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Real estate reversal in Northeast Florida

Reacting to a changing market two years ago, real estate investment firm JWB Real Estate Capital decided to shift gears and build houses to rent rather than sell.

Previously, the company bought distressed properties at steep discounts, renovated them and flipped them to real estate investors. "It was more profitable to find renters than sell right away," says JWB President Alex Sifakis. "We knew homes were going to be appreciating very rapidly in 2013 and didn't want to keep selling" to investors, he says.

"Why sell something now for $100 grand if you know it's worth $125,000 in a year?"

JWB built 68 rental homes in 2012 and was on pace to build another 70 last year. The company has purchased 1,000 properties in its sevenyear lifespan. Sifakis says JWB owns 140 vacant lots in the Jacksonville area and plans to buy around 360 more lots and vacant homes this year.

Holding on to more properties instead of immediately selling meant the company's revenue fell 35% to $4 million last year, Sifakis says. But he expects to make up for that by earning between $24 million and $25 million this year as the firm begins to sell homes again.

Players

Dan Peters is president and CEO of Ocala-based E-One. The frm makes emergency vehicles. Peters was previously CEO of Collins Bus in Kansas. JaxPort has hired Rick Schiappacasse as its director of Latin America sales. Schiappacasse was previously the Port of Baltimore's director of Latin America and Caribbean. Thomas Beaver is the new chief of the division of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at UF Health. Beaver was previously interim chief of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery. He also holds an endowed chair position in the department of surgery at the UF College of Medicine.

AMELIA ISLAND —

The resorts and hotels on Amelia Island are reporting that 500,000 visitors came to the island last year — setting a tourism record.

GAINESVILLE —

The Florida Board of Governors for state universities has granted the University of Florida approval to spend $15 million a year to hire 100 faculty over the next five years to help reach its goal of becoming a top 10 nationally ranked university. The university also broke ground on the $30-million Harrell Medical Education building. The 94,000-sq.-ft. building will be the home for medical and physician assistant students. » Prioria Robotics has received $4.5 million to produce small unmanned aircraft and ground control stations for the U.S. Army.

JACKSONVILLE BEACH —

The 177-room Hampton Inn Hotel on Jacksonville Beach has sold for $26.5 million to Rhode Island-based Magna Hospitality.

JACKSONVILLE —

Publicly traded Atlantic Coast Financial plans to sell $46 million of stock. The sale is part of the bank's turnaround plans. It is required to raise more capital by a consent order with the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. » A State Farm operations center was sold for $43.7 million to a Texas-based private equity firm called Lone Star Funds. State Farm has leased the building back and will continue to house its 1,100 employees there. » The city has filed a foreclosure lawsuit related to code violations to gain control of the historic Bostwick building, also known as the "jaguar building" because its windows sport murals of jaguars. The building has been vacant since the 1980s. Its owners want to demolish it. » The 37-story Wells Fargo Center, one of downtown Jacksonville's tallest buildings, is on the market, and the 22-story Aetna building is under contract to be sold, according to the Jacksonville Business Journal. » Patriot Transportation Holding, a trucking company, bought Pipeline Transportation, a gasoline trucking company. The purchase was made through Patriot subsidiary Florida Rock and Tank Lines. » Liberty Property Trust plans to sell its 32 commercial properties in Jacksonville. Most of the properties are office buildings. » San Franciscobased Advent Software is seeking $1.3 million in city and state incentives in return for bringing 123 jobs and spending $750,000 renovating office space.

MARION —

CitraPac, a Polk County food processor, has put expansion plans in Marion County on hold.

LAKE CITY —

Champion Home Builders will open a facility in Lake City. The company already has a factory there that employs 125 and makes modular and manufactured homes. The new facility will employ 45.

OCALA —

The Yankees have agreed to pay half the cost of a voter referendum for a new minor-league stadium. The Yankees want to move one of their farm teams from Tampa to Ocala. But the county has postponed a vote while it considers other funding options.

ST. JOHNS —

A planned development called Twin Creeks, which originally was supposed to have 5,000 homes, will now have far fewer homes and more commercial and industrial development, according to the St. Augustine Record. That means land that was donated for two elementary schools and a middle school is now being given back to developer Falcone Group.

The Evolution of JWB

2006-07 — Alex Sifakis and Gregg Cohen start Progress Home Buyers. Adam Rigel is brought on as a co-owner.

2008 — The owners shift their focus to buying homes and renting them, using private lenders to finance purchases. Later that year, owners again change gears, selling their renovated properties to investors.

2010 — Progress starts a property management company to manage the rental properties it sells.

2012 — Owners rebrand as Jacksonville Wealth Builders and decide to build homes to rent and stop selling homes to investors.

2013 — Owners again change their name to JWB Real Estate Capital and continue a dual focus of building homes for rent and renovating existing homes. They offer property management, construction and realty services to the public and explore land development.

From left: President Alex Sifakis, CFO Adam Rigel and CEO Gregg Cohen. Sifakis and Cohen started the company in 2006.

PROFILE

Student Maid

What started as an endeavor to earn money for a $99 pair of Lucky brand jeans in 2008 has turned into a successful business for Kristen Hadeed, a University of Florida student at the time.

Because her parents refused to pay for the jeans, Hadeed went on Craigslist, advertising her services as a house cleaner. She eventually got enough work for her and several other students for the rest of the school year. By the summer of 2009, Hadeed had incorporated as Student Maid and had contracts with nine apartment complexes. She also started offering other services like dog walking. The Gainesville company only hires students — paying them from $9 to $11 an hour. Hadeed requires employees to have 3.5 GPA.

Student Maid now employs 400 during the peak summer season and recently opened an office in Pensacola. Hadeed attributes her success to hiring smart students and focusing on customer service.

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