By Caren Burmeister, Contributing Writer
Mirtha Barzaga got into real estate at the worst possible time.
It was 2006, the peak of a real estate market bubble that was about to collapse.
As the recession deepened and hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs, people could no longer afford their expensive homes, often purchased with interest-only loans.
By the end of 2008, the Case-Shiller home price index — a national index sponsored by Standards & Poor’s — reported the largest price drop in its history. Foreclosures would soon hit an all-time high.
My friends would say to me, ‘Are you nuts?’” said Barzaga, a Realtor with Davidson Realty at World Golf Village. “But I knew I needed time to learn the business and the region and to develop customers.”
In her first year, Barzaga saw a dire need to specialize in short sales and distressed properties and became certified in those areas. A decade later, her decision is still paying off.
“A lot of the business I do today is based on referrals from those people,” she said. “That was the best time for me to have started this business. It was worth every bit of aggravation I went through.”
By 2013, when short sales had nearly come to an end, “business was flowing,” Barzaga said.
That year she set a goal to sell $15 million in real estate. She bettered that goal by $500,000 and received three Davidson Realty awards.
Last year, Barzaga was named the company’s top sales agent, top producer and top listing agent with more than $15 million in sales and over $13 million closed.
Barzaga notes one of her early short sales has led to seven additional transactions and more than $2 million in sales.
She was richly rewarded by another short sale for a man and wife — both U.S. Marines — who were being reassigned to Washington, D.C., in 2009.
They were broken-hearted about having to sell their World Golf Village home and the loss they would take. But her efforts to get the greatest return earned their loyalty.
The couple came back to World Golf Village when they retired in 2013. With Barzaga’s help, they bought an even nicer home.
The day of closing, they presented her with an American flag that had flown in Afghanistan. The gift brought her to tears and she has since framed it and mounted it on her office wall.
“There are a lot of stories that touch you,” she said.
Born in Cuba, Barzaga grew up in New Jersey, married and owned a construction company with her husband. After divorcing, she moved to Miami and started an import business, delivering fresh cut flowers from South America to top supermarkets across the country.
Ten years later, she moved to Jacksonville to help raise her three grandchildren. Her only regret was she didn’t stop in Jacksonville on her way to South Florida.
“If I’d have stopped here, I never would have made it to Miami,” Barzaga said, noting she likes to be able to wear a jacket in the winter and witness a bit of autumn color. “This offers the best of both worlds. It’s perfect.”
Barzaga said her construction experience is invaluable. It equips her to evaluate quality and see the home from the builder’s perspective.
Open the front door and she can spot the telltale signs that point to individual builders across the region, revealing a depth of knowledge that builds trust with clients.
“It’s good to recognize the builders because you know where they’re coming from and their history,” Barzaga said.
That experience also attracts partnerships with developers and builders. While Barzaga’s real estate market stretches from Daytona Beach to Nassau County, roughly half her business comes from World Golf Village, which was developed by Davidson Realty.
In 2013, she sold the remaining lots in the King and Bear subdivision to Standard Pacific Homes (now known as CalAtlantic Homes), which is completing the GroveWood neighborhood.
Barzaga’s warmth and hospitality come into play as she follows up with clients, past and future, with personal notes and holiday cards and by hosting her annual appreciation party, an indulgent shindig that treats about 100 customers, lenders, appraisers, builders and others to food, drinks and music.
Her heart is revealed in community service, particularly her work with the Emergency Services and Homeless Coalition of St. Johns County.
Twice a year, Barzaga oversees a food drive, urging homeowners association members to donate food in bags delivered to their homes and collected by volunteers from Nease High School ROTC and band.
She also donates furniture discarded by home sellers to the homeless coalition’s transitional housing program, a campus of 18 small homes in West St. Augustine.
“It’s a good thing to do,” Barzaga said about her work with the homeless. “It gives them a hand up and helps them progress forward in life.”
Over time, Barzaga has earned a reputation as a Realtor’s Realtor, the person colleagues go to for advice.
Now she’s training and mentoring new agents and taking on clients from partners who plan to retire or move away from the area.
“You go where the business takes you,” Barzaga said. “I’m at full blast.”