The Consolidator

Once a seven-person shop, Florida giant Arvida Realty Services now makes waves from peninsula to panhandle.

July 1, 2000

Richard Cope
Arvida Realty Services
1999 transaction sides: 34,526
Rank: 8

Richard Cope spent years acquiring top local brokerages to build his company into one of the strongest real estate brands in his state. Today, with the dust barely settled on his company’s merger with powerhouse developer The St. Joe Co., acquisitions continue to be the name of the game.

Cope is reaching for economies of scale to keep No. 8–ranked Arvida Realty Services thriving. This comes at a time when brokerage profits are under increasing pressure from rising costs and discounted services.

“Fundamentally, brokers are facing tremendous challenges,” says Cope. “That’s why the industry is consolidating so quickly.

“In our state, we’re the consolidator,” says Cope. “We’re telling brokers they can make more money, and get their liquidity out, by joining us rather than staying on their own.”

The company completed 14 mergers last year and has nine in the works this year. Its most recent merger, with ERA Sand & Shore, will boost the company’s presence in the Palm Beach area, where it already operates 20 offices.

Cope is an old hand at growing his company. He started with a seven-person brokerage, known as Rodgers and Cummings, in 1970 and expanded it to one of the state’s dominant real estate names: Prudential Florida Realty. (Now another company is using that moniker.)

In 1999 the company was renamed Arvida. The name change came as a result of the company’s 1998 merger with The St. Joe Co., the Florida developer that also owns Arvida. (“Arvida” is a contraction of the name of the company’s founder, Arthur Vining Davis, a major Florida developer of master-planned communities.) Today Arvida has a residential sales force of about 3,000 and a support staff of 700 operating out of almost 100 offices.

Cope doesn’t think he’ll have to work hard to rebuild his company’s identity under Arvida.

“Our people are well-known enough that we’ll keep our customers no matter what our identity is,” says Cope.

Like other brokerages in the state, the company has its eye on the swelling second-home market as the oldest baby boomers buy vacation homes in anticipation of retiring in the Sun Belt.

Those buyers are flush with money, but, unlike their parents, they’re looking for more than just proximity to beaches, golf, and tennis. “We’re still getting our share of the classic retiree, but we’re positioning ourselves to capture the entrepreneurial business owner who’s looking for a second home,” says Cope. That means a home with high-speed wiring and the best in appliances.

Long term, Arvida is planning big moves in high-end housing, high tech, and affiliated businesses. Its e-commerce infrastructure is “95 percent” ready to capture the Internet-savvy buyer once electronic signatures and other pieces of the tech puzzle get put in place, Cope says.

Among the biggest drivers of the state’s luxury home market are international buyers, who flock to Florida’s sun-splashed cosmopolitan cities. Last year Arvida captured $1 billion in sales to international buyers, and it aims to keep growing that business.

Arvida also publishes a high-profile luxury home magazine, Signature Homes & Estates of Florida, which reaches 200,000 international and U.S. households every quarter.

To boost its affiliate business, it has invested heavily in a retooled mortgage operation, which Cope wants to see reach the same 60 percent capture rate as Arvida’s title affiliate, the Sunbelt Title Agency.

“We always position ourselves above where we think we ought to be, and then we work as hard as we can,” he says. A lot of Florida residents have taken note.

Robert Freedman

Robert Freedman is the former director of multimedia communications at NAR.

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