Beginning his career in politics, Dean Saunders, CCIM, learned diplomacy and negotiation skills that have served him well in commercial real estate. His commitment to agriculture and land have become his professional specialty.
In 1992, Saunders served in the Florida House of Representatives after his time as a staff member with U.S. Senator and Florida Governor Lawton Chiles. During his four years serving in the Florida Legislature, his passion for agriculture and land led him to become a trailblazer for land conservation easements.
Now a real estate broker and owner of Coldwell Banker Commercial Saunders Real Estate in Lakeland, Fla., Saunders excels at land and conservation easements. “I love being out looking at ranches, conservation lands, and groves,” he says. “There's never a day that I don't enjoy what I do.”
He discusses his legislative career, the commercial real estate profession, and the insights he has learned along the way with Commercial Real Investment Estate Magazine.
CIRE: How did you get your career start?
Saunders: I was a senior at the University of Florida, majoring in citrus, when I decided to get my real estate license. After graduation, I started working for U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles as an agricultural liaison. As Chiles's career in the U.S. Senate started to wind down, I later worked part time for the Senator as a Realtor. Soon after his retirement, I began working in real estate full time, until Chiles got elected as the Governor of Florida.
Then I served in the Florida House of Representatives, where I focused on private property rights, as well as authored legislation to get the state of Florida to purchase easements for conservation.
CIRE: After your time in the Florida House of Representatives, how did you transition into commercial real estate?
Saunders: Once I got out of the Florida Legislature, a local rancher called to tell me how important protecting his ranch with a conservation easement would be for him and his family, and he wanted me to help him get it done. I realized there may be other landowners who need assistance with this as well, so I made conservation real estate my niche.
CIRE: What in your political career was most beneficial to working in real estate?
Saunders: I worked with a U.S. senator and governor, as well as running for office, so I got to know my future clientele. As a legislator, I was dealing with agricultural leaders, as well as commercial real estate leaders, and I quickly established relationships with those individuals. Through building those connections over the years, I already had established credibility with large landowners, community leaders, developers, and investors.
CIRE: What advice would you give real estate professionals entering the land industry?
Saunders: Further your education and really understand what you are talking about. The more that you understand what you are talking about, the more confident you will be. Clients will sense your confidence and industry knowledge.
Focus on your clients' needs and attempt to ask more questions before you talk. Be more probing and understand what your client is trying to accomplish. Stay focused on helping them reach their goals. Learn, be professional, understand your market, and, most importantly, specialize in one aspect of commercial real estate.
CIRE: How has the CCIM designation affected your relationships with clients and colleagues?
Saunders: Mostly through the recognition I received for having earned the CCIM designation. Specifically, the knowledge of what I've learned, understood, practiced, and shared with other commercial practitioners. I have a greater in-depth understanding of commercial real estate, which can help my clients. For example, I recently suggested a client use a 1031 like-kind exchange for turning nonincome-producing land into income-producing commercial real estate. It's these practices I learned from CCIM Institute training.
CIRE: How has the CCIM designation improved your ability to adapt your skills to the land and agriculture industry.
Saunders: CCIM has given me a greater understanding and appreciation for the complexity of commercial real estate. It gave me more confidence to be able to communicate about commercial real estate. I position myself as an expert in land real estate, while my CCIM colleagues try and focus on commercial properties. The more conversant in commercial real estate I am, the more it helps drive better opportunities my way.