Mrs. Coffey Speaking...

by Eric Berman - MAR Director of Communications | Jan 02, 2018
2018 Massachusetts Association of Realtors® President Rita Coffey was a newlywed when she started working in the corporate offices of Mister Donut in Westwood in 1974. She was part of the Human Resources Department assisting with payroll.

“Working for a national company like Mister Donut, we had to answer the phone ‘good morning, Mister Donut.’ Well, my last name was Coffey, so you can imagine the responses when I was also required to say, ‘Mrs. Coffey speaking…’,” said Rita. Mandated corporate greeting or not, Rita learn ed a lot about running a business day-to-day in her time there.

After working for Mister Donut for three years, the corporate offices moved to Minneapolis, MN and Rita needed to find a new job. She decided real estate would  be a good career for her after she and her husband Bob bought their first home.

“The reason I decided to get licensed was because the agent - who I thought was my agent - didn’t show up for the closing, he didn’t do anything for the closing and I thought to myself ‘I could do this job and I could do it better because I would care about the person,’ that is what drove me to get my license,” she said.

Despite having her license, it still took Rita a year or two before she decided to dip her toes into the business. When she finally made the decision, she started working for a very tiny office. Unfortunately, the experience was less than fulfilling for Rita who was used to working for a company that had a formal and supportive structure.

“The first brokerage I worked at just wanted me to answer phones at night,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t have any training or support, and I didn’t have the opportunity to learn anything about the Realtor® Association,” she said.

It was Rita’s husband Bob, who pushed her to find a real estate brokerage that was going to give her the opportunity to succeed. With that encouragement, Rita interviewed with CENTURY 21 Tullish & Clancy, a well-known real estate company in Weymouth. She met with one of the broker/owners, Joseph Clancy, in September 1982 and she has been there ever since.

“I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I’ve earned it being in the real estate business for 35 years.”

In her current role as general manager of Tullish & Clancy, Rita doesn’t list and sell, but is involved in every aspect of the business. “I don’t compete with my agents. I am there to train, mentor, and run office operations from A to Z,” She said. “In fact, I guess there is no aspect of the business that I don’t do. It can be a stressful job in that it takes time to do it and there are times when I’m out straight, but it is very rewarding.”

Over her 35 years in real estate, Rita has seen many changes, from buyer’s and seller’s markets, to industry changes and technological changes. Yet, to Rita, real estate is fundamentally a relationship business and she feels some of the “latest and greatest” trends are getting in the way of that.

“Today, consumers are going online at 2:00 a.m. looking for houses before they even sit down and talk with a Realtor®,” she said. “I think we lost our role in the consultation part of the business, which to me was my favorite part. It was the getting to know your clients and their wants and needs to the point where you were working with them to set up a budget when they were buying a house and really guiding them through the process.”

The communication breakdowns are not just between the agent and their clients, it’s also between the buyer agent and the listing agent. 

“When you communicated an offer, you would call the listing agent and tell them you have an offer and ask if you could be there to present it to the seller. Today, it’s kind of ‘text me’ or ‘how does this offer look to you?’ culture. Agents are not making it about either of the two parties – the seller or the buyer,” she said.

These shifts can make it difficult when training new agents. While technology can make the communications process easier and more direct in some ways, newer agents can often become too reliant. As a result, they do not develop some of the necessary skills Rita believes a good Realtor® should have.

“Real estate is still a face-to-face business. It’s still a ‘what’s going on and how can I help you’ business,” she said. “Real estate is a very emotional thing. It’s not the money - even though it’s typically the biggest purchase someone will ever make - it’s really about the emotions of the parties you’re dealing with. And when I talk to sales associates - especially newer ones in the business - I tell them ‘I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I’ve earned it being in the business for 35 years’ I earned it because that’s what we always did. We really got to know our clients and their emotions. Today it’s so different.”

“I am very goal oriented.”

Goals and goal setting are an important part of the career Rita has created. Whether it’s managing the office or her volunteer work as a Realtor® she is always focused on goals to be successful. This focus was developed when she first became general manager of her company.

“My boss said, ‘I want you to be the general manager and I want you to lead’,” 
remembers Rita. “I said to him, ‘OK, I’m very goal oriented and if I’m going to take the name and leadership role, then we need to set up the goals for the company.’ Then we sat down and came up with our brokerage’s first set of goals.”

