Rory S Coakley of Coakley Realty: Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Real Estate Industry

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Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Real Estate industry?

Myfamily has been involved in construction and/or real estate in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area since 1925, when my grandfather emigrated here from Ireland and started his own plastering business. My father Neil and Fred Williams started Coakley & Williams, Inc. a full service real estate development and construction firm, where I worked for ten years. That was a great learning experience for me because not only did it introduce me to the construction business but it exposed me to end-to-end development, real estate, property acquisition and property management services. I worked on developing and building hotels, office buildings and warehouses. It was the best training ground for a budding real estate entrepreneur that anyone could hope for. I worked at Coakley & Williams, Inc. from 1983–1992.

However, I always knew that I wanted to have my own company to control my life and my destiny. In 1989, I took a walk on the beach with my dad to tell him I wanted to go out on my own. He questioned my actions but then he became one of the biggest supporters of my real estate company. It was a very difficult decision to make, but as it has turned out it was meant to be.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

I was working with a couple from Japan who were looking to buy a home. They were very focused on the Asian principle of Feng Shui. In this principle, you arrange pieces in the living spaces to create a balance with the natural world. One of the important aspects of Feng Shui is the direction the front door faces.

I spent month showing the couple different houses, and we would get out of the car with an old fashioned compass to determine the direction the front door was facing. If it didn’t face the proper direction, the buyer wouldn’t even look inside the house. After showing them dozens of houses, we saw a house that the husband loved, however, the front door didn’t face the right direction. When I brought up this point, the husband said, “I’ll move the front door.” They bought the house, moved the door, and lived there for years.

What I learned was that you need to think outside the box. You have to look at every situation and client with an open mind to come to a solution that will make the client happy. Sometimes what is in a “non-negotiable” condition can be solved in a unique way.

Do you have a favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share a story or example of how that was relevant to you in your life?

My dad’s partner, Fred Williams, often used the phrase “Cash makes you careless.” His point was that if you are generating good cash flow, don’t get too loose with how you run your business. You need to stick with the disciplines and principles that got you in that positive position.

I was educated by the Jesuits both in high school at Georgetown Preparatory School, in Bethesda, Maryland, and in college at Georgetown University. The motto of Jesuit education, in the words of the order’s founder St. Ignatius Loyola, is “A Man for Others.” The question of “What does it mean to serve others?” was at the center of my education and it was lodged in the back, front, and side of my head. I have tried throughout my life to adhere to this philosophy with my family and company. I have endeavored to give back to non-profits, academic institutions, and my community.

Along with many of the agents at our firm I have been involved with countless local charities and non-profits, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of the National Capital Area, the Catholic Business Network, Stepping Stones Shelter, Potomac Community Resources, Community Reach of Montgomery County, Gaithersburg Sports Association, Positive Coaching Alliance and a variety of other organizations.

Overarching Five Things You Need to Know to Succeed in the Real Estate Industry:

1.) Be on time. My dad used to say when you’re late you are putting less value on the other person’s time. If you’re not five minutes early you’re late. In fact, people should do everything possible to be at least on time, if not a little early. Showing up early almost always gives you a potential leg up on the situation.

2.) Build relationships with clients so they feel that they chose the right team. We work to build trust with those we work with through communication. Because our company is not considered one of the “big guys in real estate” it gives us a real advantage in being more flexible in certain situations.

3.) Offer a variety of services. The agents, property managers, tax appeal consultants and appraisers at Coakley Realty take pride in being the knowledgeable local source for many facets of real estate. Members of our firm’s team come from many difference disciplines including property appraisal, accounting, law, architecture, and environmental engineering, all working together to help find solutions for every client.

4.) Give back to the community. To be successful in business you have to care about and help advance the lives of everyone in the community.

5.) It is important to use a good system of analytics to ensure credible data which will help your company anticipate market changes and how to evolve with them.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

As I’ve mentioned before, giving back to the community is important to us. My wife, my kids and I went to private Catholic schools and we recognize that those schools have been very helpful to us. A thank you in the way of creating scholarships shows we’re trying to give back. We’ve recently created three university scholarships and two high school scholarships, which are already funded. We’ve also been able to play a role in the renovation of a new fitness center at the Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School. Our donation allowed the school to completely overhaul its fitness center. With feedback from the school’s physical education team, coaches, and students, Visitation designed the space so it accommodates the needs of athletes and non-athletes alike.

When I served on the board of Georgetown Preparatory School, I learned that the tuition they charge doesn’t cover all the expenses needed to educate a student. It’s important to my family that future generations of students are able to obtain the same quality education that we were able to enjoy.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There are very few companies in the Washington, DC metropolitan area that offer commercial and residential real estate services like we do. What makes us stand out is our approach to providing hands-on and knowledgeable service to our clients. Whether selling, buying, leasing, or managing a property, our agents are experienced professionals who are involved in the community and who are determined to meet an individual’s or company’s real estate needs.

