Pete Vogt is the owner of George A. Vogt, Inc. and the current Director of Orlando Regional Realtor Association, Inc.
My name is Pete Vogt and I was born in Wauchula, Florida in 1944… My father was in the service and my grandparents and great grandparents lived there so we’d be there every summer. And I was there in the seventh and the eighth grade until my father retired from the Air Force, we moved all over the country. Florida was my home. Wachula is a small town. It seems smaller now than it was then…
LISTEN Part I (19:03)
What did your grandparents do for a living?
My grandmother was a legal secretary and my grandfather was a retired electrician. And she worked for Grady Burton who ran for governor two times. Doyle Carlton who lived there was the governor which is amazing for such a little town that nobody ever heard of. I mean to go to the big city we’d go to Lakeland. And Orlando was about the size of Lakeland at that time. It was a big city to me. It wasn’t very big. And my grandparents lived in Punta Gorda. In fact, my great grandfather and great grandmother had a huge ranch down there. What is today Port Charlotte. And they bought the land for a dime an acre for tax deeds… They were rich by the standards, but I mean they lived in a house up off the ground with dogs underneath it. And you know, you ate out in the back yard. You ate out in the backyard on the picnic table… There was a big issue at the time, you had to fence the pastures so the cows stayed out of the road… It was like another age looking back on that now…. In fact, my great grandfather he once held Thomas Eidson’s watch. Thomas Eidson, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone lived in Fort Myers. They had summer homes there. My grandfather had a gas station and he [Eidson] did not have any cash on him one time and he held his watch until he came back and paid….
How did your family happen to settle in Pine Castle?
Well, my great grandparents, two sets of them, moved to Wachulla. And so, my mother was born there and then she met my father during the war. He was from Texas. And then when he was in the Air Force, he retired. He retired in Orlando and McCoy was on the south end of town and we lived in Daetwyler Shores which is in Belle Isle and just stayed there. And, you know, it was a small town too until Disney came.
Where did you go to school?
University of South Florida. Economics and Liberal Arts graduated in ’66. And then joined the Army. And I was in the Army for three years. Went to OCS, was a lieutenant. I had a great time in the Army. Thank God during the Vietnam War I was in Germany which was a great place to be; a great place to be now. Everything was cheap. Rented an apartment for $75 a month. Buy a car for $100. Just lived like a European.
What did you do when you got out of the Army?
When I got out I didn’t know what to do. Had a wife and baby, came back and interviewed around, was offered several jobs, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought about real estate because my grandmother was a realtor and my father when he got out of the Air Force used her license. And you have to work for a year for somebody else to start your own business. And then he had a real estate office after he retired in Pine Castle. And I got a job as an appraiser for a year. I got a job teaching school at Tangelo Park. And after a year I went in to selling real estate with them and done that ever since. Yeah, I haven’t done anything else… In the real estate business you have to kill it and eat it like a wild beast. You never know, sometimes it’s really good and sometimes it’s not. But, you’re your own boss, a lot of freedom. I liked it. Also, most people that go into real estate are older. I was 24 years old and that’s really young to go into the real estate business… I was lucky because I went to high school here and college and I knew a lot of people. They were starting off buying houses. Houses were cheap. It was fun.
What were the neighborhoods? Was it Orlando?
Yeah, it was Orlando. Winter Park, Orlando, Belle Isle, Pine Castle, College Park, Orlando Metropolitan area. If you’re in Sanford or Kissimmee that’s out of town. And then Disney came in the early 70’s and they warned us that it was going to change everything. It did.
So you started after Martin came to the area?
Oh yeah, it’s hard to believe, with The Martin Company houses were really cheap like $10,000, $7,500 for a three bedroom house. And interest rates were about 6%. So you could buy a house and your down payment would be a hundred dollars a month. Then the Martin Company laid people off and people couldn’t afford a hundred dollars a month. And so, they lose their houses or try to rent them out….
So most of your real estate customers would be people that worked at….
At Disney, or Martin, or in the Air Force. They transferred in and out. In Florida it’s kind of a real estate person’s dream because people move down here in October and think this is paradise and then in August they say, “No, it’s not.” So then they move. Because as a business it doesn’t matter if it goes up or down just as long as it changes hands. That’s why so many people go in real estate. I mean the Board of Realtors always had like 10,000 members or so.
