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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Mar. 8, 200612:00 PM EST

Prudential tops $1 billion mark

by: Mike Sharkey

by Mike Sharkey

Staff Writer

It took 16 years for Prudential Network Realty to sell $1 billion worth of homes in a single calendar year. It probably won’t take half that long to crack the $2 billion mark.

Last year, 325 Prudential agents combined to sell 3,374 homes in Clay, Duval and St. Johns counties totaling $1.027 billion. That’s a 34 percent leap from 2004 when Prudential agents closed on $743 million worth of homes.

Put into perspective mathematically, consider: 325 agents averaged $3.16 million in sales; the average selling price was $304,386; and Prudential averaged a little over $2.8 million in closings per day for the entire year.

So, how’d they do it?

Prudential President Linda Sherrer says the company reached the milestone through several factors including having consistent and committed agents, marketing and being in an area that’s growing rapidly and seems to be insulated from the economic downturns that have affected other regions of the country.

“Our Northeast Florida growth has been phenomenal,” said Sherrer, who started the company in 1988 with Zurich Insurance President Tom Petway.

Sherrer was with Epping Forest Realty before starting Prudential Network Realty with a handful of agents and three counties of territory. Today, the company has 76 full-time employees and 325 independent real estate agents. Petway, also a minority owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, said Sherrer should get a lot of the credit for reaching the one and nine zero milestone — that’s 1,000,000,000 with a dollar sign in front.

“Linda is the real estate foundation of the company. She’s the star in the network,” said Petway. “She leads the parade. She’s very unique and a one-of-a-kind executive in the real estate business. That’s why she’s so successful. She is also surrounded by good people.”

Sherrer deflects the praise to the company’s agents, many of whom are “Prudential born and raised” because they started in the industry by going through Prudential’s training incubator and never left the company. In fact, according to Sherrer, Prudential only loses one in five agents who make it through training.

“The national fallout factor is in the 90 percent range. Six years ago, our fallout factor was about 45 percent,” she said. “Today, it’s less than 20 percent and that’s because of the incubator. We are doing it right.”

When Prudential began looking to expand beyond insurance, real estate was one of the industries the company got in. Nationally, dozens of real estate franchises were offered and Sherrer was fortunate to acquire the Duval, Clay and St. Johns franchise. At the time, the area was simmering at best and she needed sound financial backing as well as sound business advice.

Enter Petway.

“It (Prudential) was a national name that needed local ownership,” said Sherrer, who approached Petway about investing in the company. Today, Petway is more of a silent partner. “The great thing about it is when I need to talk to him, I get sage advice and he truly cares about the company.”

Petway always points to Sherrer as the driver of the company’s growth. However, he also points out that the Jaguars have played a role and people are quickly figuring out that Northeast Florida is one of the premier locales in the country.

Both believe the company can top last year’s mark and eventually crack the $2 billion milestone. It may not happen with 34 percent annual growth, but the company is already working towards that mark.

“It’s realistic to top,” said Sherrer, adding that all 325 agents have been challenged to top their personal best. “All of our agents have heard the battle cry. Our motto is ‘A billion and beyond.’ The area is thriving. Some areas still have land to be developed and we have projects scattered from the World Golf Village to Fernandina Beach. Certainly St. Johns County has incurred phenomenal growth, the beach is hot and so is Fleming Island.”

Petway says another factor in the company’s success has been assuring the right people are placed in key positions. Prudential doesn’t allow its office managers to also sell homes. Consequently, managers are paid well and clearly understand both their role and value to the company. Longevity and dedication are also a key factors.

“We want career people, not people who want to execute 10 transactions and get out of town,” said Sherrer. “You have to complete six transactions in our incubator before you have the right to move to an office. In 1988, our mantra was to raise the level of professionalism in real estate. Until we respect ourselves, others won’t.”

Sherrer said without question the company will surpass the $2 billion mark and plans are already in place to make that happen. In addition to hiring more agents, Prudential will open an office in St. Augustine this year, a first for the company.

“The future is really unbelievable. There are a lot of opportunities in the next decade,” said Petway. “You have got to believe the growth will continue. They are coming to Northeast Florida daily. There’s no better place for people to come to. There’s room to grow and you can’t say that about places like Miami and Central Florida.

“It’s not hard to get excited about the future.”

Regardless of the yearly sales, Sherrer remains grounded in her assessment of the company’s true assets.

“Our assets walk out the door every night,” she said. “It’s incumbent on us to make sure they come back.”

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