Tom Nalls, our sales manager, worked at another firm for ten years before he joined Coakley Realty. He felt that the people at his previous firm were treated like numbers. Tom says when he came to Coakley Realty one of the things that stood out for him was that the agents, who come from diverse backgrounds, support one another and get along and collaborate. The fact that our team is so collaborative is what truly makes our agents like working with each other. That camaraderie has resulted in us standing out and has had a positive impact for our clients.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I was working for my Dad I was in charge of developing hotels, office buildings and warehouses. I was very busy and my wife and I were raising three young children. In his office there was stacks of files — real estate tax appeal files. My Dad told me: “You take it over.” I was surprised and ended up walking away with two and a half feet of folders. That was thirty-two years ago. Because of him we are one of the very few real estate companies that also offer real estate tax appeals, which is now a big part of our business.

Can you share three things that most excite you about the Real Estate industry? If you can, please share a story or example.

The Real Estate business is a people business. I enjoy that, working with all kinds of people from all walks of life, mostly in Montgomery County, Maryland but also in Northern Virginia and Washington, DC. I love the variety of this business because every day I am doing something different.

Helping people either buying or selling their property is often the most expensive transaction they have ever experienced in their lives and it’s stressful. A good realtor has to be part psychologist, part financial adviser, and often even a marriage counselor. We have to put on a lot of different hats. At the end of the day, when your clients feel they’ve done what they set out to do either buying or selling, you have helped them and you can feel good about what you do.

Finally, building life-long friendships is a result of my working in the Real Estate industry. You meet new clients, new agents, new lenders, and a wide array of people. Sometimes these meetings develop into long-lasting and close friendships.

One example of a long-term relationship developing outside of the real estate transaction comes to mind. I was working with newly married buyers who were shopping for their first home together. During our conversations, we realized both the husband and me share a great love of hot sauce. We discussed the different varieties of sauces, which peppers were used, and the best sauces for different foods. As a settlement gift, I presented the husband with a variety box of several different hot sauces. Years later we still get together to sample different hot sauces and determine the best foods to use them on.

Can you share three things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement three ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? Please share stories or examples if possible.

1) CMBS (commercial mortgage-backed securities) loans are fixed mortgage products that are backed by numerous tranches of investors. This is where the customer doesn’t have to give a personal guarantee but money comes from different sources so you can’t call the loan officer or local bank executive and often you can’t get answers. I personally have had some major problems with these types of loans.

2) Government interference with the real estate bundle of rights — this happens when a property undergoes redistricting, rezoning, or school moratoriums — you have no control over these issues.

3) There should be a higher standard for people to get their real estate license. Agents in my firm meet numerous people on the other side who are far from qualified. Florida is an example of a state that has a high bar — they don’t allow just anyone to earn a license.

If I was in charge of the rules, I would have a graduated rate for the license renewal. All brand new agents would have the same fee for licensing, but as your years in the business increase, the licensing fee would increase as well, up to a certain cap. This would raise the commitment level of agents as time went by and would “weed out” agents who are practicing real estate more as a hobby than a career. I think it would raise the level of competence and professionalism in our industry.

What advice would you give to other real estate leaders to help their teams to thrive and to create a really fantastic work culture?

The agent philosophy developed at Coakley Realty is the importance of team camaraderie. It is important to make time for collaboration — your agents need to share knowledge and ideas to bounce things off of each other. We believe that one of our strengths is our ability to retain agents. We are able to keep our team members for the long-term by investing in their professional growth through formal training and coaching programs. We also value personality more than production, so if a person is good and willing to work, the production will come.

If you had to advise someone about four non-intuitive things one should know to succeed in the Real Estate industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?

1.) If you always remember that the real estate industry is a relationship business, that will help you build your business. If the client likes you, you will succeed. Every year the National Association of Realtors conducts surveys to obtain client feedback. Almost every year the number one reason someone hires you as their realtor is because they like you, not how long you’ve been in the business or how many houses you’ve sold. They feel comfortable with you initially, then they trust you enough to sign a contract.

2.) Remember that all agents start out the same. They all have to take the licensing course, pass the state exam, and affiliate with a broker. Don’t be intimidated by other agents. Sometimes clients don’t know they have options when it comes to choosing an agent. I’ve had clients tell me they didn’t know there was someone else, they thought they had to use the “local neighborhood agent,” even though they didn’t like him or her. Don’t be afraid to get out there and tell people you can help them too.

3.) I feel the number one reason agents fail is fear: fear of failure, fear of making a mistake, fear a potential client won’t like you. The fear leads to paralysis. Remember, all agents start the same and no one is born knowing all the answers. Believe in yourself. I knew an agent who was scared to talk with people. She had a strong financial background and was good with numbers, but was terrified of her person-to-person skills. I suggested she use numbers to her advantage. She uses statistical analysis more than conversation to show her value to the clients. She’s doing quite well in the industry and her clients love her. Get over your fears by playing to your strengths.

4.) Treat everyone with respect. You never know what the future holds. I have a former assistant who is now president of The Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (GCAAR).

Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?

Encourage people to be charitable and philanthropic. Eighteen years ago we gathered 12 people who worked with us and asked them to come up with a non-profit we could support. They decided on Stepping Stones Shelter, a homeless shelter for families in Rockville, Maryland which serves families who have become homeless due to job loss, death of a spouse, or other hardships. Since that time the Coakley Realty team has held numerous fundraisers that have brought in several hundred thousand dollars and we have contributed countless hours to Stepping Stones by painting, carpentry work, and landscaping projects.

Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.




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