Director of the Board of Realtors
You know, it’s funny, I was at one time, the youngest member of the Board of Directors and I was the oldest member of the Board of Directors. How did that happen? I think I’m also the only person in history, too, that was the Director of the Board of Realtors, and the Director of the Audubon Society at the same time.
What’s it like to do business here and be able to sustain it for that long of a period of time?
I don’t know. Its like Gary Tharpe, who’s a realtor always said, “You have to be walking around.” What that means is you have to be out moving, seeing people, involved in the community… Success in the real estate business is either knocking on doors, calling up strangers, or knowing a lot of people. And then as it builds up, you get past customers because people get divorced, they die… I always was mainly a “lister” which means I wouldn’t actually sell as I’d have them listed; represent the sellers. That was easier. All buyers are liars.
You and your dad worked in the same office? George A. Vogt, Inc.
Yeah, and my brother. At one time we had 25 people. They don’t all make a living, you know. And, my father, he was kind of an old sergeant type… For business we were always on the same side and we mainly dealt with people we knew or past customers, referrals things like that.
And you had an economics degree so you had that economics – business background.
I think just having a broad knowledge of a lot of things, because you meet all kinds of people and you have to be able to talk to them. And it’s not really understanding the economy, it’s more understanding people and what they want. And we don’t really sell things, what we do is work through the process. For most people, it’s very complicated and they’re scared. If you do it all the time, nothing to it.
LISTEN Part II (19:55)
Are you allowed to tell us your technique when you show a house?
Well, you never criticize the house, ever. Even if people say, “Aw, no, purple tile!” You don’t say, “Oh yeah, purple tile that’s awful.” Because people might come back and say, “You know, that purple tile wasn’t all that bad.” So you just say, “Mmmm.”
Gender Negotiations and Decision Making
One of the tricks you used back in the old days is you would have an offer on a house, you would call up the listing agent and make an appointment with a seller and you would go over there if you’re working with a buyer… and you present the buyer an offer. And you present the buyer’s offer and then try to talk them into it. And the thing that you do, especially – a man and a woman own a house – one of those people is the decision maker and your problem is you don’t know which one it is. Now the man always thinks it’s him. And so, you have to get the decision maker to make the decision without letting the other one know that you’re working with that one. So how do you do that? Well, you sit down and you say, “Here’s the offer.” And you give it to them and then you sit down and you shut up and you do not say a word. Whoever talks first is the decision maker. It doesn’t matter what they say. If they say, “You want coffee?” Or, “Is this all we get?” It doesn’t matter. And then you know if it’s the man or the woman. If it’s the woman, and half the time it is, you don’t want to be embarrassing the man by letting him know that you know his wife is going to make the decision. And I think wives all sense this. Things like that. I think a psychology degree would probably be the best degree. You learn a lot about people….
“What are you looking for in a house?”
It’s like I went to a seminar one time and the guy said, that you ask somebody, “What are you looking for in a house?” They say, “Well, I want three bedroom two baths, a garage, and I’d like to walk to Publix.” So you say, “Tell me about your self. What do you like to do?” “Well, what do you mean?” Well, what you’re trying to find out, are they a rock and roll drummer? Are they going to be really loud? Are they a bunch of rednecks that are going to sit on the porch and throw beer cans in the yard? Are they yard nuts? Because there’s a saying, “Paris is a thousand villages.” All realtors know every part of town. What’s good, who wants to live where. And it can be across the street and it’s another world. You can’t obviously discriminate or anything and it’s not based on those elements. There’s just different neighborhoods. Everyone knows – I don’t want to live there. And so, you try to place them. You don’t want to show them every house in town. You got to narrow it down. And you can sense, you can tell when you find the house you know they’re going to buy.
How can you tell?
Oh, they start placing the furniture. And, you can tell if they don’t like it. If they don’t like it, you’re wasting your breath to try to talk them into it. Plus, you lose the idea that you’re working for them… You know the old saying about the three most important things: Location, Location, Location. And that’s true. But people don’t listen. They know what they want. Give them what they want.
How many people would you see on average like in a day or a week when you were working?
