Buying and selling land is much more than a transaction for Nancy Surak.
“I just have this strong desire to be on front end of deals and to be part of changing the community and leaving it in a better place,” said Surak, senior advisor and managing broker for Land Advisor Organization’s Tampa Bay office.
Surak, a 20-year veteran of the commercial real estate industry and a self-described deal junkie, has been specializing in land brokerage since 2005. She joined Land Advisors Organization in 2015 and has closed more than $110 million in transactions since then, including nearly $40 million in deals last year alone. Over her career, she’s closed more than $200 million in land transactions.
“When I’m driving down the highway, I am looking out of the window and I’m imagining what something could be, how it could be prettier or better,” Surak said. “I’ve had people say to me they’re surprised I’m not a developer, but I love the transaction side. I love sitting with a landowner and helping them understand what they have, helping them understand the data trends and what’s happening from a growth perspective and what that means to them financially.”
She also works on the buyer’s side, helping them understand the criteria for return on investment and what developers are looking for.
“I’m a self-proclaimed deal junkie. I love the deal. I love chasing the deal, but also working smart, understanding and maximizing the tools I have at my disposal and helping people in the deal connect the dots and make things happen,” Surak said.
Close to clients
Although Surak’s father told her early on she should be in the commercial real estate industry, Surak didn’t set out to become a broker. She majored in international trade and finance at Louisiana State University and got a master’s degree in mass communication at University of Florida. She took a job in marketing and business development for a construction firm and then worked in other real estate sectors.
After moving to Tampa in 2002, she worked for a few years for a geotechnical and environmental firm, then decided to go into brokerage.
“I called my dad and said you’re never going to believe this. I should have listened to you when I was younger, but I’m going into real estate and I’m going to do deals, so you were right all along,” Surak said.
She credits her success to her passion for the field.
“I think my success is because I really love what I do and I love my clients,” she said. “In land transactions, the sales cycle can be exceptionally long. A typical sales cycle for me can last 18 months, up to two years, sometimes three years from the time we sign a contract. And I might have been involved with the landowner or a buyer for a year prior to that. So you really get to know your clients on a personal level. Some of my clients I consider almost like family because I’ve gotten to know them that well. I’ve seen babies born, kids graduate, people get sick or pass away, marriages. You really become an extension of the family because you have to because you are working together so long.”
Surak is able to tap proprietary technology tools from Land Advisors Organization, based in Scottsdale, Arizona and with a nationwide team of land professionals. The company has developed a geographical information system, or GIS. Each market has its own version of the technology that tracks multiple data points.
“I can turn my maps on and see future development trends or current development trends from a residential standpoint, so when I’m engaged with a commercial developer or someone who’s trying to figure out where the development patterns are going, I can turn on all the colors on the map and really light it up. There are all kinds of other tools. I can search by zoning. I can search by land use. I can search by acreage size,” as well as by common ownership of separate land parcels, she said.
The proprietary GIS system and other technology help Surak become an expert in every class of real estate.
“I have to know what’s happening in residential real estate, in the office market, in industrial and distribution and multifamily. You name it, if it’s commercial real estate I have to understand what that means,” she said.
That’s because when she is working with landowners she has to understand what’s occurring around their property.
“I have to use all those technological tools and understand how to apply that advice to help people maximize their return,” she said.
Surak said her best clients are multi-generational families that own land with redevelopment potential. She enjoys helping them understand how to maximize its value.
Surak’s contact information is here.
One of the best opportunities for land deals right now in Pinellas County is in Pinellas Park, Surak said.
“They have and they continue to work on their land use code and development code. They recognize that their communities are evolving and changing and transitioning. They are listening to current residents and paying attention to those needs and they also recognize that if they can engage with this capital investment that wants to be in this region and get them to the table and help them be successful, the property tax benefit to the city is enormous,” she said.
For instance, a tract of land in Pinellas Park paid $18,000 in property taxes in 2018 when Surak sold it. Last year, that same tract was under construction and paid $760,000 in property taxes.
“That’s a lot of property tax that the city can now deploy to make much-needed improvements,” Surak said.
Other promising areas include Largo, Dunedin, Plant City in Hillsborough County, and parts of Manatee and Pasco counties.
Downtown St. Petersburg is a little more challenging because it’s pretty expensive, Surak said.
“The deals are there but they are more challenging to make happen,” Surak said.
She hopes that the master developer that the city chooses for the Tropicana Field project will bring solid resources and will also listen to local input.
“Downtown St. Pete is pretty special. I hope they play off all the things they have done right historically as opposed to trying to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “I want it to be a continuation of everything they’ve done right and maybe tying in what’s on the waterfront … I really hope they bring what they’ve done on The Pier over there and tie those two ends of the city together.”
She also hopes the redeveloped Trop has housing for everyone who wants to live at the site, green space and lots of public art.
The soon-to-be-sold Tampa Bay Times printing plant site – a 27-acre production facility on 34th Street North – might best lend itself to housing opportunities.
“There are some challenges because it’s all commercial out front so you don’t have road visibility. But housing stock — multifamily, market rate and workforce housing — is still in high demand throughout the county. Downtown has done a good job in creating that but price points for some people make it challenging to live in those buildings,” Surak said. “So I would love to see 34th Street be something that people who live here already can afford.”
Playing in the dirt
The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 also changed how Surak spends her own time off work. She and her husband, who is a civil engineer, are recent empty-nesters and have spent a lot of time at home together.
“We work out a lot together. We love being out in nature together. I’m from New Orleans, so I love to be in the kitchen experimenting with recipes and flavors,” Surak said.
The couple is spending more time understanding wines and cocktail beverages, but they are cautious consumers. A bottle of wine opened on Sunday will last all week, she said.
She’s also a gardener, growing both roses and succulents. “I love having my hand in the dirt. That’s how I replenish myself — playing in the dirt,” she said.
Overall, Surak is happy to be both working and living in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.
“This region has great resources. It’s not a surprise to me that people are drawn here,” she said.