As Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary, a look back at its evolution over the past six decades shines a light not only on its influence on the real estate industry, but also on how much the real estate scene and the company itself has changed.


As Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2024, a look back at its evolution over the past six decades shines a light not only on its influence on the real estate industry in South Florida, but also on how much the real estate scene and the company itself has changed. Founded by three enterprising ladies — Anna Mae Esslinger, Dodie Wooten and Arline Maxwell – who banded together to launch their own real estate firm, Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell, Inc., in Coral Gables in 1964, the company swiftly became synonymous with luxury real estate in South Florida.

“In those days, Miami was still a sleepy playground for tourists,” says Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty’s president, Ron Shuffield, noting that the background of the firm’s founders gave them close friendships and acquaintances with Miami’s earliest residents — residents who naturally became their initial clients. “Dodie Wooten’s father, Dr. Robert O. Lyell, moved his family to Miami in 1917, when Dodie was just 6 years old, to work with Dr. James Jackson, the founder of today’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, which opened as Miami’s first hospital in 1918. Dr. Lyell became the second Chief of Staff after Dr. Jackson,” says Shuffield. “At the time, there were less than 25,000 people living within the city limits of Miami.” After graduating from college, Wooten’s life-long relationships with many notable Miamians opened an opportunity for her to serve as the social editor of the Miami Herald during the early 1940’s.

Arline Maxwell’s friendship with the prominent developer of Coral Gables, George Merrick and his wife, Eunice Peacock Merrick, also contributed to EWM’s development in its infancy. “Arline came to Miami from Chicago during WWII with her young son after her husband had passed away early in life. She soon found a job working for the post office as a censor of mail addressed to troops overseas,” says Shuffield. “Following the Depression, Merrick lost all he’d built in Coral Gables, including The Biltmore Hotel, the unsold inventory of 3,000 homes he’d constructed, horse stables, the Coral Gables Country Club & Golf Course and various other vacant and developed properties.

He met Arline at the Miami Post Office while he was serving as Postmaster. As time moved on, Arline and the Merricks attended the same church, became close friends, and developed many relationships with others, which also was an important early foundation for EWM.”

And Anna Mae Esslinger, who became a real estate agent in 1955 when the industry was dominated by men, understood how Wooten’s and Maxwell’s backgrounds and strengths would complement her own when she invited the two women to join her in building a business with three equal partners. “Anna Mae was the enterprising one,” says broker Tim Hasty, who was the first male to join the company in 1978. “She was my mentor and taught me that compassion, love, and attending to the needs of my clients was paramount. She always said, ‘If you serve your clients well, they will serve you later.’”

In the early years, the Hispanic community began to expand in Miami and fueled the real estate industry in fresh ways. “The Cuban community, who were forced out of their home country by Castro, were among the first to sink deep roots into the Greater Miami community. They deserve a lot of credit for influencing its development as an international community in the early ‘60s,” says Shuffield, “as did wealthy Venezuelans who started coming in the 1970s, lining up to buy waterfront condos with appealing amenities, marinas, and endless views.”

The emergence and proliferation of condominiums in Miami and nearby cities in the early 1960s and ‘70s was also pivotal in reshaping the real estate landscape when EWM was getting its start. Local developers and architects as well as others from the northeast were particularly instrumental in driving the growth of high-rise apartment buildings along the ocean—turning the stretch from South Beach to Palm Beach into South Florida’s “Gold Coast” and attracting scores of retirees (many from the Midwest and Northeast) with the promise of hospitable communal living and shared amenities in a resort-like setting. Builders such as Moses Ginsburg, who refashioned Lincoln Road, and developers like Nathan Gumenick, Emil Morton, and Donald Soffer hired notable architects of the day, including Melvin Grossman and Morris Lapidus, to create iconic mid-20th-century buildings like Southgate Towers, Imperial House, and Seacoast Towers, and the idea of collective property ownership quickly took off. By 1977, a report in the Harvard Business Review cited Coral Gables, now with 21 of Miami-Dade County’s 80 consulates from all across the globe, as one of the top three new “global cities of tomorrow”, alongside Paris and Honolulu.

Another turning point for EWM occurred in 1984, when partners Allen Harper, Ron Shuffield, George Hedg-peth and Bob Gallaher—acquired the firm and took it to the next level. “At the time, the company had 55 associates producing gross sales of about $50 million per year,” Shuffield notes. “Two-bedroom condos on Brickell Avenue were selling for around $75,000, while the average price of a vacant acre lot in Pinecrest was $125,000 — which today can top $3 million.” According to Hasty, “The story going around the office at that time was that it took four men to buy out three ladies, who by then were approaching their 80s. But to their credit, the men quickly made the company grow.” Early on, they engaged in development of their own when they bought two properties from the University of Miami — a married-student housing complex and a hotel — and built the currently existing University Inn Condominiums on the housing site and turned the hotel into an office building on the waterway, where they established their EWM Coral Gables office at 1360 South Dixie Hwy for 20 years before constructing their current location at 550 South Dixie Hwy at Riviera Drive in 2008.

Advances in technology that year transformed the real estate industry and the company further, particularly with respect to how listings were accessed and marketed. “Before then, real estate listings were printed on 5” x 7” sheets of paper and delivered to every real estate office in town and organized in three-ring binders, alphabetized by each street in Miami,” explains Shuffield. “But when personal computers, and later the Internet, came into the picture, agents could sift through the Multiple Listings Service online and see everything for sale in a new and much more accessible manner.”

Over time, the company continued to expand, taking a huge leap forward in 1990 after a competitive real estate company closed and EWM absorbed a significant number of its agents, increasing EWM’s size by 25 percent overnight. With this growing group of salespeople came an expanded roster of clients, including prominent titans of industry, well-known athletes and A-list celebrities, all drawn to the area’s spectacular single-family homes and the rarefied amenities in its newest luxury condos, which today are designed by internationally recognized architects like Renzo Piano, Robert A. M. Stern, and Bjarke Ingels and often associated with brand names like Waldorf Astoria, Porsche, Aston Martin, and Fendi.

Just after the turn of the millennium, the EWM partnership sold the company in 2003 to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices. Shuffield stayed on as president and the brokerage embarked on a new phase — as part of a multi-national group with franchise partners around the country and the world, from Los Angeles to New York City and to London, Barcelona, New Deli and Dubai — as well as other cities scattered across four continents.

Since its founding, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty has continued to excel at what it’s always done best for these past 60 years: Graciously serving its affluent clientele in the sale and acquisition of luxury residential real estate and commercial investment properties in South Florida — as well as also now offering mortgage financing, title closing services and insurance. With 700 associates and staff members in nine offices from Miami to Fort Lauderdale to Palm Beach, its pre-pandemic gross annual sales reached a peak of $4 billion, including the record-breaking sale last year of the 4-acre bay-front estate of Miami philanthropist Adrienne Arsht for $107 million. And, with the personalized relationship-based ethos of its founders still essential to its DNA, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty is poised to serve its global community in the purchase and sale of properties priced from entry level to the finest homes and condos in the world—along a 100-mile stretch of South Florida’s glorious East Coast—as deftly as it ever has.




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