I don’t know. I used to make a list because I would tell my associates, “It’s walking around that counts.” How may people do you talk to? From talking to the woman in the Publix to talking to you – not just trying to sell. And it would be like, the average person would speak to their coworkers, their spouse, maybe the guy at the gas station. Twenty people is a lot. For me, to talk to a hundred people is not a lot. You know, just call them on the phone, walking around town and seeing them. And somebody – I mean, it pays off. In the real estate schools they say, “Do you know anybody that wants to buy or sell real estate?” I’ve never done that. That would kind of run them off. I think you need to just kind of have a knack for it.
As someone who knows the area… how would you describe Pine Castle?
Well, Pine Castle and Belle Isle are different. Almost everybody that lives in there, or wants to live in there, lives in a small house and wants a bigger house. Because they don’t move far. Whereas a new person coming to town does not want to live there. What will happen is like the Martin Company or somebody will transfer somebody in, a guy goes and buys a house. They all bought in Sweetwater and Seminole County even though it’s a 100 miles from there. And then the other guy moves in and he asks his buddy where do you live? And he says, “Oh, Sweetwater’s the part of town. You want to live in Sweetwater.” Very few people say, “You want to live in Sky Lake.” But then they’ll go and they’ll say to the realtor I want to look at Sweetwater. So the realtor is not going to say, “I want to look at Kissimmee.” I mean, if they want Sweetwater they’re going to get Sweetwater. And they want to be near their neighbors and all that kind of thing.
And so, Belle Isle is a move up neighborhood. Mainly a move up neighborhood from Pine Castle. Now it has changed in recent years because they have been kind of lax on the code enforcement and that effects property values. People renting out rooms, things like that. Belle Isle just passed a deal stopping Air BNB because people were renting rooms and that can get out of hand. Nobody lives in Venice, Italy. Nobody lives there. They’re all renting out their rooms. When the cruise ships come, that’s the first sign to get gone. The next sign is renting rooms. And you can go into a house instantly and tell who’s renting rooms because they have locks on the door. I mean, in your house, you don’t have locks on the interior doors. And these do. And then they pave the driveway between two houses so you have one great big driveway. All that’s against code enforcement and people do it anyway. But, I mean, I’ll qualify this, I’ve lived in Belle Isle 50 years. I’ve been in the same house 37 years and I wouldn’t think of moving. But, it’s a nice place to live. It’s safe, it’s quiet, and it’s close in and I live on the lake. So it’s great. But Proust said, “ Travel makes you see the world through another set of eyes.” And in the real estate business, it’s kind of like that. You’re trying to see it the way they’re seeing it not the way you’re seeing it. Number one rule in real estate, it’s not you buying the house. If they like it, and you think, who would live here? Not my problem. And, but you can tell, if somebody wanted to live in Bay Hill, there’s no sense driving them through Belle Isle. But most people I think don’t think of that. It’s the same everywhere.
What has it been like for you to do business in Central Florida?
There’s only one industry here and that’s Growth. And it’s all built on Growth. New schools, new buildings, new houses, new prisons, new everything. If the growth stops, everything stops. Capitalism is built on growth. You have to have constant growth… A woman from Ohio moves down here and she goes to the bank to cash a check. And they say, “Can we see your real estate license?” And she says, “You know, I’m from Ohio and up in Ohio you go to cash a check and they ask to see your driver’s license.” And they say, “Yeah, but here in Florida some people don’t drive. Everybody’s in real estate.” I think what’s happened here is that people already have a house. Like I said, the real estate business has been the entry level market, the move up market, and then it keeps moving up….
The future of real estate in Florida… you see as reflective of what’s going on in the country, the cyclical environment?
