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Real estate agency's abrupt closure stuns agents

Re/Max Advantage Realty gave no notice it would shut down Tuesday, its agents say.

By JODIE TILLMAN
Published February 7, 2007


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PORT RICHEY - Re/Max Advantage Realty, once a dominant real estate agency in Pasco County, abruptly shut down Tuesday.

Nearly 25 affected agents did not learn of the decision until Tuesday morning. At least some of them were notified by e-mail from a representative of company owner Donald J. Hachenberger.

The e-mail said agents needed to collect their personal belongings Tuesday afternoon. There was no explanation for the office's closing.

"It wasn't done right," said Bill Baptista, who was standing outside the office Tuesday with a handful of other displaced agents.

Rick Miller, who said he represented the owner, would only say Tuesday that the closing "was just a business decision." He declined to elaborate.

The well-documented slowdown in the real estate market could be partly - though not wholly - to blame for the closing, said agents and outside observers.

Carol Austin, the executive director of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors, said she was surprised to hear the news. In spite of all the hand-wringing over the market, she said, "We've not seen any major companies closing."

In its heyday, Re/Max Advantage Realty, in the U.S. 19 strip with Carrabba's Italian Grill, had more than 60 agents working the area.

"When they first started in this market, they were the cat's meow," recalled Robert Memoli, a past president of the West Pasco Board of Realtors.

The company was once owned by prominent commercial real estate agent Mark Swartsel, who sold it but stayed on as an agent.

Re/Max later lost key agents who started their own firms and also began facing more competition, Memoli said.

Broker Barry Grover, who is one of the Re/Max contractors now looking for a new firm, said the real estate boom brought in inexperienced agents.

When the market was hot, they did well. But as the market has slowed, he said, some had problems paying their company fees, which can run about $1,500 a month.

Now that the office has closed, the agents must find work with new firms. They said Tuesday that they expect to continue working with their current roster of clients. Some will transfer the clients to Re/Max New Dimensions in Trinity, which has different owners.

The agents cannot take on additional clients until they link their licenses with new companies.

Grover, who was just announced as one of Re/Max Advantage's top listing agents, producers and selling agents for 2006, said clients shouldn't expect any big changes. What disappoints him, he said, is the handling of the closure.

"It's not dignified," Grover said. "It's not right."

Other than the sight of people hauling files to their cars, the office had no other indication it was closing Monday except for a sign on the door saying the office "is temporarily closed for repairs." Asked about the sign, Miller said it had been hung on Friday when some work was being done.

Grover and Baptista, however, laughed at that explanation. They said they never saw the sign until they showed up Tuesday to clean out their desks.

Times staff writer James Thorner contributed to this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at 727 869-6247 or jtillman@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 6, 2007, 22:41:25]


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