A former Properties of The Villages sales representative testified that the atmosphere in the powerful sales arm of Florida’s Friendliest Hometown changed after Developer Gary Morse died.
Nanette Elliott, who sold preowned homes for Sun Central Realty before it was merged into Properties of The Villages in 2004, testified Friday afternoon in a bench trial before Judge James Moody in federal court in Tampa. She was the final witness for the defense in a case in which she and KD Premier Realty founders Christopher Day and Jason Kranz are being sued along with fellow former Properties of The Villages representatives Angie Taylor and Angela Kranz.
Elliott broke down in tears as she remembered Morse, father of Jennifer Parr, vice president of sales for The Villages. Parr sat in the courtroom and silently watched as Elliott offered her testimony. Parr was allowed into the courtroom on the final day of the trial, after it became clear she was not going to take the stand again. She was the star witness on the first day of the trial.
Morse died Oct. 29, 2014 at age 77 and is largely credited with catapulting his father’s mobile home park at Orange Blossom Gardens in Lady Lake into the premier retirement destination renamed The Villages.
“I thought the world of him,” said Elliott, who sold real estate in New Hampshire before moving to The Villages. “Mr. Morse was a wonderful man.”
She fondly remembered being a guest in his home and receiving a special ring in commemoration of a year in which she sold 40 homes.
As The Villages grew and grew, the pressure on the sales force intensified, particularly after the decision was made to cross State Road 44, something Morse publicly had vowed would not happen.
Angela Kranz, wife of Jason Kranz, in 2017 attempted to follow in her husband’s successful footsteps at Properties of The Villages. After she completed the intensive 12-week Properties of The Villages training course, she was immediately thrown into the frenzy that erupted when Properties of The Villages began aggressively selling the Village of Fenney, the first village south of State Road 44. The launch of Fenney, which was completely detached from the rest of The Villages, was so important that Parr personally greeted prospective homebuyers as they disembarked from the trolleys. She was even there on the weekends.
Kranz testified she and other sales newbies were ordered to dress in Fenney shirts, khaki pants and don headsets as part of the intense sales push. Kranz said she frequently received email declaring, “All hands on deck!,” for sales events. She said she interpreted that to mean it was “mandatory.” The main fact in dispute in the lawsuit is whether the five defendants were independent contractors, as The Villages maintains, or whether they were employees, under the supervision and control of their managers.
Properties of The Villages attorney John Lauro challenged Kranz’s assertion that anything she chose to do as part of the sales force was mandatory. He challenged her to provide “one name” of someone who required to fulfill a request. She couldn’t not come up with a name.
However, Jonathan Pollard, attorney for the defendants, rode to the rescue with copies of old emails which appeared to prove Kranz’s point. After reading the email in court, she came up with a name.
“Todd Burns,” she said, in reference to the sales team leader who testified earlier in the week.
Kranz also testified she earned $130,000 in her second year as a sales representative at Properties of The Villages. Her husband was earning in the $500,000 range.
“I thought it was important that I was contributing to my family,” said the mother of four.
The number of defendants in the lawsuit was whittled down in the days leading up to the trial. Cynthia Hughes agreed to settle last week, indicating she would pay $5,000 in attorneys’ fees to The Villages. Kelly Shipes, who lost her position as volleyball coach at The Villages Charter School when she defected to KD Premier Realty, settled a few days later, but does not have to pay anything to The Villages. However, she and Hughes are restricted from selling real estate in The Villages for 18 months.