Audrey Ross, Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell Realtor

Posted by — May 1, 2005

Audrey Ross, Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell Realtor

Audrey H. Ross has staked out a spot in the marbled foyer of a Mediterranean-style villa to greet a steady line of fellow Realtors streaming through for an agents' open house showcasing her new listing of a $1.75-million home.Make that a $1.95-million home.Amid a dearth of quality listings, so many calls poured in to Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell Realtors when the Coral Gables house hit the computer that Ross and the seller decided to hike the price by $200,000 the next day.Agents are swarming over the property at 11050 Girasol Ave. like ants. One agent flips open a cellphone as she ascends the open staircase: ''I want you over here right now,'' she commands.Ross, watching from below, smiles in amusement. "She's selling,'' she says.Most of the agents look casual. But Ross is dressed to the nines: A black designer business suit, well-preened hair, no shortage of jewelry. Her dark Mercedes sedan is parked at the curb.Another agent, roving through the expansive kitchen, declares to Ross: "I think I have a buyer for this.''''Call your people,'' says Ross, advising her the property will likely go that day.''Oh, they won't come right now,'' responds her counterpart.''Well, then it will probably be gone,'' Ross warns. ``But who knows. There's many a slip between the cup and the lip.''Sure enough, the next day, an agent brings Ross a contract proposal -- at full price.Ross earned a Ph.D. in education from the University of Miami. But it was a one-week crash course in real estate that launched her main career.Miami's doyenne of high-end real estate started dabbling in home sales back in 1980, almost on a whim. Ross, who married H.J. Ross, a prominent engineer, had already had a career developing and running school volunteer programs and then worked locally as a volunteer fundraiser when she went to work for high-end Realtor Casey Cousins.''It was like a junior league outpost,'' she says.At first, Ross says, realestate work consisted largely of getting her hair done at Elizabeth Arden on Wednesdays and showing up for the agents' caravan. ''I wanted to look nice at the office,'' she says, a trace of her native South Carolina still in her voice after more than 30 years in South Florida.After a couple years, she opened her own firm, Ross and Associates, which she built into a luxury-home boutique. In 2000, she yielded to repeated proposals from EWM president Ron Shuffield to be acquired by that firm. Ross, who works with three assistants, has been the top-selling agent at EWM every year since.HomeServices of America, an affiliate of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, acquired EWM in 2003. To further broaden its reach in the luxury market, EWM affiliated with Christie's Great Estates, an international network of real estate brokers specializing in luxury properties.''Real estate was an avocation that turned into an obsession that became a vocation,'' she says.Last year, her team sold $208 million in properties -- by all accounts a phenomenal level of sales. Among those was the priciest home on record in Miami-Dade, according to EWM -- a $27-million estate at One Arvida Parkway, which she both listed and sold.BREAKING RECORDSShe had sold the same property back in 1996 when it fetched $12 million. In 2003, she broke all company records at EWM, selling $63 million in property in a single frenzied week. Real estate commissions typically range from 3 to 6 percent.BRISK BUSINESSDespite some signs of a slowdown in real estate, she says business remains brisk.''Waterfront is hot -- so hot,'' she says. ``What's driving our prices is our precious land. God isn't making any more waterfront property in South Florida.''In March, Ross says, one buyer signed a contract on a house she had listed on the Coral Gables waterway for more than $2 million. A second shopper who had been mulling the house was devastated to learn it was gone. ''He approached me about putting a deal together to sell him the contract,'' she says. ``So rather than the first buyer sitting at the closing table, it was the second. And the first buyer is making a very nice profit for binding the contract.''But it's not just waterfront property that is in demand. She recently sold 80 acres divided into 16 five-acre lots west of Krome Avenue on the far western edges of Miami-Dade County. The plan is to build homes with large private lots. ''It used to be Krome Avenue was considered the next state,'' she says. ``But these sold fast.''Much of her business comes from repeat customers or referrals. After 21 years in the business, Ross has handled transactions on many of Miami's top homes two or three times.''She's sold a couple houses for me and represented many of my clients who were buying or selling,'' says attorney Milton M. Ferrell Jr., chairman of Ferrell Schultz. ``She's incredibly knowledgeable and very professional.''SOUTHERN CHARMRoss leverages her southern charm. In 2004, she hopped a ride on Ferrell's Gulfstream jet for a tour through Brazil, Argentina and Chile. He and co-workers handled firm matters; she worked on promoting the Four Seasons Hotel. But while in Buenos Aires, she found a new client interested in listing his $5-million condo in Vail, Colo., with her.For the most part, however, she eschews the limousines, helicopters and similar trappings of some luxury brokers, saying her typical client ``wants quite the opposite -- to be low key. Not to draw attention.''A big challenge now for buyers -- and real estate agents -- is a shortage of quality properties. Ross has improvised: She sells properties that aren't on the market.`THE MAGICIAN'''I call her Audrey the Magician,'' says Betty Brody, a Coral Gables resident. ``She changed my life. She sold my house to the chairman of Burger King, and she found me a house that wasn't for sale.''Brody had built a sixbedroom, six-bathroom spread in Cocoplum, but soon found the home was too big, especially with her daughter set to leave for college next year. She asked Ross, a long-time friend, to sell it.Ross brought her a contract proposal from Greg Brenneman, who was moving to Miami from Houston to take over as CEO of Burger King. But Brenneman, a former president of Continental Airlines who declined through a spokeswoman to be interviewed for this article, wanted the house as soon as possible, Brody says.''I wasn't too keen on getting out,'' Brody says. ''It was a year too early.'' Ross told her if she waited until she was ready to move, she might wait a long time to find someone willing and able to pay her price. Last August, the sale closed at $4.6 million. ``I was somewhat hysterical about where I'd go.''Having displaced her client and friend, Ross set to work to find another home for Brody, who wanted a small-scale version of the house she had. One night, sitting at a concert at Epiphany Church, Ross turned around and spied Miami attorney John Schulte sitting behind her. She knew his home would fill the bill, and though it wasn't on the market, she asked if he'd sell. He did.Now Brody is holed up in the Ritz Carlton in a twobedroom condo while remodeling is underway at her new place. Says Brody: ``She found me something that nobody else could have.''Posted on Mon, Apr. 25, 2005By Martha Brannigan: Special to The Miami Herald

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