It’s a process that Rita and her boss continue to go through every year. And it’s a  process that has proved successful. Over 90 percent of the 29 agents in Rita’s brokerage have been there over 15 years.

One important aspect of managing a business that Rita fully embraces is the concept of teamwork. It is a philosophy she wants to maintain in her role as MAR President.

“In my office, I know I can’t do everything myself. It’s impossible. I have a great admin who serves as my arms and legs. Without her, I wouldn’t be able to do what I need to do to help support the agents and manage the business,” she said. “It’s the same when it comes to leading MAR. It starts with the leadership team all continuing to work together and staying focused on our goals to benefit the Association and our fellow Realtor®- members. We need to set the example.”

Looking at 2018, Rita’s goals as president are a continuation of her work helping the Association transition to its new governance structure that was adopted by the Board of Directors in 2016. As president-elect, it was Rita’s responsibility in the new structure to chair the Leadership Development Committee. This committee met and worked throughout 2017 to make sure there was a process in place for finding, training, and developing leaders.

“We have a new structure and there are going to be some bumps in the road. My goal as president is to help make those bumps as painless as possible for all of our members,” she said. “I want us to focus on what we’re going to be dealing with in
2018 and the way we do things within the new structure.”

The decision for any volunteer leader to run for MAR President is always a personal one. The process can take many years and a lot can change from the day that decision to “go for it” is made. For Rita, that decision was challenged when she got diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2016, only four months from the election. She had a big question to answer. Should she continue to campaign and run for the office of
president-elect after the diagnosis? It was a decision she went back and forth on numerous times.

“I almost pulled back when I found out that I had cancer." 

That was a very big thing in my life that scared me. Surprisingly, and I’m not sure why, I was more scared of letting MAR down if I couldn’t fulfill my duties,” she said. “I thought, I’ve had these little issues before and had been fine. I thought about not doing it, but I pulled up my boots and said, ‘no way, I’m not going to let this prevent me from doing it!’.”

Rita made the decision to run despite the diagnosis after talking with two important people in her life; her husband Bob and her broker of over 30 years, Joe Clancy. Both Bob and Joe said essentially the same thing.

“I remember the look on my husband’s face and he said ‘if you don’t do it, you’ll always regret it. I know you’re not ready to retire yet!’ and he was right,” she said. “Then I spoke to my broker, he said, ‘you need to do this, you need to do this. It’s ok,  we’ll survive, but you need to do this!’, I figured I have the support I needed and went for it.”

“What do you mean I’m going to talk to a congressman, are you kidding me?”

For many Realtors®, becoming a Federal Political Coordinator (FPC), is one of the greatest Association roles they can have as a volunteer. When you are selected as an FPC, you represent the National Association of Realtors® and are the main point of contact for either one of the state’s two U.S. Senators or your district’s member of Congress. It’s a role that Rita took on in 2011 for U.S. Rep. Bill Keating.

“For me, being an FPC is probably one of the greatest honors I have had in my career,” said Rita.

The opportunity for Rita to become an FPC became available after Congressional re-districting in 2010. The FPC at the time for Congressman Keating, 2006 MAR President and current NAR Region 1 Vice President David Wluka, thought Rita would be a good fit for the position after he was no longer a constituent. Rita applied and was appointed.

“I wasn’t sure, I was a little frightened as to what this was all about and then David [Wluka] set up an opportunity to meet the congressman and I remember saying
‘what do you mean I’m going to talk to a congressman, are you kidding me?’,” said Rita. “Of course, I was scared to death, but what I realized was that he was just like everybody else. He’s very down to earth and very nice. While he doesn’t always agree with the Realtor® position, he’s always willing to listen and reach out to us for our

“I looked at the landscape of the Association…”

After 35 years in the real estate business managing and developing agents, Rita is acutely aware of the need to bring more young people into the business. As a longtime Realtor® and volunteer leader, she knows what is needed for the Association to continue to grow and prosper.

“I looked at the landscape of the Association and knew there was lots of change happening and I thought that I could help with that,” said Rita. “We need to be about the youth and bringing more young people into the industry, MAR, and leadership. Quite frankly, we need to be able to replace ourselves. I felt like my experience as both a manager and long-time volunteer leader would be a good fit for helping the Association move in that direction.”