As the new president of GACAR, Bonnie Mott works to bring together industry professionals and strengthen the group's benefits.
Published: Monday, January 17, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 9:33 p.m.
Founder and broker of Prudential Preferred Properties, and president of the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors
"Now, you need to have a computer, a digital camera, a cell phone. Back then, all you needed was a briefcase," she said. "But look at it this way: You invest $1,500 or so into a career, and then the sky's the limit."
Her investment in her career - which these days does include technology - has resulted in a successful Prudential Preferred Properties firm that turns over $70 million in real estate a year, most of it residential.
She's also seen development creep north and west, in recent years exploding into the "sticks" of the Jonesville area and County Road 241 North.
Mott is founder and broker of the firm, which employs 26. And as of Jan. 8, she became president of the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors, a group of more than 860 area real estate agents and associated trades. Its purpose is to unite industry professionals and strengthen their power and benefits through lobbying the state legislature. It also promotes area issues such as providing affordable housing.
Mott, 55, lived out her girlhood on a farm in Suwannee County until she moved to Gainesville with her parents. She graduated from Gainesville High School and attended Santa Fe Community College. Then came marriage to Larry Mott and children.
She thought being a real estate agent would give her an income as well as time for her three kids. "Boy was I wrong! You have to work long and hard to succeed in this business. And you have to plan properly to keep the income flowing. If you don't have a closing, you haven't made any money." she said.
When she started selling real estate, she was young - 27 - "and clients were more inclined to work with people in their 40s and 50s, not their 30s, because it didn't appear they had any experience. It's all changed now; people want Realtors in their 30s, because they have a firm grasp on the technology."
She has worked through some pretty difficult times in real estate. Twenty-five years ago homes were selling for $30,000, and the lending interesting rate was 7 to 8 percent. But then came the recession of the early 1980s, when interest rates skyrocketed to 15 percent and more, and the number of Alachua County real estate agents plummeted from 800 to around 300.
Double-digit interest rates were being used to fight inflation, but that made the cost of borrowing money for a home almost prohibitively expensive.
"It took a change in Florida usury laws (which prohibit charging higher interest rates than a set limit) to bring about a market upturn. Plus money is a commodity, and banks couldn't get it in order to loan it out.
"Now, real estate has fully recovered, and I believe it fuels the economy. When houses are being built and sold, carpenters and roofers and tradespeople - as well as those of us in the real estate business - are working, being paid, spending money," she said.
Prudential was reluctant at first to have her open a real estate franchise, because the parent company preferred to take on experienced firms, she said. But Mott said she convinced them within six months she could represent them well, and opened Prudential Preferred Properties in 1993. Since then it's been uphill - mostly.
"Its been a lot of fun, it's a fun business. But that doesn't mean it's not stressful. The Realtor is the one everyone looks to to make sure things get done. If anything goes wrong with the mortgage, the inspection, the survey, they look to us. We have to be a jack-of-all-trades."
Technology has definitely made a difference in the business. According to the National Association of Realtors, she said, 71 percent of the people now start their housing search on the Internet, and may start up to a year before they contact a real estate agent. "They are more informed now. They know the costs, the neighborhoods, the school zones."
With their exposure to desirable property, she said agents often purchase property themselves. "We don't have retirement plans, like a 401(k), and we sometimes buy property as a hedge against retirement."
That's one of her goals as GACAR president: to lobby for insurance benefits for agents. As it is, trade associations can't buy into group health plans, Mott said.
Another project of hers is making more homes affordable, and not just in enclaves. "People object to being relegated to one area in order to have a home. But it's not an easy problem to solve. Some developers receive grant money" to build affordable homes in higher-priced neighborhoods, but not many. "Something has to be done, there has to be some incentives" to build moderately priced homes everywhere.
"But price of property is a hindrance. People should have a right to get as much money as they can for their property," and this drives the prices up.
Mott is branching out of just selling real estate and trying her hand at developing. The Cottage Grove development of 17 homes in the $150,000-$180,000 range is being planned for NW 34th Street, and construction should commence this spring.
Mott is a six-year breast cancer survivor who worked throughout her six courses of chemotherapy and 37 radiation treatments. It's changed her perspective on life.
"All of a sudden, things weren't such a big problem anymore. At work, I would just say 'OK, all right, a deal fell through, another will come along. We'll try to solve problems if we can.' And if we're gone tomorrow, they're going to hire someone to replace us," she said.
Part of her contribution to the community includes her service to the Boys and Girls Club of Alachua County.
Freddie Wehbe, owner of Gator Domino's in Gainesville, worked with her on the Caribbean Cruise committee. "She's the one with the analytical brain. She's the organized one. She is very good and cares a lot. She gives from the heart, 100 percent, and is a great part in the success of the club."
Mott and her husband, Larry, who is chaplain at the Alachua County Jail, enjoy free time with their three children and six grandchildren, ages 6 months to 10 years. They have a second home on the Suwannee River in Hamilton County where the family often gathers. Their primary home, which is the 1928 Blake home on Glen Springs Road that originally was a dance hall, is being renovated, and they are redoing the landscape.
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