Yeah. Also, the price of houses are in direct relationship to the incomes of the people in the neighborhood. These brownstones. I actually knew a guy that bought a brownstone in the 60’s for $70,000 and now they’re millions of dollars because people are making so much money. The ones that can do it now. Most people can’t buy… The relationship of the house is usually around a couple of times the median income. The median income around here is $50,000 for a family, so a house should cost like $150,000. Houses cost $250,000. So things are out of whack. People can’t afford it. Same thing with rents. Rents should be like a week’s pay. And so you go above a week’s pay and people are having to skip things. It’s hard. So then they get roommates,. And then all these apartments, all of these condos. Who’s going to live in these condos? Renters who are going to have to get roommates. Most people don’t like living in a condo. People want a yard or a house. Even a little tiny yard. And then you, there’s just lots of problems. You have homeowners associations. People don’t like homeowners associations. People don’t like condos. What do we got? We got homeowners associations and condos…. You can see it. You ride around town – we buy houses for cash. Or, it will say the most ludicrous – For Sale – House $150 flip for $250. Well, why didn’t the guy flip it for $250?
LISTEN Part III (19:48)
Have you noticed trends in homeownership in the years you’ve been in business?
There’s been a lot, I think. In a supply and demand, it means there’s a supply and that they can buy; and demand means that they have the means to buy. You can want a Rolls Royce, but if you don’t have the money you’re not counted. But what happened was, used to be women couldn’t buy a house. They didn’t qualify a wife’s income unless you were a nurse or a teacher. There was no such thing as gay marriage. And a gay couldn’t come out of the closet so they couldn’t buy a house. So what happened is, people who were making ten grand a year were now making twenty grand a year. So we go back to the value being in proportion to the income. So now, a house instead of being 40,000 is 100,000. And then the interest rates came down. Buying a new house is like buying a new car. How much down? How much a month? And if people can get a loan? And like I say, gay marriage or domestic partnership is great for real estate. This has released a huge amount of money with good jobs and taste. Key West you can’t buy a house for a million dollars; same thing in St. Augustine. And that’s good… But I know people who can’t afford $1500. a month for a one bedroom duplex and it’s a problem….
In working with some of the organizations you’ve worked with… do they talk about the stability of neighborhoods and affordable housing?
No. Well, in general. You can’t steer people. You know, redlining is against the law. You know, that used to be when I was appraiser, houses in the black neighborhoods were much more expensive than in the white neighborhoods. And most steering is done by ethnic groups. Well, little Vietnam over here. Well, most people buying there are Vietnamese. And who’s their realtor? Well, he’s Vietnamese, too. And people say, “Well, I want to live with Vietnamese.” You can’t say, “Well, it’s against the law.” When I first started you’d say, “Now your house is for sale without regard to race, color, or creed.” “Well, I ain’t selling to a black person.” “Well, the law says if somebody’s got the money, you have to sell it.” “Well, everybody’s just as good as anybody else, I guess.” People fell over pretty fast. You know, Faulkner said, “Everybody knew it was wrong” –the Jim Crow thing….
Have you worked with very many females purchasing their home for the first time?
Oh yeah, lots of them. That was unusual, too, which was ridiculous. I mean, if you had the money and good credit, why shouldn’t you buy a house. But they couldn’t. My wife was a fire breathing feminist. And it used to irritate the hell out of her. They wouldn’t count her income or something like that…. But it’s changed so much. When I first got out of the Army, the towns like in College Park which was the true establishment, the Country Club of Orlando, the citrus people had all the money. The old landowners, who through sheer luck – “Well, my great grandfather he bought that land for nothing because he had a little bit of money” – you know he kind of stretched the rules and did things like that because it was a wilderness nobody wanted… And then Disney comes and their land is worth a fortune to these developers and they got richer than God because they were so smart. And it’s not. It’s interesting to see how it’s changed and how it’s going to change.
I remember I was supposed to sell this property in Edgewood next to the City Hall. And I said, “You guys want to buy this?” And they said, “No.” I said, “You know you understand a hundred years ago the Indians camped here. A hundred years from now it’s going to look like Ft. Lauderdale…”
Speaking of changes, what do you think of the South Orange Cultural Corridor that they are planning?
I think it’s positive. I think it’s going to be tough… It can work if everybody gets on board…. You know what we have is urban vs. rural. If you’re living out in the woods, your dog can run. If you got a gun you can get drunk and holler and light a fire in your front yard. You can’t do that in a condo. I am optimistic though I many not sound vert optimistic…
Somebody said,” We owe everything to the ferocity of our ancestors….”
Interview: Pete Vogt
Interviewer: Jane Tracy
Date: January 8, 2019
Place: Orlando Public Library