, the roles aren't as defined. We had to make it work together as a team. As we grew, we were able to streamline everyone's position so that they are focused on what they do best.
Why have such a large staff? There are going to be times when you're talking to a client and you don't feel as confident that you're going to gain their trust and get that listing. You could always fall back on us as support staff and as the company's history to help you through those. I find that very important, especially for new people. Where we are, in our business, we really like hiring new people and training them. There are a lot of real estate companies that do not. They like seasoned agents only, but we’re a culture of both.
That's why we have a large staff because a lot of new companies have a very “sink or swim” mentality. Where you're just gonna have to make it on your own. We just don't believe in that.
How important is building relationships? A lot of the other real estate companies, you call them and they send you a BPO. That's a good process to start, but how you integrate all those parts is what's important. So when I'm cold calling someone, I'm not calling them saying, “Hey, you have property, you need to sell it, let me list it.” It's not what this is. You're building a relationship and I think a lot of people miss that. When you're calling folks, you're trying to have a meeting with them.
Meeting face-to-face is very important in this business. You're just going to have coffee and you're going to talk to them. See what they own, talk about their properties, and at the end of that first conversation, you say, “I really enjoyed the time, I would like to propose a BPO to you, it's free of charge. The market is ever changing so I'd like to just create a proposal for you. Let's follow-up next week and we can discuss it further.”
When you call people you don't know if they're going to be buyers or sellers. You don't know if they're interested in either. You need to form a relationship. That's effectively what it all boils down to.
Is there a plan for expansion? Right now, we have about 60 licensed agents and we are expanding into Orlando. What does that look like? We're going down two paths. We're going to see what it looks like to grow organically and bring on agents one at a time. We're also exploring finding an agency that's already established and folding them into the mix. We have a very aggressive program to bring in an established company.
Mergers and change is very hard on people, but we have a very good culture here. It's a lot easier for an outside company to look in because we are so open to their ideas. So yes, we’re expanding into Orlando, That's more of the commercial arm as there isn't much agricultural land in Orlando.
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