Restless Native: Jaime Sturgis’ firm plunges into residential sales amid commercial slowdown

Fort Lauderdale brokerage expanded through hirings and acquisitions focused on building a formidable team handling home sales

Jaime Sturgis with Native Realty's Gateway Shopping District office at 1926 East sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale (Photo-illustration by Kevin Cifuentes/The Real Deal; Getty Images, Jaime Sturgis)
Jaime Sturgis with Native Realty's Gateway Shopping District office at 1926 East sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale (Photo-illustration by Kevin Cifuentes/The Real Deal; Getty Images, Jaime Sturgis)

Jaime Sturgis picked a heck of a time to get into the home selling game. 

In November, Sturgis’ Native Realty recruited then-Re/Max First agents Whitney Dutton, Chris Sedlack and Arber Balani to spearhead his Fort Lauderdale commercial brokerage’s foray into residential sales. 

The firm’s expansion could be a hedge against a South Florida commercial market that has slowed some, though not as much as other parts of the country, since Covid. But the execution came a month after jurors in Kansas City, Missouri, found the National Association of Realtors, Keller Williams and HomeServices of America guilty of colluding over commission rates in the landmark Sitzer/Burnett trial. 

At the time, the verdict sent shock waves through the nation’s real estate industry. The ruling upended the decades-long practice of listing brokers offering buyers’ agents compensation in listings on NAR-controlled multiple listing services, which the plaintiffs argued violates antitrust statutes and inflates costs.

The outcome of the case and other pending class-action lawsuits against NAR weighed heavily on Sturgis when he decided to turn Native into a full-service brokerage. 

“That was a huge question mark for everybody,” Sturgis said. “Is half the residential industry still going to be here when it’s over? And interest rates were on a tear and that was starting to impede home sales. If I looked at it purely on the market side of things, then I probably would have said no.” 

Broward bound 

On a recent morning, Sturgis, dressed in khaki-colored jeans and a khaki polo with his company’s logo on it, sat in a chair near a pool table inside the high-ceilinged C-suite of Native’s Fort Lauderdale headquarters.

Since Sturgis formed Native in 2017, the brokerage has moved four times “because we kept outgrowing” previous digs, Sturgis said. In addition to the pool table, the current headquarters has a ping-pong table and a wet bar. In a lavish kitchen area, a neon sign with cursive lettering that says “L.O.I. or Die” hangs next to a brass bell that Native brokers ring after closings. 

Long before establishing Native among the leading brokerages for commercial sales and leasing in Broward County, Sturgis cut his teeth pounding the pavement of Little River and Wynwood more than a decade ago. In 2011, he landed at Metro 1, a Miami-based commercial brokerage founded by Tony Cho that focused on both neighborhoods, which at the time were going through the early stages of gentrification. 

A Fort Lauderdale native, Sturgis reeled in the first wave of food and beverage, art gallery and other retail tenants that moved into warehouses converted into storefronts by such early Wynwood pioneers as the late Tony Goldman. 

During those early days of Wynwood’s transformation, Sturgis found that he enjoyed bringing in a mix of hip and trendy tenants that helped establish the neighborhood as a popular destination in Miami, he said. 

Six years later, he had moved up to sales director at Metro 1, closing $11 million in deals during the first quarter of 2017. But he got the bug to strike out on his own, looking to replicate what he had accomplished in Wynwood, but in his hometown. That’s when Sturgis formed Native

He wanted to apply what he’d done in Wynwood to forgotten industrial districts in Fort Lauderdale ripe for redevelopment. For instance, in late 2018, Sturgis brokered the sale of two warehouses that were converted into mixed-use buildings for a combined $13.2 million in Fort Lauderdale’s Flagler Village, at the time a gentrifying neighborhood near the city’s downtown. The exterior walls of the buildings, known as The Hive and Flagler Uptown, were adorned with murals of Marilyn Monroe, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and other pop culture icons.

“Jaime has built a business that a lot of people think happened overnight. That’s simply not true.”
Whitney Dutton, Native Realty

The properties traded for $362 a square foot and $462 a square foot, record prices for Flagler Village back then, Sturgis said. 

Tricera Capital and RRE Investments, two Miami-based companies that Sturgis represented with Wynwood acquisitions, bought the Flagler Village properties. Over the next three years, Native fully leased the buildings on behalf of Tricera and RRE, securing 20 new leases and renewals. 

