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Top Agent 2006

Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Top agent takes repeat business very seriously

May 15, 2006

Brad Kwenski has done 22 real estate transactions with Debra Pitell in the last 15 years.

It is the kind of number that makes Pitell feel good because, in her book, repeat business and customer loyalty are signs of success for any real estate agent. Pitell, who has been in the realty game for 23 years, figures that 90 percent of her business is generated from past client referrals and repeat business.

A Michael Saunders & Co. Realtor, Pitell is one of the top agents in Southwest Florida, not to mention one of the top three at Saunders. She is an innovator: one of the first agents to jump onto the Web, recognizing it as a key tool for her trade in the third millennium.

Early in the Internet age, Pitell locked up the www.sarasotaflorida.com domain name, which today will direct you to her Web site, ranked as the No. 1 agent Web site in the 2005 Florida Association of Realtors Web site contest.

The 46-year-old, British-born naturalized American citizen has lived in Sarasota for nearly a quarter century and has worked with Saunders since 1987. Pitell is a self-described workaholic who generates "between $20 million and $30 million" in transactions annually, year in and year out.

This year, despite market softness, is a bell-ringer for Pitell. She has closed about $20 million in just the first quarter and predicts it'll be her best-ever. She holds the regional record for the most expensive home ever sold, at $13.2 million, and by anyone's measure would be regarded as a real estate marketing expert.

Pitell maintains that folks often don't appreciate the fact that real estate agents, as independent contractors, are actually spending large amounts of their own money, with no guarantees, to help sell client homes. For a top-end home, like Belcastello, a $13.5 million Venetian palazzo listed on Lido Key's Westway Drive, Pitell says that she will personally spend $40,000 to $50,000 on marketing and advertising. Michael Saunders & Co. will usually kick in a similar amount. Pitell, who at any one time may be marketing up to 15 high-end properties, can be carrying $250,000 or more of out-of-pocket costs.

Top agents "have to be able to sustain that expenditure level" to be successful today, she said.

A successful sale of a top-end home requires both a detailed marketing plan as well as a dedicated national and international sales campaign. When Pitell was hired to sell Belcastello, she invited about 500 top agents from all over the Gulf Coast and beyond to attend a catered reception on the estate, costing Pitell several thousand dollars. Several brochures were created costing nearly $6,000.

Pitell is a great believer in the power of the Internet because the last time the record-breaking Belcastello was sold for $13.2 million, Pitell was contacted by the buyer through the Internet. She has earned the e-Pro designation as a Realtor and has created a dedicated Web site just for Belcastello: www.belcastello.com.

That site also is linked to www.sarasotaflorida.com, www.michaelsaunders.com, www.sarasotahomes4sale.com, www.luxuryhomes.com and www.christiesgreatestates.com.

Pitell manages mailings and specialized "e-blasts" to promote the property to specific market segments which might include top agents, doctors, lawyers, neighbors and others. She hires and pays for top photographers and videographers to present the home in the best visual light. In addition to Web marketing, Pitell's campaign includes daily newspapers, weekly newspapers and specialty magazines.

Pitell provides a "comparative market analysis" on the subject property before listing it in the Sarasota (and possibly Manatee) Multiple Listing Service.

A yard sign will be installed where permitted. "Just Listed" postcards will be sent to the neighborhood. Professional photography and a virtual tour of property is prepared under Pitell's direction. Professionally designed postcards are sent to select neighborhoods and agents.

Flyers and brochures will be placed and an information box will be set up and used for client presentation, buyer-broker inquiries and mailings. Ads will also be placed in numerous local and national magazines that might include Sarasota Magazine, Scene Magazine, LBK Longboat Key Magazine, Luxury Florida Homes, Unique Homes, duPont Registry, Luxury Homes Magazine, International Homes Luxury Collection and Christie's Great Estates.

Pitell will network with other brokers to develop market activity and will use weekend open house events.

Back to her basic philosophy of success, Pitell also will also contact previous clients to notify them of the new listing. Throughout the listing period, Pitell maintains close contact with the seller concerning showings and feedback and will provide regular marketing reports to the seller.

Her marketing savvy and follow-through are much valued by her clients. Jim and Toni Turner, of Frederick, Md., decided they were interested in buying a Sarasota waterfront home in late 2004. "Knowing nothing" about Sarasota, the Turners asked their local real estate agent in Maryland to identify and interview someone to represent them in their search. Pitell was interviewed and landed the assignment. We bought the first home she showed us," said Toni Turner, although they looked at seven houses with Pitell. Pitell had studied the Turners' requirements so closely before they came down to Florida that she knew what they wanted and found it for them in a 4,000-square-foot Bird Key Home on N. Warbler Drive.

"I would not buy another home without Debra Pitell at my side," Toni Turner said, adding that she expects other Turner family members to retain Pitell in the near-term. "It's become a family relationship."

Debra Pitell holds the regional record for the most expensive home ever sold, at $13.2 million, and by anyone's measure would be regarded as a real estate marketing expert.