Judi Desiderio was a mid-island Phys Ed teacher and amateur athlete when she decided to change her life and try real estate. She found her calling, getting her broker’s license, becoming her agency’s top producer; leaving after a buy-out; then founding her own agency, Town and Country Real Estate. Her firm now has eight offices and about 170 employees and contractors. Business editor Warren Strugatch recently caught up with her. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.
Long Island Press: How did you start out?
Judi Desiderio: I grew up in Massapequa. My parents, Al and Jeri, were huge influences on my life. He was a builder and she was a housewife. I became an educator.
LIP: Did your parents encourage your career?
JD: I was never encouraged to be a teacher. My parents were Italian-Americans and felt I should get married and have lots of babies. I wanted to go to college and so I did. I got my Master of Exercise Physiology degree from Adelphi.
LIP: How’d you get in the game?
JD: Thirty-six years ago my first job was with Jack Douglas. Within a short period of time I outgrew his operation. I moved across the street to Cook-Pony Farm (brokerage) and became top producer there. The owner, John Cataletto, made me a partner.
LIP: What triggered your decision to leave?
JD: Corcoran bought us. I’m not one for being corporate. I lived out the terms of my non-compete (contract). I came to realize the East End real estate market was not (appealing) to smart brokers. I decided to open my own agency and change that. Knowledge is power, I like to say. That was 12 years ago. Can you believe it?
LIP: You opened in a soft market. What was your business model?
JD: I bought a small company called Village Real Estate. I closed their offices then began to hire support staff. I knew from being an agent that I needed to have plum data systems. I had a small army working on it.
LIP: Did you decide to grow organically or through acquisitions?
JD: I acquired Kathleen Beckman (in 2011) and Posposil (in 2016). I bought their databases as well and that made our system more plum. Out here everybody uses RealNet; everybody has the same database. It’s what you do with it that’s the difference.
LIP: Do you have a distinctive approach to managing brokers?
JD: I do. It’s different managing brokers than managing employees. Brokers are independent contractors. I visit all my offices regularly and I get in the pits with my agents every day. I created a board made up of the managers of each office.
LIP: Please describe your management philosophy.
JD: As a manager I fall back on what I learned as a teacher, which is the importance of communicating well; as an athlete, which is the importance of competing; and as a broker, which is finding solutions to problems by looking at different angles.
LIP: Real estate is about dealmaking. Do you have a deal philosophy?
JD: I do. Melanie Ross, my former partner at Cook-Pony Farm, used to say: Never need a deal. You can want a deal. When you need a deal, you compromise yourself.
LIP: Do you have a general business philosophy?
JD: Keep your mind open. Don’t get stuck in a rut. Always consider different angles. If you’re working with a listing agent who won’t open the door, then go open a window.