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Southern hospitality, northern-style.

As we arrive for a meeting, JoAnne Kennedy decides to take us on a tour of her office. Perhaps she just wants to share her enthusiasm for the beautifully designed space, perhaps it is a gesture of hospitality. But, either way, there's something not quite New York-like in her offer.

As New York brokers go, Kennedy, president of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, is not your average, run-of-the-mill type. Born and raised in South Carolina, with a typically Southern friendliness and an enthusiasm for working with people, she entered the real estate business with virtually no training or business connections. And what's even more surprising, managed to work her way to the top.

"When you are like me, you grow up expecting to be a mother and president of the PTA," Kennedy laughs. "And I did that for a while. I worked as a teacher, and basically I was unqualified. Then I decided to stay in New York and had to pay school tuition for my children, so I went back to work."

Kennedy's first job as a broker was with Stribling and Associates, an upscale residential firm, with a specialization in the East Side of Manhattan.

She had some good times showing apartments to big-name celebrities, she admits, but the business really started to interest her with the appearance of co-op and condo products.

"My career really followed the residential market in Manhattan," Kennedy explains, as she remembers the time before co-op boards made her life difficult. "In the 1970's, when I first arrived, it was still a rental market. And then in the 1980's we started seeing changes. It was very exciting to see owners take care of their homes and billions of dollars being put into housing. It created homes for families and became a big business for real estate."

Whether Kennedy always wanted to be a business owner is unclear. But in 1987, her colleague at Stribling and office roommate of seven year, William Hunt, proposed that they should open their own firm. They wanted something new, something still unexplored -- something on the West Side.

"That was our greatest strengths, but it was also a problem," Kennedy admits. "We lost a lot of business because we only did that area. So in 1995, we decided to open an East Side office on Lexington Ave. That was when our leader and teacher arrived."

The person to whom Kennedy refers as her "leader and teacher" was David Misconski, a man who had been sent by Coldwell Banker to develop its real estate business in Manhattan.

"I couldn't believe that we were this lucky," Kennedy says. "David had been rejected by all the big firms, so someone told him to meet this small firm on the West Side. And I didn't particularly want to meet him, I said 'I'll see him for a half an hour and that's it.' Well, three hours later we had an agreement."

According to Kennedy, what David, and Coldwell Banker, brought to Hunt Kennedy was a strategy, a solid business plan -- something she and William Hunt weren't very experienced in developing.

"We've grown 50% every year since," she admits. "And we had this original and brilliant idea, which was to sell shares of the company to our agents and Coldwell Banker agents. It was really a big thing for us. We worked hard, but at the same time we were very lucky. We've had things just fall into our lap."

Today, Kennedy doesn't have to worry about her firm's survival -- what she does have to worry about is dealing with tensions usually associated with the residential business.

"It's a complex process here in New York," she sighs. "There are two times when you can find a person's real character -- one is divorce and the other is in a real estate transaction. Sometimes our job is to save people from themselves. Our job is not really about real estate -- what I want to hear when hiring new agents is that someone is good at dealing with people, has good confrontation skills, and really exudes confidence."

Does she think Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy's image matches that ideal?

"I think we have a really solid reputation," she says modestly. "And we really love what we do."
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Title Annotation:real estate broker discusses career
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 5, 2001
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