AFTER SELLING $11.8 MILLION IN ONE YEAR, WITHOUT HER OWN TEAM, IT WAS TIME TO LAY THE GROUNDWORK FOR THE FUTURE.
Have you ever met someone who seemed like a force of nature? One of those rare individuals whose drive and enthusiasm raises everyone’s game, like a thermostat raises the temperature in a room. Meili Viera was described by her business associate and the owner of Waterman Real Estate, Andy Waterman, saying, “She is like a breath of fresh air, that lightens up the room every time she walks in. She is extremely smart, caring and probably the most driven woman I’ve ever known.”
It is a sentiment shared by most of her business associates. But, when the veil is pulled back, there is always a story of perseverance and intelligence, of taking chances and of helping other people realize their dreams, that is the underpinning of people like Meili. As the 19th century philosopher and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.”
Her journey began in Cuba, under a communist regime, until the age of seven.
It was a system, as she describes it, “Where shortages and rationing were the norm and the people were controlled by fear.”
But her parents ensured she was able, even at that young age, to separate the truth from the daily diet of propaganda. Her father escaped the island nation on a raft and was followed by her maternal grandfather, who was granted political asylum here, along with her mother, grandmother, sister and Meili herself.
Her family eventually moved to the west coast of Florida and as a senior in high school, she had her first exposure to the industry where she would make her mark. “I was doing dual enrollment and I met a woman who told me I had the type of skills and personality that would do well in real estate,” Meili said. She interviewed with a family-owned brokerage, run by a mother and daughter, at a time when the market was very hot. They managed a number of seasonal and annual rentals, and on the first day she was given a stack of leases to review and was thrown into the deep end of the pool. But Meili found that in business she was as at home in the water as Michael Phelps.
She could be rental agent and property manager, at that time, without a license and soon was managing that side of the business. Meili developed finely-honed people and communication skills, as she was dealing with clients migrating to Florida from all over the U.S., whose first reaction was, “What do you know, you are my granddaughter’s age?” Then, when the market dropped, she learned how the rental side could carry a brokerage through lean times, while she also became an expert in foreclosures and short sales. By the time she graduated from college she had her real estate license and more experience than most agents have in a lifetime.
Spreading Her Wings
As she was finishing her MBA, she realized she had always lived and worked where she grew up and decided to move east to the Space Coast. “When I got here, I discovered one of the most vibrant communities shared my last name,” she recalled. “Then, when I found out that in Slovak, ‘Viera’ meant ‘faith,’ I was excited and took it as a sign from heaven.” Though she added that her name was part of her Iberian, not Slovak, heritage. Describing her early impressions, she said, “I loved the beaches, especially that no matter where you live, you aren’t far from the ocean or the water and the area had so much potential.” Meili was not sure real estate was where she would stay professionally, but felt it was a good time to explore her options.
It was the commercial side of the market that attracted her interest next – particularly shopping centers – which led her to begin exploring how marketing and leasing of commercial property was done. Serendipitously, she came across an add on Craigslist, of all places, for a manager of five Publix shopping centers and sent in her resume. An owner from New York needed someone in the area to manage their properties and flew her to New York for an interview and then hired her.
At the time, their vacant inventory was at more than 50 percent, and much like her initial foray into rental property, it was a learn as you go experience, with a seasoned mentor. She developed a business plan, joined several leads groups, like the Chambers, who could connect her with the type of small business owners they wanted to work with as tenants. Thus, began her relationship with Juster Development. Today her properties are almost 100% occupied.
“I was, in most cases, the youngest and usually the only woman in the room, at regional commercial real estate seminars,” Meili said. At one in Orlando, a man came up to her and said, ‘Who are you? Then added, ‘We won’t see you next year.’ She was there the next year and the next, though she was not sure if he was, and she was sure to look for him. For the next three years she focused exclusively on the commercial side of the business.
In 2015 as the real estate market began to grow again, Meili began working with a group that was buying, remodeling and then selling homes and she was their exclusive agent. As word spread that she was involved in investment deals, she attracted more investment parties.
By 2017 she found a new professional home with Waterman Real Estate.
“I really admired what Andy had done in the community. A second-generation business that embodied all the values that were important to me and gave me the flexibility to pursue the commercial management, investment and home transactions that I wanted to be involved in,” she said.
To Waterman’s credit, he admired her drive, her vision and endorsed her pursuit of her broker’s license and earning a second master’s degree in real estate development.
Together, she and Waterman opened an office in Indialantic, with Meili serving as the managing broker. After selling $11.8 million in one year, without her own team, it was time to lay the groundwork for the future. “I wanted to open a multifaceted brokerage, where we can pair a client who wants to buy a home, with a residential real estate specialist. But also, to have someone who could help a client build a real estate investment portfolio or to actually build an investment property from the ground up,” she explained. In addition, Meili wanted a team of partners, experts, who could handle all facets of process which today includes Sarah Hidy with The Mortgage Firm, Yanni Gonzalez Chirino of NuVantage Insurance, along with Mitzi Thompson and Glenn Tomasone of Landing Title Agency.
The brokerage also works hand in hand with local builders to design and customize specific visions, while offering concierge project management for the most basic, to the most complex projects. “The synergy has been contagious,” Meili said, “and the vision is to provide all real estate solutions under one roof.”
Chirino described Meili as, “the ultimate professional, who does incredible work and I know it’s because she absolutely loves what she does.” She went on to say, “Meili’s most admirable feature is her drive and reluctance to settle for ‘good enough.’ She imprints this onto her friends, colleagues and clients, often highlighting opportunities for them to succeed and going out of her way to ensure they can. Meili changes your perspective and helps you turn your dreams into reality.”