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Meet J.R. Smith – A Southern Land Exchange Associate

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stuff big 9

  • Hometown: Athens, GA
  • Married, 3 children, 9 grandchildren
  • Received a Bronze Star, a Combat Infantry Badge, and an Army Commendation Award for his service in Vietnam
  • Speaks fluent Spanish
  • An avid light tackle salt water fisherman
  • Favorite way to spend a weekend is shrimping at the back side of Blackbeard Island or fishing in Christmas Creek on Cumberland Island with his wife, Peggy.
  • Impossible for him to give up: his last fishing pole

If you ask James R. (J. R.) Smith what he’s best known for professionally, his answer is one of strength and faith, yet clothed in modesty: “No special stars by my name – maybe an asterisk (*),” he says. “Beside the asterisk, at the bottom of the page it would read: ‘For being a person that in the face of disaster or imminent failure does not give up; a person who will keep on trying, and if there is a way, he will more than likely find it.’ ”

And find a way, he does.

Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, J.R. developed an interest in land sales at the age of 13, when his father decided to take a real estate course. “The idea of selling land as an occupation caught my attention,” says J.R.

At 18, he started working in the land surveying business where he learned about dividing land, land descriptions, and land ownership rights. “I was determined that I would use my knowledge of real property ownership to help others in the purchase of real estate.”

At the age of 26, J.R. settled down in Athens, Georgia where he took a real estate course and passed the Georgia State Real Estate License Exam. “A few weeks later I was surveying and dividing a tract of land for a friend. I met a man and woman that I thought would like one of the parcels; I showed the land to them and they bought it. From then on I was hooked on the land business.”

During the great oil embargo of the 70’s and the Jimmy Carter era of 20% interest rates, J.R. found a way to continue working in the real estate business by switching to owner financing inventory. “I cultivated sellers that were in need of selling land and showed them that they could move the product by offering owner financing. Later the catch phrase became creative financing, ” J.R. explains. “More often than not, it was a function of a down payment, low monthly payments to some point, and then a balloon payment or renegotiating the note if the buyer was prompt with the payments.”

During this time, J.R. also contributed to the development of new homes. “New housing sales were more of a challenge at that time,” he explains. “We developed a line of small vacation style homes that we built to various stages of completion on the owner’s lot. We provided a list of local contractors the owner could call or the owner could complete the home themselves.” J.R. continued this type of work until about 1982, at which time the Reagan Administration had come along and the land trading business began to pick up.

In 1989, J.R. met SLE Managing Broker, Steve Ebbert, through a mutual friend. “Steve and I then became friends,” says J.R.  “Southern Land Exchange was built around individuals in the land business that were going to thrive based on the premise that hard work and treating people fairly would bring repeat customers over the long run. I could see that it was working and wanted to be a part of it.”

He joined the team at Southern Land Exchange, and has been a vital part of the company ever since. And as anyone who works with J.R. Smith will gladly tell you, he’s quite an admirable fellow. “He’s just such a good guy,” says fellow SLE Associate, Steve Nelson, “and he’s so precise and meticulous with his work.”


J.R.’s ingenuity along with hard work have taken him far in the world of real estate, and he’s always more than willing to share his expertise with those around him. “Not just a buyer or seller,” he adds, “but other agents. And not even on something that is going to end in a paycheck; just giving someone a boost from my experience or knowledge,” explains J.R. “I would like to think that it is just the good in my award winning personality, but I fear that on a psychiatrist couch I may hear the word ego a little more than I would like.”

We believe its just the good in his award winning personality.

J.R.’s also not one to shy away from a challenge. “In a business where the only constant is change, new problems come up daily,” he points out. “I enjoy the challenge of a new problem and finding a way to overcome it. God has blessed me with patience and it has served me well in this line of work,” says J.R. “I have been called lucky but I believe luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”

Now, with 47 years of land surveying and 38 years of selling real estate under his belt, J.R. has certainly become the master of his craft.

Not only is J.R. a veteran of the real estate business, he’s a decorated veteran of the United States Military. Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1970, he was promoted to drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and later to Infantry Rifle Team Squad Leader in Vietnam with The 101ST Airborne and 1ST Cavalry, where he received a Bronze Star, a Combat Infantry Badge, and an Army Commendation Award.

“I have lived a full life,” says J.R., when expressing his enthusiasm for sharing stories of his childhood and of the war with his grandchildren. “[Although] I’ve found that millennials differ from my generation, in that they don’t mind telling you that they ‘already heard that story.’”


If you ask J.R. what he’s passionate about, he’ll tell you the happiness of his wife, Peggy. “If she is happy I will remain happy,” he assures. “My wife always helps out with support and encouraging words. She stays up at night and puts her own encouraging slogans on the bath room mirror for me to see when I start my morning.”

Though J.R. admits to being a bit of a workaholic, in his downtime you’re most likely to find him with a fishing pole in his hand. He’ll tell you he enjoys “Walks along the boneyard beach at Jekyll Island with my wife, pier fishing for Pompano all day at Lauderdale By the Sea, casting for big Snook in bridge shadows, on full moon nights in Dania Beach, fishing with friends in Manatee River in Belize, Central America, and building boats.”

Some weekends you may simply find him going out for ice-cream with Peggy, while listening to Prairie Home Companion on the radio.

One thing is certain, whether he’s helping someone find their dream property, sharing his knowledge and expertise, or spending time with his lovely family, J.R. Smith’s simple motto is one by which we should all live:

“I truly enjoy everyday.”


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