“I’ve done a lot of adaptive reuse sites,” Sturgis said. “We’ve also worked on a number of different assemblages with multiple owners to sell at the highest and best value to a developer that wants to come in and build a mixed-use, multifamily project.” 

In 2022, Native represented Tricera and RRE when the joint venture sold The Hive and Flagler Uptown for $18.3 million. Native’s “very long standing relationships with clients” like Tricera and RRE is a primary reason his brokerage competes effectively with larger firms, Sturgis said.

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Good neighbors 

Sturgis found the right partner to lead Native’s residential division just a few doors away. Whitney Dutton, Native’s residential sales director, lives in the same neighborhood as Sturgis, and the brokers have children of similar ages.

“There were a lot of parallels,” Dutton told The Real Deal.

Dutton, a top residential agent in Broward County with more than $225 million in closed sales since 2018, wanted to branch out on his own last fall. At the time, Dutton and another colleague, Kyle Sorel, then-owner of Fort Lauderdale brokerage No Limit Real Estate, had initially discussed forming a new company, but instead began conversations with Sturgis, which eventually led to the brokerage’s expansion into home sales and rentals. 

Bringing his Re/Max team to Native as opposed to starting a new brokerage meant that he didn’t have to worry about the associated costs such as branding, creating a website, leasing an office and hiring administrative and support staff, Dutton said. 

“Joining Native allowed us to plug and play,” Dutton said. “Jaime has built a business that a lot of people think happened overnight. That’s simply not true.” 

In January, two months after Dutton and his two RE/Max associates joined Native, Sturgis’ brokerage acquired No Limit Real Estate from Sorel and his partner, Jordan Cohen. The 18-employee agency handles residential deals, commercial real estate leasing, investment sales and development-related services.

According to Sorel, he and Cohen wanted to focus on their other company, Titn Development, which builds spec mansions and boutique commercial projects, but also retain the ability to have some control over the sales and leasing of their developments. 

“As much as I would like to be there and show every buyer the house I built, it is a better overall process if someone else focuses solely on that,” Sorel said. “Whitney and I brainstormed about what we wanted that to look like, and we wanted it to look like Native, but for residential. That’s when we were like, ‘Let’s talk to Jaime.’” 

So far, the union between Native, No Limit and his team is working out well, according to Dutton. Native’s residential division doesn’t have price minimums, so agents are selling older condo units in the low six figures to multi-million dollar waterfront homes. 

The brokerage is also focused on selling Titn’s spec projects, while he and Sturgis have also discussed competing for exclusive listings of pre-construction condo units of planned high-rises where Native is handling leasing of ground-floor retail spaces. 

“That is something we are able to offer on a case-by-case basis if clients want a boutique brokerage as opposed to a larger box brand,” Dutton said. “We’re moving about 10 to 12 properties a month, and business has increased by 10 percent from what we were doing at Re/Max.”

Balancing act

Any reservations caused by the NAR verdict seven months ago have subsided because Dutton and his team have proven now was the right time for Native to get into residential sales, Sturgis said. 

“I think the NAR thing is probably a blessing in disguise,” Sturgis said. “I think that there is, especially in the residential market, a saturation of people who believe they can do it part-time and oftentimes are not passionate.”

Ultimately, he said he wants to grow Native’s presence throughout Florida. On the commercial side, the brokerage has handled a few investment sales in Orlando and Tampa, he added. And the residential division has more opportunity to expand across the state simply because the industry has more residential agents than commercial brokers.

“From a commercial leasing perspective, we’ve had to turn it down,” Sturgis said. “We want to really understand a market’s ins and outs better than anybody. Also, I am not going to be able to be there if a potential tenant calls for a showing and they are at the building. That’s not possible when you’re three hours away.” 

Over the past 18 months, the brokerage industry has experienced turbulence due to slowdowns in commercial and residential sales activity, according to Sturgis.

“It’s going to shake some people out of the industry that were either new to it or didn’t necessarily have a book of business to survive because their brokerages weren’t providing them with leads,” he said. “So I think there will be some attrition and some fallout at some of the bigger brokerages. We’ve been very mindful of taking on opportunities that will push a little bit out of our comfort zone, but in a measurable capacity that we can handle.”