WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — “I’m dealing in dirt, which has proven over time to be a better investment than stocks.” —Ben Crosby, Winter Haven Realtor®.
Like many people, Ben Crosby, broker-owner of Crosby & Associates Inc. in Winter Haven, found his passion quite by accident. After college, Crosby joined an investment-banking firm. At the time, he was also dabbling in commercial real estate as an investor. Investment banking wasn’t Crosby’s passion, so he took advantage of an offer to leave the company in 1980.
Here’s what happened: “As a real estate investor, I had a partner who wanted me to look at a piece of land in Tavares. His friend was being foreclosed on, and we decided to help him out. We paid off his mortgage and entered the development business – we expanded the land and bought some citrus groves,” says Crosby, who recently was named the 2014 Land Realtor® of America, an elite award recognizing those who provide the highest caliber of land brokerage services in the nation.
Soon afterwards, his old investment banking buddies took notice. “They asked what I do for tax shelter these days, and I told them we were buying orange groves,” laughs Crosby.
Crosby then earned his real estate license in order to serve those investment bankers, and he developed a passion for agricultural land. Thirty-five years later, Crosby is still working in land sales.
“I prefer to work in land,” he says. In fact, he only does a small number of what he calls “brick and mortar” sales. “Three times, clients insisted I sell their houses, but well over 90 percent of my business is agriculture,” he says.
As an instructor for the Realtors Land Institute, Crosby says he gets asked quite frequently why he likes land sales. “It’s simple. In the United States, there are about 2.25 billion acres of land. About 8 percent of it is urban. The rest is rural or agricultural. I’ll let the others keep the 8 percent, and I’ll work the rest,” he says.
He also likes the challenge of learning about each piece of land he lists. “Every piece is unique, and you have to do the research to determine what you can do with the land to generate the most income possible,” he says.
For Crosby, training came on the job. “I started out in citrus and was involved as an owner,” he recalls. “You get thrown to the wolves quickly and have to learn what you need to do to keep a citrus grove in a state where it maximizes income. It’s all about education.” Crosby also attended local agricultural meetings and sessions on land brokerage.
The proof of the depth of Crosby’s passion for the business occurred in the 1980s. “I started my citrus and real estate career in Lake County in 1981,” he says. “In the 1980s, there were four major citrus freezes. By the end of 1989, we were wiped out.”
However, there was still significant debt on mortgages and land.
“In those days, if you owed money, you worked to pay it off,” he said. “It took me most of the 90s to generate the income to retire that debt. I learned a lot about the value of real estate, and it saved me.”
Crosby was one of the first to help develop the once agricultural areas northwest of Walt Disney World. “Once agriculture went away, there was interest in developing that land, and thus land values increased over the years,” he says.
He says that experience taught him a valuable lesson.
“You need to find your passion in life, whatever it is,” Crosby explains. “I don’t feel like I’ve worked at all since I got in the business.”
One person he has to thank for that is a client, who recently passed away. “That client, Fred Paige, taught me how impactful wrong decisions can be on a lot of people. Fred taught me about credibility and honesty, which is what I teach new agents today,” he says.
Crosby built his business around those values. He stresses the importance of doing your homework and disclosing to sellers and potential buyers any problems that you find. “Don’t hide or ignore anything. It’s a lot easier if you’re upfront and solve the problem,” he says.
As a final thought, Crosby reminds Realtors that people depend on you to help them achieve their goals.
“If you keep that in the forefront of your mind and help get them what they want, you come out on top.”
A member of the East Polk County Association of Realtors®, the Realtors® Land Institute and the CCIM Institute, Crosby is dedicated to his profession. He has taken additional education courses to enhance his knowledge and expertise, earning the professional designations of Accredited Land Consultant (ALC) and Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM). He recently received the Realtors Land Institute’s top honor, the 2014 Land Realtor® of America, as well as a 2014 Excellence in Instruction award. Crosby also is the 2014 recipient of the CCIM Florida Chapter’s Hank Thompson Award, awarded by his peers in recognition of his significant contributions and service to the chapter.