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    Realtor to the pros

    [Times photo: John Pendygraft]
    Real estate agent Cleanza Lanier stands in front of a wall of photos of people in the Tampa bay area to whom she has sold houses.

    By BABITA PERSAUD, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 1, 2002


    TAMPA -- Her first was Warren Sapp. Cleanza Lanier ran into the Tampa Bay Buccaneer at the Mr. Klean carwash. They both drove Mercedes Benzes.

    "Hi, Warren," said Lanier, a Realtor.

    photo
    WARREN SAPP: In 1996, the Bucs player lived in an apartment and Cleanza Lanier "didn't know jack about football," she said.
    photo
    SHAUN KING: Lanier makes greens and fried chicken for King after a bad game. "I send my friends to her," he said.
    photo
    KEENAN McCARDELL: The new Bucs player is among the Realtor's clients, which include performers and baseball stars.

    [Photos courtesy of Cleanza Lanier]

    It was 1996. Sapp had been drafted by the Bucs and was living in a Harbour Island apartment. She knew she had to talk fast. She told him her background. She told him, "I'd love to help you find a house."

    "I was selling myself like crazy," Lanier said.

    He listened. He nodded.

    "Okay," Sapp said.

    And that's how Lanier, who admits she "didn't know jack about football whatsoever before meeting Sapp," gained her first professional football-playing client.

    Today, she's Realtor to the pros.

    After Sapp came quarterback Shaun King and defensive lineman Anthony McFarland. Then safety Damien Robinson, receiver Reidel Anthony, linebacker Jamie Duncan and tackle George Hegamin -- all former Bucs.

    Ex-Rams safety Keith Lyle bought a house in Tampa through Lanier. So did new Bucs players Keenan McCardell, Joe Jurevicius and Ken Dilger.

    In June, Lanier, put Dilger and his wife, Heidi, in a Tampa home, storing their furniture in her garage until the closing.

    "I didn't know much about Tampa," Dilger said. "And she was a big help -- all the little details taken care of."

    It's not just athletes. Lanier found R&B singer Brian McKnight a rental home during the Super Bowl in Tampa, phoning a non-celebrity client in Westchase.

    "Can you be out of your home by 2 p.m.?" she asked. "I've got a client who wants a house for a week."

    The homeowner hesitated.

    "You can make three to four thousand dollars," she said.

    He was out by 2 p.m.

    Lanier says she caters to her star clients long after the deal's been closed.

    She gets their carpets cleaned. She makes collard greens and fried chicken for McFarland, Robinson and King after a bad game. A Buccaneer will phone her from the plane: "Yo, Cle, did you cook?"

    "I'm like a big sister," Lanier said. "If I feel they appreciate what I'm doing, I don't mind doing anything for them."

    She has fitted their closets with shelves, extended their lanais. Shaun King once called with a computer problem.

    Another time, recalled McFarland, "We got out of practice, left training camp, and she cooked us breakfast, scrambled eggs, grits -- you know -- a real country breakfast.

    "It was the best meal we've had, since the food at training camp isn't so good."

    After the meal, McFarland and King played dominoes on the kitchen table of Lanier's home in Hillsborough's Countryway neighborhood.

    "I trust her so much that I recommend her," King said. "I send my friends to her."

    Trust didn't come easy. With King, Lanier first had to meet his uncle, who knew about real estate.

    "She had to pass the test," King said. "'And she passed with flying colors."

    The houses she sells can come with million-dollar price tags. But Lanier has talked high-end clients out of spending millions on a first home.

    "Don't go for the gusto right now," she has said. "When you get that fat contract, then come back and let me sell you your big house."

    Her goal: "I am looking for the customer for life," she said.

    Lanier, 41, grew up in Huntsville, Ala. Her mother, who has a doctorate in early childhood education, was a child care center director. Her father was among a handful of black chemists and mathematicians at NASA in the 1960s.

    Before real estate, Lanier was an underwriter and auditor for Aetna Life and Casuality Insurance. She relocated seven times with the company, hopping to Atlanta, Houston, Philadelphia until finally landing in Tampa in 1991 with a big promotion: human resources director.

    She hated it. "I had to fire people," she said.

    Lanier, who is single, became a first-time homeowner in Countryway. She read volumes on real estate and said to herself, "I can do this."

    In 1992, she sold her first house. But she wanted a niche. Then came the encounter with Sapp at Mr. Klean in South Tampa.

    Usually, Lanier conceals her celebrity clients from the seller during the first showing to keep negotiations fair, she said. But sometimes, that's not possible. Sapp's time was limited. The homeowners didn't want her to show that day. So she said: "Well, I don't think you should miss this opportunity because I have a high-profile client."

    Of course, they stayed to see who it was. And they "walked us all around the house, talking to Sapp about sports the entire time," said Lanier.

    Sapp was quick to buy, said Lanier, who is now affiliated with Coldwell Banker. "He bought a house in two hours. He saw it and said, "This is it. Let's write it up.' " (Sapp now lives in another home in the gated community of Avila.)

    She won't discuss how much she makes from her high-profile sales, but there are other perks besides money.

    After she put McKnight into a rental home during Super Bowl XXXV, the singer needed a car because it was too cold to ride his motorcycle. He offered to rent Lanier's Mercedes for the week.

    "Just take it," Lanier said.

    He didn't forget. A year later, when he was back in Tampa giving a concert, he gave Lanier backstage passes. He introduced her to his parents. His bodyguards escorted her and her girlfriends.

    "We were tripping," Lanier said. "They treated us like kings and queens."

    -- Babita Persaud can be reached at (813) 226-3322 or persaud@sptimes.com.

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