CLEARWATER BEACH - Rosemarie Swisshelm-Bonnington has added another award to her long list of honors. The Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce named Swisshelm-Bonnington Beach Citizen of the Year. "This really blew me away and I am very, very proud to have this honor after all these years of being so involved in this community," says Swisshelm-Bonnington.
She and first husband Jim Swisshelm opened their realty office in 1972 at 643 ½ Mandalay Avenue, where the office is still located. An individually owned firm, Swisshelm Realty serves the beaches and the mainland in the Tampa Bay area. Since they are independently owned, they are able to provide specialized services to buyers, sellers and renters and are free to be flexible and creative while doing so.
After Jim's death in 1991, Rosemarie married Doug Bonnington.
Swisshelm-Bonnington isn't worried by the current real estate market decline. "Florida continues to attract new residents, perhaps not at the frantic pace of the last several years, but steadily. In our office we notice that listings that sold in 15 days or so in the past now take two months or more."
She said she has seen this happen before. "It reminds me of the 1970s when we first opened our doors on Clearwater Beach, the sudden slow down in the hectic building boom and the fears of a sudden down turn in property values. There was a major concern then as now, but I remember that contrary to the majority's opinion, back then property values didn't really suffer that much of a downturn and rebounded much faster than many people thought they would."
Florida real estate through the years has had it's up & downs. Says Swisshelm-Bonnington, "However, after a down cycle real estate has usually bounced back to higher values than before the downturn. Of course, this also depends on the condition of the U.S. economy as a whole. If buyers can not sell their homes in the "North", they also can not buy here. I do expect the "Baby Boomers" to make a significant dent in our available properties for several years to come."
Swisshelm Realty was fortunate during the slow period in the 1970s and is thriving still today. "Our office had a significant amount of property management business back then as we still have today. We have on staff an excellent property management team that is managing properties for our clients on the mainland as well as for those on the beach," says Swisshelm-Bonnington.
Swisshelm's advice to young people and anyone thinking of beginning a real estate career is to, "Finish school, get a business degree, with a minor in Real Estate, which is now being offered at some schools. Be prepared for a lot of expenses including Realtor dues, and not earning much for the first couple of years."
Swisshelm-Bonnington says there are pros & cons when being a broker/owner. "After the initial training time as a beginner, in a few years you may want go out on your own. In fact, over half of all offices are small, with just a few agents. The average work week for an Owner/Realtor is 50-60 hours. You are responsible for the actions of your agents. It takes a certain person who is a self starter and who wants to be independent."
Once becoming an agent, if you are thinking about buying into a real estate franchise, Swisshelm-Bonnington says, "It is all well and good, they offer a lot of training, but it is like working for big business and the pie gets cut many ways. You still pay all of your Realtor Board dues, but no time has to be spent for the day to day operation of the office, which is a plus. You will work with sometimes hundreds of agents."
Swisshelm-Bonnington was born in Hamburg, Germany. Compared to Clearwater she said, "It is a lot warmer here! Joking aside, most of my life I did not live in Germany, but 2 years ago my husband & I spent time there. It is lovely, clean and has a lot of green space, lovely mountains, and wonderful public transportation. Since I still speak fluent German, we were able to enjoy the local flavor."
Swisshelm-Bonnington received her education in Vienna, Austria and then relocated from Europe with her parents to Chile. After arriving in Clearwater, she worked at the airport for Hertz in customer service and later moved to their Clearwater office. It was at this point that Rosemarie began her long and committed involvement with Clearwater's Chamber. She served on their Tourism and Convention Committee.
Later she chaired the newly formed Foreign Visitors Committee that was instrumental in introducing hundreds of foreign travel agents to Clearwater.
Swisshelm-Bonnington served as the World Circle Language Club's first president and is a past president of the Altrusa Club of Clearwater, an international association of executive and professional women. She is a founding member of the Clearwater Marine Science Center and at present sits on the boards of the Clearwater Beach Association and the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce.
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