Jacky Barker and Donna Spiers don’t just sell homes, they paint a picture of what life would be in Seaside — sipping lemonade on the front porch, strolling along untamed footpaths, feeling the gentle breeze on your skin, and sharing stories with family.
This is the magic of Seaside, they declare. “It reminds people of what it used to be like going to the beach with their grandparents, living in a beach cottage with a front porch,” says Barker, who has worked in Seaside for 30 years.
Barker, who was the Emerald Coast’s top selling real estate broker along Scenic 30A in 2012 with sales of nearly $37 million, began as a shy receptionist at Seaside Community Realty in 1983 and later became a real estate broker. She recalls the early days of Seaside, when prospective buyers would have to envision what the first New Urbanist community would be.
“The first two Seaside cottages were what we called the red house and the yellow house, built to help people see what Robert and Daryl envisioned for the town,” says Barker. “Robert and Daryl lived in the yellow house and we used the red house for real estate sales.”
Spiers, who has worked in Seaside since the town was established in 1981, started out as a housekeeper for town founders Robert and Daryl Davis. She says while many were skeptical of the design principles of New Urbanism, those who bought into Davis’ vision were pioneers of a sort. “Some people thought they were crazy,” Spiers recalls. “A lot of people were quite incredulous that Robert wanted to build a town right on the beach.”
Chris Kent, an experienced real estate broker and counselor, thought the business of real estate could be done in a more human manner. He managed the real estate office and considered Seaside a laboratory, structuring real estate sales at a totally different level. “Jacky and Donna were remarkably open to presenting this community in a new way,” Kent says. “They also didn’t want to be typical real estate brokers, and that’s why they were so good at it and remain so.”
Kent wove in the principles of a disciplined brokerage. “But it didn’t look, act or feel like a brokerage,” he explains. “We were telling people of the humanity of Seaside, the planning of Seaside, the soul of Seaside.”
The foundation of Seaside Community Realty was a well-organized operation at every level, Kent continues. “We used graphic materials that had not typically been used in real estate sales. For example, architecture and planning materials that would only be used in academia would be presented, page by page, to every single prospect that walked in the door,” he says. “Our assumption was that they were smarter than they were given credit for.”
Those who were intrigued with Davis’ plan for an elegant yet laid back community were looking for more than a high-rise condominium like those sprouting up all over Northwest Florida in the 1980s. “A few people would take the time and stop to learn what we were doing,” Spiers says. “So it wasn’t as hard as you might think.”
With the entire concept of the town not fully laid out, prospective buyers saw what was only a patch of dirt in a beautiful area that was going to eventually become something, Spiers says. “We had people who wanted an alternative lifestyle, a beach cottage. Not a condo, not a lobby — a neighborhood.”
“Seaside redefined the notion of a planned community,” Kent says. “We did the same redefinition with the presentation, marketing and sale of the town. We pulled apart the process of what is typically done and presented new materials to help our visitors understand the community itself before they even looked at cottages. That presentation of the community was first and foremost, and remains first and foremost.”
As construction began on home after home, the design concept turned into an inspired and inspiring reality. “The fact that this little strip of the beach was now being developed was exciting,” Spiers adds. “The downtown was in its infancy with only Daryl’s open-air market. Back then it was a lot of fun. It was a very social time for everyone who worked here.”
The first lot Spiers sold in 1982 was for $15,000. Rapidly, the value of the home sites rose, selling for $40,000.
With few remaining lots today, one Gulf-front site is listed at $2.9 million. In the early days, one buyer tried to trade a car for a lot at Seaside. “A celebrated quarterback for the University of Alabama, Norwood Hodges from Anniston, Ala., tried to trade a Volkswagen for the dirt,” Spiers laughs. “But Daryl and Robert didn’t need a car.”
Owning a Seaside home meant kids could play in the streets, neighbors looked forward to seeing each other season after season, greeting fellow beach lovers with a friendly, “Good morning.” Cars stayed parked in the driveway and gas pedals gave way to bike pedals.
Today, Seaside is just as friendly, and for kids, it can mean their first taste of freedom from their parents for a few hours, taking a bike ride throughout the streets without getting lost, or stopping at Modica Market for a soda.
Though this gem of the Emerald Coast now is one of the most famous beach towns in the world, the character of Seaside remains. “Seaside still appeals to families,” Spiers says. “Of those communities on 30A, I think Seaside is probably the most authentic of all the beach towns. It’s laid back, unpretentious, organic and real.”
Even though Spiers and Barker didn’t start out as real estate brokers, their honest and comprehensive business approach has resulted in satisfied customers. “And they are remarkable brokers,” Kent says.
Robert Davis agrees. “They have turned out to be our longest-running employees,” he says. “By never telling a lie, by under promising and over delivering, and by selling the experience and opportunity to aestivate (spend the summer in a state of torpor), as well as to reconnect with your children and grandchildren. And they are our most trusted staff members.”
For Barker, seeing homeowners from all over the world fall in love with the town makes her work a pleasure. “The best thing is having homeowners from all walks of life,” Barker says. “And the multi-generations of families coming here.”
“That’s really what Seaside is all about,” Spiers agrees. “You can buy a beach house anywhere, but this place is special. You are constantly reminded of just how special it is.”