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Dale Sorensen Real Estate opening new office at A1A and 17th Street

STORY BY STEVEN M. THOMAS (Week of December 7, 2023)

The largest real estate company headquartered in Indian River County is opening a third office on the barrier island in a location that company founder Dale Sorensen Sr. calls “very strategic.”

The office, which will be located in the former PNC Bank building at the intersection of Highway A1A and 17th Street, will be the company’s first new island office since 2005, when it opened its north A1A location.

The new office will be the largest Sorensen office on the island based on the bank building’s current square footage, and it might be expanded with a second story or an addition in the area where the drive-thru is now.

The company is still working out the details of how the new office will be renovated and used but one thing is already certain – it will be seen daily by many more passersby than Sorensen’s other two island offices combined.

“I see the location as a hub,” said company managing partner Dale Sorensen Jr. “A lot of traffic goes through that intersection and people spend a lot of time waiting at the lights. Visibility wise, you couldn’t find a better spot. I am passionate about the location.”

Indeed, according to figures provided by the Florida Department of Transportation, an average of 22,000 cars use that stretch of 17th street daily, while another 16,900 pass by the building on Highway A1A. But those are annualized averages, factoring in sleepy summer days when traffic is light through the intersection. In season, well over 50,000 cars will pass the new real estate office daily.

Those numbers are almost certain to increase in coming years as nearby developments get underway and are completed. New high-end “cottages” are being built across the street by Palm Coast Development and a mixed-use project with retail, offices and a popular restaurant is about to break ground five blocks south on A1A.

And, of course, the City of Vero Beach’s 37-acre riverfront redevelopment project with a hotel, docks, recreation areas, shops and restaurants will be built at the mainland end of the 17th Street causeway.

That development is projected to attract large numbers of tourists and locals, and many of the visitors are bound to cross the bridge to visit South Beach Park or go into the island village to shop or dine. All those additional people will pass by the Sorensen office.

Dale Sorensen Jr. was familiar with the building because he banked there for a number of years. When the PNC announced that the branch would be closing in the summer of 2023, he pitched the idea of buying the property to his father and mother, Matilde Sorensen.

“I live on the south island so I travel through that intersection every morning. I took pictures from the south to show my dad how visible the building is to people coming into town.”

PNC closed the branch bank earlier this year as part of a nationwide adjustment to the ongoing increase in online banking. It was one of more than 240 branches shuttered in 2003 so far by PNC, which is the sixth largest bank in the country.

When the doors of the island branch closed for the last time at 3 p.m. on June 23, the Sorensens were ready. After due diligence and negotiations, Dale Sr. and Matilde Sorensen bought the half-acre property and 3,880-square-foot building at 1700 Highway A1A in October, paying $1,350,000.

The building is attractive and in good condition, with a blue, standing-seam metal roof and lap siding with stone trim. It is shaded by four mature live oak trees and there are four large, recessed planter areas, one at each corner, where Dale Sorensen Jr. said video screens might be placed, showing luxury houses for sale or other marketing material that would be visible to passing cars.

“You can’t do video, because it could distract drivers, but still images would look better on the video screens than on a poster,” he told Vero Beach 32963 last week.

The Sorensens have commissioned a study to determine their options under city and county building and zoning regulations to help figure out the highest and best use of the property.

Dale Sorensen Sr. said that if they do the minimum – renovating and furnishing the interior of the existing building and sprucing up the grounds – the cost of renovation will be between $300,000 and $500,000. If it makes sense to expand the building, that number could go much higher.

“We don’t want to fix it up and then find out we could have done something better,” said Dale Sorensen Jr. “At the same time, if expanding the building is too costly, we aren’t going to spend a zillion dollars on it.

“It is perfectly suited for a new office the way it is, with just interior changes. It has the parking we lack at the Cardinal office and it is right next to Riomar where my parents and many of our friends and customers live.”

Possible uses of the building include making it an ultra-luxury office focused on the high end of the island market, according to Matilde Sorensen. It’s also possible a Sorensen-owned insurance company could occupy some of the space.

“Insurance has become such a big part of the real estate picture,” Dale Sorensen Jr. said. “We have partnered with an underwriter who is very smart and knows how to analyze long, complex policies. He redid the insurance on my parents’ properties and saved them $25,000 the first time around.”

Regardless of how the new location fits into the family’s billion-dollar real estate brokerage, they view the purchase of the bank building as a good commercial real estate investment.

“We are operators of a real estate brokerage, but we are also real estate investors,” said Dale Sorensen Jr. “From an investment standpoint, we are very comfortable with that location and purchase price. I don’t think we overpaid a dollar.”

The sense of satisfaction with the deal is enhanced by the limited availability of prime commercial property on the island.

“You can’t just walk onto the island and buy a good office location,” Dale Sorensen Jr. said. “It is very challenging because there isn’t that much out there, and a lot of it is owned by the same folks who won’t part with it. I think that building in that location will be one of our better performing assets.”

He also noted that the family prefers to own its office spaces rather than be at the mercy of a landlord who might decide to sell a building or dramatically raise lease rates. The Sorensens own both of their other island offices.

“We have always been very committed to the Vero Beach marketplace, and with some of the things going on here now we are even more passionate about having a strong foothold on the island, if you will,” Dale Sorensen Jr. continued. “We expect market growth here, especially in terms of prices. There will be fluctuations in prices for sure, but we expect values to increase over time. I am very excited about this new location. I think it is a perfect fit for us.”

Dale Sorensen Real Estate was founded in “a tiny little office” on Beachland Boulevard in the 1970s. Since then, the family-run enterprise has grown to include 250 agents working at eight – soon-to-be nine – offices in Indian River, Brevard and St. Lucie counties.

Dale Sorensen Sr. said the company has already surpassed $1 billion in sales this year companywide, for the third year in a row, and is closing in on $1 billion in sales just in Indian River County, where the bulk of company’s business is transacted.