SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler Partner and Managing Director Todd Dantzler, CCIM visits the studio and talks about his family's history in real estate and the minimum wages earned while counting trees in the groves with his dad. We learn of Todd's experiences that span from fraternity president, aspiring race car driver, to county commissioner - all while practicing real estate.
Below is an excerpt from the interview. Listen above for the full podcast.
Todd Dantzler, CCIM. I've known Dean since college. We were in the Student Senate together. He was President of his fraternity the year after I was, and we had some mutual friends. We knew of each other. I'd taken a class from Gary as a student in the CCIM program, so I knew him and got reacquainted with him when I decided to run for County Commissioner in 2010. Gary said, “Well, maybe we can all do something together because you bring something to the table that Dean and I don't.” And I said, “Well, I have to get through this election. We talked off and on, and Dean said, “Are you ready to talk?”
They welcomed me with open arms, and I had just become a County Commissioner. I was getting paid a salary by the people of Polk County, so I had to focus on that. The office structure allowed me to do that. It's given me a much greater understanding on the local government and how to help people, especially in the real estate, because a big part of what you do on the commercial and land side have to do with land use, zoning, utilities and all the governmental permissions that you have to get. For eight years, I learned how to do that and learn how to cut through government speak. I feel like I have a lot to contribute to the partnership.
How did you get involved in politics? My dad was mayor of Winter Haven, when I was about two, and he did local politics. And then, when I graduated college in 1982, my older brother decided he wanted to run for the State House of Representatives. I was his campaign manager. I was not the strategist campaign manager, I was the operations guy when they said, “Hey, let's do this," I would make it happen. Whether we physically stuffed and mailed 30 or 40,000 pieces of mail or put up signs, I did all of that. He went up at 26 and did eight years in the House. My younger brother is the mayor of Winter Haven right now. I joked that my dad always said, “Don't get involved in local politics because you hear about everyone's toilets not flushing, the roads that are breaking, problems with the police, or whatever.” He said, “When you go to Tallahassee, you don't hear about those things.” Sadly, my father passed away before my younger brother and I got into elected office, but I still remember it. I wish he was here to enjoy our success and what we've done.
How long were you a County Commissioner? I was a County Commissioner from 2010 to 2018. I was a little ambivalent about term limits until I got into office. After doing eight years, I was very thankful for the term limits. Polk County passed a referendum where you can now do three terms. But it started the moment I went out of office. So, I did my eight years. I'm happy about it. I think I did a good job. I sleep comfortably at night, knowing what I did and the votes I took.
Were there ever any uproars in any of your sessions? Running a meeting in public is different than running one in a private or a nonprofit organization. There are cameras and microphones on, everything's being recorded. It's live, you don't get an edit button. You learn to pick your way through and learn how to deal with controversial subjects and interesting folks that want to have their three minutes.
People are passionate about their land with the possibility of new ordinances or any type of new rules or new projects. It is the fear of the unknown. “Hey, what if you allow this? “Is it going to ruin my property values?” There's that fear that if you allow this, it's going to be bad. It’s a huge investment for them [landowners]. They've invested a lot of money, and they're nervous, and it's like, “I don't want this near me.” It's hard to make some decisions and you have to weigh the residents’ opinions versus the applicant versus staff reports. There's a lot that goes into making decisions. That's part of being a public officer. Having the courage to vote and you don't get to vote by abstaining or just not showing up. That's your job to vote yay or nay. That's half of it is having the guts to put your put your vote in public. I enjoyed my experience. I had created a lot of good relationships and new friends. I gained a lot of insight and experience, and it served me well in the real estate business.
Did you ever think you would run for Polk County politics? The county had, in my opinion, overreached on a couple of land use deals and I felt they could do better. I ran and beat an incumbent, which is hard to do. Once you get in there, you realize that the world isn't against each deal. There are processes and there are rules that staff has to follow. I was able to get in and shave around the edge and say, “Okay, let's make this not quite so onerous. And let's be a little more business-friendly.” I think during the eight years I was on the County Commission, we had a very business-friendly commission makeup, and we were starting to come out of the recession, that was in 2008, 2009, 2010. A Dollar General was economic development in some parts. Now you see Amazon, O'Reilly Auto Parts, the big companies, those are million square foot, 500,000 square foot, and those didn't exist 10 years ago or before. They're a recent phenomenon based on the distribution area that we live in.
Your dad was in real estate. My dad was a realtor for his whole life. He was chairman of the Florida Real Estate Commission, appointed by Governor Bob Graham at the time. I would come home from college and see him. They would ship him briefcases full of books to read for his real estate commission meetings and several hearings that they had to conduct. He was a very successful realtor in Winter Haven. He started Town and Country Real Estate with some buddies of his and that's where I started. That's where I learned. I was expected to generate my own money and earn my own deals. He would say, “Let's go, get in the car.” And I'd get in the car. We may go out and count citrus trees one day or measure a building.
What did you study at the University of Florida? I studied several things, but I finished up with marketing. Dean says often, “We're a marketing company that just happens to be marketing real estate.” If you look at it that way, it explains why we do so much of what we do, why we spend so much money on the processes, getting the information, producing the information, getting it out, getting it into the out into the worldwide market, rather than just a couple of people here and there who we think might buy it. It gives you a little more focus when you're taking listings is “Who do I market this to?”. You take a property and you target who you're going after. We have a lot of very talented staff here that is very good at their job. They produce very slick, insightful information that we take advantage of as an advisor to market people's property. That's what we do; we market your property and we try to sell it for you.
My dad always said he wasn't a salesman; he put deals together. I think we do that around here. We’re not hard selling you. We try and give you the pluses and minuses. We want to sell it. But, it's our responsibility to put deals together. I think we do that quite well. We all have stylistic differences. Our styles fit our personalities; and not just Dean, Gary, and Todd. All the advisors have different personalities. Advisors have the opportunity to find your way with a whole lot of resources. And again, we have great staff that can tailor fit your needs to you, my needs to me, and how we need to produce and market a property.
We're putting deals together. Matchmaking - buyers and sellers, and tenants and landlords. Properties are more sophisticated than they used to be. Tools are more sophisticated than they used to be. We are still trying to sell property, that's the whole goal - to get people's names on a contract and get it to closing. You're not out there just barking and trying to sell it to everyone. If you do that, you're spending a lot of time doing things that you could do better with other efforts. And if you really kind of figure out who's going to buy this, let me figure out a way to have a discussion. If you spend your time doing that and figuring out how to market it, who you're going to market it to and who's going to ultimately buy it.
You, Dean, and Gary all have different ways of doing your deals. I think that's a big advantage to be in here. We've seen it, we've done it. We've succeeded at it. We failed at it. You know, Gary is a great workout artist is if there's a problem. Dean and I are not the technical guys like Gary is, but we've been through them. I'm celebrating my 40th year in real estate.
That's what you want out of your brokers. Being able to solve your issues and if they can't solve it, they at least know who to call or who to go to see. Between the three of us, we can figure out almost any difficulty one way or the other.
Is it typical to have as many tenured agents in one place? That's pretty typical. This is a really big commercial company. It's a great lifestyle. It's hard work. Don't let anyone tell you this is not hard work, because it is very hard work. If you're good at it, and you apply yourself, you can make a good living. And it also gives you the ability to go be with your kids at school. If you want to take time off. You don't have to necessarily ask for permission. We've got young people here who are just starting. We've got people that have been here 20, 25 years. It's not an easy business, but it's fulfilling when you're successful at it.
The tools we have here rival any large national franchise firms in the large cities. We have stuff that no one even knows about it outside offices.