In Florida’s volatile real estate market, it often pays to seek the counsel of professionals with historical roots in the community who can provide valuable insights on the future of the area’s development.
The firm of Maxwell, Hendry & Simmons has been the go-to consulting firm for real estate clients in Southwest Florida since 1983, when real estate appraiser Michael Maxwell formed the Fort Myers-based firm. He was later joined by partners Gerald Hendry, a fifth-generation Southwest Florida native, and Matthew Simmons, a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University and the youngest person ever appointed to the Florida Real Estate Appraisal Board.
While the firm was originally established to provide commercial and residential real estate appraisals, it has expanded to provide a wide range of consulting services to help clients realize the highest and best use of any property.
“Over the past decade, we really focused on being a full-service real estate firm because we are real estate problem solvers,” explains Hendry. The ability to do so has earned Maxwell, Hendry & Simmons credibility and respect from many of those who have worked with them closely. Lee County Property Appraiser Matt Caldwell honed his skills with the firm before launching his successful political career and remains “of counsel” with the firm, contributing occasionally to projects outside Lee County.
“What I know about appraisal I learned there with Mike and Gerald,” Caldwell says, adding that he helped bring Matt Simmons to the firm to start the residential division.
When Geoffrey Roepstorff, CEO of Edison National Bank in Fort Myers, was a junior bank loan officer in the 1980s, he frequently turned to Maxwell for advice.
“Now I’ll call Gerald Hendry and he’ll school me on all the new appraisal topics,” says Roepstorff. “I value the ability to pick up the phone and talk to somebody, and they’re one of the very best in the area. They have the history, the credentials, the expertise and integrity, so when I’m talking with them I know that I am getting good information.”
The Hendry family were pioneers who settled in Southwest Florida more than 150 years ago and guided the development of cities like Fort Myers. Hendry County, adjacent to Lee County, bears the family name.
The new headquarters of Maxwell, Hendry & Simmons is located in the downtown Fort Myers boarding house at 1619 Jackson Street owned by Gerald Hendry’s grandmother from 1943 to 1979.
“My dad, my uncle and my grandmother lived in the house. It’s a 1909 home that the Pavese family built,” Hendry says. It’s a house full of history: Frank Pavese, Senior, founder of the wellknown Pavese Law Firm, was born there.
Maxwell, Hendry & Simmons moved from south Lee County into the 112 year-old house last year and hired Jonathan Walters, star of HGTV’s Home Town rehab show, to renovate it. The local public television station, WGCU, plans to air a documentary about the house and its transformation.
The firm’s return to its roots in Fort Myers coincides with the urban renewal of the downtown area. Maxwell Hendry & Simmons worked closely with Mainsail Lodging & Development, the Tampabased developers of the new Luminary Hotel, connecting them with city officials steering the downtown revitalization project. The hotel has already become a landmark with its sweeping views of the Caloosahatchee River and downtown Fort Myers from its rooftop bar.
DETERMINING BEST USE
While recognizing the value of its ties to the past, the principals of Maxwell Hendry & Simmons don’t let the past cloud visions of the future.
“There’s a danger with appraisal to let history be the obstacle to a project,” notes Lee County property appraiser Caldwell. “It’s easy to say it’s never going to work. That’s not the attitude of Maxwell, Hendry & Simmons. They are constantly looking at where the market is going and how to prepare themselves and their clients to meet it.”
This forward-looking attitude leads the firm to be a proponent of market studies to help guide their clients.
“We’ve got relationships with a lot of folks here locally, so we know what’s legal and physically possible,” says Simmons. “But we also question what the market is telling us that we should do.”
For example, the firm could help an owner of pasture land in the path of future development determine the highest and best use of the property.
“We really get into the weeds of walking you through the process of developing the property,” Simmons says. “That process might include bringing in experts such as land-use attorneys, environmental engineers and other professionals. We handhold throughout the process”
Maxwell Hendry & Simmons also conducts value and economic impact studies to show how a project will affect a community. This aspect of their business has become more significant as Florida has become more densely populated and communities become more concerned about the impacts of growth on the neighborhood.
For example, the firm might help a multifamily developer determine how new apartments may improve a neighborhood. Conversely, it might help a community group determine whether a proposed commercial project would harm the area.
“There wasn’t anyone in the area filling that niche before,” Simmons says.
APPRAISALS TO SAVE TAXES
Property appraisal remains a core service of Maxwell Hendry & Simmons. The firm started by appraising commercial properties and expanded to residential homes in 2005. It prides itself on its tax and financial work, which they say has saved clients many thousands of dollars in tax assessments.
“We do a pretty significant litigation business, such as tax appeals, partner disputes, marital dissolutions and eminent domain,” says Hendry. “That’s been a heavy focus for us.”
But the traditional bank and financerelated appraisal work has become a smaller part of the business as its consulting practice has expanded.
“It’s really changed the makeup of our company,” says Hendry. “Our staff has grown to 13 appraisers and three support staff, thanks to the increase in consulting work.”
While Maxwell Hendry & Simmons is a well-established real estate consultant in Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties, the firm has taken on projects outside the region, especially when requested by one of its long-time clients.
“We have all the data from the I-4 corridor south and all the systems and real estate resources, both residential and commercial,” Hendry says.
Simmons points out that appraisal services have not been immune from rapid changes in technology.
“There are a lot of tools that didn’t exist even two or three years ago,” he says. “We’re working now on data science, and considering building our own GIS system and valuation models. We’re planning on helping to lead the charge.”
Simmons explains how mobile and desktop applications have helped appraisers streamline systems and become more productive. In some cases Maxwell Hendry & Simmons appraisers don’t need to visit a property to conduct an appraisal. The firm can email an electronic survey to a property owner. With this survey in hand the owner can walk around the property without an appraiser being present and, when prompted by the program, document the details needed for an appraisal by snapping photos and noting important features.
“It used to be that data was very proprietary and now data is readily available to everybody. Our role is to aggregate the data and present it to the client,” Hendry says. “Whoever does that best will succeed.”
Although the company now has access to data from Tampa and Orlando south, its principals do not want to expand too quickly.
“Right now, we’re really focused on customer service. We’re trying to create the process and the technology so that when the day comes to expand to a broader area, we’re able to do so,” Hendry elucidates.
“A lot of our lending clients would like us to open up geographically, but what we really care about most is making sure the quality is superior. We don’t want to grow for growth’s sake.”