Florida is a popular destination for the British vacation invasion. Just ask Stephen Pettinger, a former BBC producer who is now selling real estate in Florida.
In 2001, Pettinger spent several months in Florida producing “Escape to the Sun,” a BBC1 television show that featured British folks who were looking to purchase homes in sunny Florida. The show tracked the clients of ResortQuest, a property management corporation that specializes in vacation rentals, and featured company managers Jean Styles and Denise Assersohn, both from England.
The show’s premise apparently was contagious for Pettinger. “I totally fell in love with the place. I had an absolutely fantastic time,” he said. The real estate market, he said, “was fascinating – the market was about to explode.”
Pettinger gained a unique education in the real estate business by watching a variety of real estate agents interact with prospective buyers during the production of the show.
After the six-month stint in Florida, Pettinger was whisked away to other BBC assignments in London and San Francisco. He longed to return though, he said, and he jumped on a job offer to become a real estate agent. He got wind of the opportunity through a real estate professional he met while working on “Escape to the Sun.”
He studied for the real estate exam, received his license in January, and has been selling Florida real estate for Orlando Homes Worldwide Inc. ever since.
“You work hard here and you can play hard – you can hit the beach. There is so much to do, it’s almost like a permanent vacation. The quality of life is just so much better. People here I’ve found so warm, so helpful. I think very highly of the people here. They’re very welcoming.”
The weather is generally great, Pettinger said, with the obvious exception of the major hurricanes that have rolled across the state over the past few weeks. “At the moment I’m not very happy about the weather,” he said.
Fortunately, he said, the damage to properties in Orlando has been mostly superficial, and most properties have escaped major structural damage. “The damage here is really cosmetic. It’s been so hit and miss.” Many of Pettinger’s customers live overseas but have purchased a second home in Florida.
He has received numerous calls asking about the condition of specific properties following the storms, he said. “We have tried to reassure people that we’re in central Florida,” he said, and not along the coast, where hurricane damage tends to be heavier.
Despite the gloom the current streak of hurricanes has cast over the Florida real estate market, Pettinger said the forecast for the housing market is still quite bright. “House prices have stayed static for so long. In the rental vacation (home) area, prices have gone through the roof. It is certainly an exciting time to be here.”
Pettinger said he plans to buy a home in Florida within the next few months.
An estimated 1 million British residents visit Florida each year, he said, and the exchange rate is strong. Spain, which has long been a staple for British vacationers, may be falling out of favor as the adoption of the Euro has put property prices higher there, he said, and Spanish land laws can be tricky for foreigners.
Pettinger said European buyers don’t respond well to some real estate agents’ sales tactics in the United States, and he has adopted a laid-back approach with prospective buyers. “I saw American agents with European buyers were going too hard – talking (the sale) at them as if they were buying a car. They talked their way out of a sale.” European clients don’t like to feel pressured, he added.
“When they like (a place) they’re even quieter – the closer they play their cards to their chest,” he said. U.S. residents seem to expect more of a heavy-handed sales approach from real estate agents: “OK, sell me this property,” he said.
Also, British home buyers are accustomed to working with a number of estate agents, as estate agents in their home country cannot show houses that are listed to other estate agents. And the agents operate solely as listing agents. Once they understand the U.S. system, he said, “They love it. They love the fact that they can get into any house on the market.”
Pettinger’s first real estate sale was in his first week as a real estate agent. “It felt great and a little bit overwhelming,” he said. And now? “Every sale feels great. It’s not lost any of its feel-good factor. Finding the right place for someone, that’s the biggest buzz. I don’t think I could talk somebody into a sale and not feel good about it.”
His work in media has helped him to work with a wide range of people and tune in to their unique perspectives, he said. “The parallels – you have to be almost slightly comedian-like when dealing with so many people. You have to be a very malleable person. You’ve got to get on their wavelength. You’ve got to be where they are. It’s the same thing with reporting – it’s exactly the same in sales. It is just about understanding where people are coming from.”
While he is enjoying his second career in real estate, Pettinger said he plans to return to television, and he hopes to land another show in Florida. “My heart is in TV.”
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