No matter where you’re buying a home, having a knowledgeable real estate agent can mean the difference between settling down in your own slice of paradise or descending into homeowner hell. For Realty Executives Florida Keys owner and licensed real estate broker Michelle “ChelleBe” Blades, acting as the matchmaker between prospective homebuyers and their dream properties is just a small part of a lifelong relationship.
From the earliest days of her professional life, Ms. Blades has displayed an outsized entrepreneurial spirit. “I arrived in Palm Beach in my 20s from California and started a swimwear company. Within a few years, that company evolved into a patented computerized custom-fit process and 44 franchised and licensed stores in North America. Fifteen years later I took a mini-retirement and cruised the Caribbean and West Coast with my then-husband in our custom-built powerboat.”
After seven years offshore, the couple built a guest ranch at the top of the Continental Divide near Breckenridge, Colo., which they turned into a profitable rental property perfect for weddings, retreats and reunions. Once the ranch was self-sustaining, they got back on the boat and sailed back to the Florida Keys, where they purchased a sizeable estate property on Sugarloaf Beach and managed to sell off a number of the lots at a profit.
That buying and selling process lit the real estate flame for Ms. Blades.
“Real estate suddenly seemed quite exciting to me, so I obtained my sales license a year or so later and my broker’s license shortly thereafter. Working as a solo broker for several years put me in the middle of many creative investment deals, and I soon began participating in the purchase, rehab and sale of several investment properties.”
About a decade later, Ms. Blades combined forces with the Realty Executives franchise and opened up the franchise’s first Florida Keys office in New Town Key West. In 2019, she was joined by a former client-turned-investor, Bernice Schafer, when Ms. Schafer obtained her real estate license. “Bernice is an Old Town specialist and encouraged me to add an Old Town office, which led to my purchase of our great threeunit building at 605 Simonton St.,” Ms. Blades said. “Since committing to this office, our team has grown into a great family of experienced and new agents and support staff.”
Despite COVID-19, real estate sales in Monroe County in July 2020 were up 50% over July 2019, but pandemic restrictions still have affected Realty Executives Florida Keys. “The saddest thing so far has been no grand opening party for our new Old Town office because I so want to share this office with the Realtor community and all our friends and customers,” Ms. Blades said. “I’m so looking forward to hosting small gatherings in the near future and offering a chair and a chat anytime our clients want to explore ideas. Of course, the pandemic has also affected the way we show homes, but because our executives are very tech savvy and mobile, we have been able to support our transactions seamlessly through this challenging time.”
And being part of a franchise like Realty Executives gives the Florida Keys agents a broad network of resources to tap into to give their clients a top-notch real estate experience.
“Realty Executives as a franchise brand offers so much to our company at an extremely reasonable cost, so we can be very generous with our agents and support their professional growth with a high level of technology, marketing and training support from a wellrespected national brand,” Ms. Blades said.
“We envision a chain of highly efficient offices throughout the Keys and onto the mainland, with a well-tuned referral system between agents and offices so that all of our customers receive the highest level of local expertise to assist their transaction. I believe what sets us apart is the way we work together. There is a great deal of knowledge (such as land-use regulations, insurance and contract law and strategy) that can only be gained through experience, and we all share that knowledge. Teamwork is key. The collaboration of our agents working together and supporting each other is inspiring.”
Many people dream of quitting their jobs and moving to an oceanside bungalow in Key West, but buying and selling real estate in the Florida Keys presents its own unique set of interesting challenges. “Our land-use regulations, such as Rate-of-Growth Ordinance (ROGO) allocations for building permits, and where and how one can offer daily and weekly vacation rentals, are very complex and are different between the city of Key West, the county-regulated Lower Keys and Marathon,” Ms. Blades explained. “Having an in-depth understanding of these issues has allowed us to help many customers find that ‘needle in the haystack’ because such ‘needles’ are not often visible to the less informed.”
So what is the most important piece of information prospective buyers need to be aware of in real estate transactions?
“An in-depth overview of the financial aspects of buying is super important,” Ms. Blades said. “There are often many ways to financially structure a purchase that differ from the first approach. For example, a buyer says they want to spend $400,000 cash for a nice little house. Well, that amount does not buy much house niceness, so we instead find them a $650,000 duplex that is super easy to finance with the rental income coming in, and actually ends up costing them less in cash. This gives them a really great home and a substantial investment to grow over the years.”
Realty Executives has seven agents spread over two offices in Key West, a Lower Keys office in Summerland Key and plans to open offices in Marathon and Cape Coral in the near future. Realty Executives’ agents are also engaged in vacation rental management relationships with local rental experts.
Learn more at www.realtyexecutivesfloridakeys.com or drop into the newly opened Old Town Key West office at 605 Simonton St. ¦