Tampa Bay Business Journal by Jane Meinhardt, Staff Writer
Date: Monday, May 6, 2002, 12:00am EDT
GULFPORT — It’s easy to see by the number of old-styled green and yellow signs posted on Gulfport property what real estate agency is busiest.
The distinctive signs belong to R.W. Caldwell Realty. The firm is not only the largest real estate agency, it is the oldest business in the city.
The agency celebrates its 65th anniversary this year with family members still at the helm.
“We have a well-earned reputation for hard work,” said Poul Hornsleth, president. “We’re one of the few mom-and-pop agencies really thriving. That’s because we live in the community and care about the community. Our customers are our friends and neighbors.”
Longevity in the city accounts for much of the firm’s success.
Hornsleth married April Caldwell in 1968. Her grandfather started the business and was part of the city’s council from 1939 to 1943.
R.W. Caldwell Sr. became known as the “father” of Gulfport’s beach after he proposed and then helped pay for a dredging project that created the sandy strip along the Boca Ciega Bay shoreline.
Caldwell Realty operates from an old house on Gulfport Boulevard. The lobby walls are adorned with a huge mounted tarpon that was dispatched with a hammer after it jumped into a boat and aerial photos of the Gulfport area dating back to the early 1900s.
The firm employs 15 agents.
In 2001, the firm’s agents closed on 232 transactions through multiple listings with a total value of $19.9 million. Average list price was $89,000, Hornsleth said.
In addition to Gulfport, the agency handles property in southwest St. Petersburg and South Pasadena.
“More than 80 percent of those sales were in Gulfport,” he said.
“We’re a full-service agency, so we do commercial (transactions) and manage about 300 rentals, but most of our sales are residential.”
Lulu Xayasone-Hunter, president of Gulfport Central Title Company Inc., has been doing business in the city for about a decade. She is familiar with the pace Caldwell Realty sets in real estate transactions.
“They do the majority of property sales in Gulfport,” she said. “There are a lot of other Realtors coming in here now, but they are still No. 1.”
Hornsleth, former chairman of the Pinellas County Democratic Party, said much of the agency’s business is from walk-in clients who are familiar with the firm’s history and name.
“There’s name recognition involved,” he said. “Someone in their family or someone they know did some business with us at some point.”
Some of the agency’s clients are coming from out of town, attracted by the city’s rapidly rising property values and small-town nature.
“I’ve got people coming from Key West to buy property here because of the quality of life,” Hornsleth said. “Gulfport is a small town, but it has all the benefits of the Tampa Bay metropolitan area.
“It’s 10 minutes from downtown St. Petersburg, 10 minutes from the gulf beaches and 10 minutes from just about everywhere.”
It’s been easy for the firm to portray Gulfport property as a good investment, he said.
At one time, about 80 percent of city’s homes were priced at less than $20,000, he said. Now, the average value of homes south of Gulfport Boulevard is approaching $100,000.
The agency has continued its tradition of community involvement by supporting youth baseball and other Gulfport activities.
In 2000, the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP recognized Caldwell Realty with its Fair Housing Award. Last year, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Hornsleth to the Florida Real Estate Commission.
“Gulfport is our community,” Hornsleth said. “We’re here for a lifetime.”