As 2017 president of Florida Realtors, real estate broker Maria Wells travels frequently to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.
In Tallahassee, Wells pushed for state money for affordable housing, an issue that has re-emerged as home prices rise, Wall Street landlords snap up single-family homes and housing starts remain sluggish.
“Affordable housing is in a crisis,” Wells said. “We’ve got to find ways for people to buy homes.”
She also got behind Realtors’ push for a November 2018 referendum that would keep a 10 percent cap on annual increases in assessed values of homes that aren’t homesteaded. Without the amendment, property taxes on commercial properties and second homes could soar starting in 2019.
Wells got what she wanted from the Florida legislative session.
“We just had one of the best years in decades for homeowners,” Wells said.
Now she’s turning her attention to Washington, where lawmakers are discussing reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program.
“If there is anything that is critical to our homeowners right now, it is flood insurance,” Wells said.
In addition to her volunteer role as president of Florida Realtors, Wells also runs a 10-agent real estate brokerage in Stuart. She marvels at the dramatic shift in Florida’s housing market, which has veered from the liar loans of a decade ago to the tight lending standards and cash buyers of today.
“We have a whole different kind of ownership,” Wells said.
About your company: I’m broker-owner at Lifestyle Realty Group in Stuart. We do business from Jupiter through Fort Pierce. We’re a boutique firm. Everything we do is high-touch. I encourage my agents to try to answer their phones so people don’t fall into the voicemail abyss. Through Dec. 31, I’m president of the Florida Realtors. We have 170,000 members, and we’re the second-largest state association in the country after the California Association of Realtors. I love being a Realtor because we’re the only ones who really look out for homeownership. Realtors are advocates for property rights.
Hometown: I was born in Detroit, and I lived in Michigan until I was almost 30. I live in Jensen Beach now.
First job: When I was in high school, I worked for JCPenney. I sold baby furniture, and I did a great job. It was so much fun helping people. They would come in and they didn’t know what they wanted. Later, before I got into real estate, I was a home health care administrator. I worked for a company, and I had 300 people working for me. When I went into real estate, I decided I didn’t want to be that big.
Best business advice you’ve received: You can’t do it all, so choose what you’re good at and hire the rest out. When I was first getting started, a mentor told me that. I don’t do my accounting. I hire it out. I love to market, I love to sell, I love to mentor. I’m a people person.
Biggest challenge: Lack of time. The biggest challenge is staying organized and getting through all the things you need to do. That’s on the personal level. On the industry level, it’s making sure that the value of the Realtor is known. It’s a challenge, because we have a lot of new agents coming in, and Florida’s license law is easy. I don’t hire part-time agents. I tell them you have to be full-time first, then you can go part-time. And tight lending — it’s easier to have a root canal and a colonoscopy than to get a mortgage.
Biggest mistake you’ve made in business: Thinking I could do everything. You can do everything, just not at the same time.
The most important trait you look for when hiring: Ethics, honesty and motivation. You cannot motivate someone. You can train someone, but you cannot motivate them.
Best business book you’ve read: It’s not your typical business book, but “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho is a great book. It’s all about following your dreams. Too many people won’t do it, because there are too many sacrifices required. My whole theme this year has been, “Dream big.” I also read a lot of traditional business books by authors like John Maxwell.
What you see ahead for Palm Beach County: Florida’s economy is second to none in the country. We are an absolutely strong state. People want to be here. They’re not just retiring here — people are coming here to raise their families, and this is the lifestyle people want. It looks bright. We just need to get a little more inventory.