Four questions for top Fort Lauderdale residential broker Tim Elmes

Tim Elmes, a broker at Coldwell Banker in Fort Lauderdale, has closed a number of the highest-priced residential properties in South Florida in recent years. Elmes, who has practiced real estate since 1987, was ranked 65 on the Wall Street Journal’s top sales agents nationwide in 2008, and his team recently closed a 7,700-square-foot Las Olas Islands home for $10.8 million, the highest-price sale in Fort Lauderdale this year, and the highest since Elmes sold a property at 1 Isla Bahia for $17.1 million in 2008. Elmes has risen from a former traveling encyclopedia salesperson to the top of the Broward County residential market by helping a cross-section of buyers, many of whom hail from New York and Boston, find large-scale mansions in South Florida.

How did you break into real estate?
I originally was an encyclopedia salesman in Europe, then I sold fire extinguishers across the Middle East. A girlfriend of mine was in real estate, and I’d never considered it, but I decided to get my license. I had started selling smaller homes, commercial properties and hotels, [and] then decided I wanted to sell larger homes. A couple of hotels were sold [and] there wasn’t enough money on the table and so we held the mortgage, and both big hotel deals never made it off the ground before we collected on the mortgage. So I looked at my time invested versus cash in pocket and it was clear that residential — luxury residential — was the way to go. So I went knocking door to door throughout Las Olas every weekend, with another job driving limousines on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights to pay the bills, plus borrowing from my brother. It took me 11 months to sell my first house. I sold the $13 million house in 1988, which was a pretty big number back then.

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How has the market changed in the last few years?
Frankly, after Hurricane Wilma [in 2005], the market went very slowly. Things only really turned the last few months, like someone turned the light switch back on in town, and we’ve actually closed $30 million for the first quarter of this year.

What attracts buyers to Fort Lauderdale?
We can take a car or a limo and be on Lincoln Road [in Miami Beach] in 20 to 25 minutes comfortably, and yet we have a very small-town feel. We have about 300,000 people in the city, and yet we have many of the attributes of a very large city — we have a performing arts center that’s set on the river, which runs down to the Everglades, we have an airport. Everything I ever want to do here is not more than 10 minutes away. Las Olas, which is kind of like our Worth Avenue, is five minutes away.

Have you noticed any difference in the buyers lately?
We tend to have a pretty broad cross section most of the time. The one we just closed was to an American family, the one in September for $9.45 was to a long-time Venezuelan client of ours. We sold one of Warren Buffet’s partners a home in Palm Beach maybe 12 years ago, sold that same house to this Venezuelan family about 10 years ago, then sold them a home that’s about three times the size. The home that we sold in May 2008 for $17 million was to a French family.