Four Mantras for a Successful Real Estate Career

Sharing the unique, uplifting and trailblazing stories of women leaders throughout the Coldwell Banker Network as part of our CBWomen series.

This is a contributor post by Joan Lonergan, broker owner of Coldwell Banker Village Green Realty.

I knew my grandmother Flora was really smart. She possessed a quiet determination, had an infectious laugh and I thought she was beautiful. I wanted to be like her. “She had more nerve than brains,” according to my grandfather who would belittle her lack of formal education. But even he had to admit she possessed a fierce business acumen and unstoppable tenacity. Although Flora deferred to my grandfather, everyone knew she was backbone and the face of their very successful, Italian-specialty store. She was the driving force investing in real estate by buying rental and commercial properties, as well as vacant land. And she built a beautiful summer home in Northport Long Island where my extended Italian family shared many summers and holidays.

Joan Lonergan, broker and owner of Coldwell Banker Villiage Green Realty

My grandmother, Flora, accomplished all that despite the fact that she was illiterate. When I was 18 and she told me she was trying to teach herself to read and write Italian, I was dumfounded. Grandma Flora was financially well-off in spite of the fact she had been a poor, illiterate, immigrant woman who was brought to America without a day of formal education. She worked on the family farm in Italy and when she arrived in NYC at 16 she worked in a factory to help support her poverty stricken parents. By 22 she was married and at 23, when my grandfather would not let her manage the family finances, declared “I’ll make my own money!” Prompting them to open a business together. I knew that if this women, who I admired, could accomplish so much, I had no excuses. This was not a conscious thought, but I realize now it was an affirmation that was imbedded.

After graduating from a small women’s college in 1976, it never occurred to me that career opportunities would be biased because I was a woman. I worked in the corporate world as a graphic designer for 10 years. Like many women, I experienced sexual harassment and learned to walk on a tightrope to keep my job until I found another one. In some jobs it was clear what was expected if I wanted to get promoted, which I always rejected. I know what discrimination felt like after I was advanced into a training program and then the opportunity was rescinded when I announced I was pregnant. I know what it feels like to be passed up for a promotion when I went through the same intensive computer training program as my colleagues and everyone got a raise except me, simply because I took 6 weeks off for maternity leave. I knew something was out of wack, an inequality I would not overcome. It was too much. I knew I needed to find a different path.

I got my brokers license after only one year as a sales associate and decided to start my own real estate company, it could be said I had “more nerve than brains” at the time. The market was drying up, our main county employer, IBM, was shutting its doors and 6,000 jobs were lost. The market was flooded with homes, prices were dropping fast, and buyers were few and far between. I had people tell me I was out of my mind. Agents were leaving the business in droves. Companies were closing. But I decided failure was not an option. After only one year in sales, I knew this was the path I had to pursue. My only laser-focused goal was that no other agent could give more personal attention than me. I would go the extra mile, uncover and explore all possibilities and treat my clients with a level of service that was beyond any reasonable expectation, and that is what I did. That was when I developed my four mantras, cornerstones that I believe are my truths. They shape everything I do and are instilled in my company culture today.

1. Always tell the truth.
2. Always do what you promise.
3. If you don’t know something, admit it. Say you will find out and follow through.
4. It’s never about you or your personal gain, ever. You have to walk in the shoes of your clients to truly serve them.

I never had illusions of grandeur, or a goal to create a multi-office company with 125 employees, managers, support staff and span 5 counties in upstate NY. I never took a business course, I was an artist! Real estate, however, was in my blood. I loved it. I loved helping people and training agents. When agents started asking if they could work for me, I was genuinely surprised. I never recruited in the early years but I would encourage people I met or thought would be good at this profession to get licensed. I am, and have always been, my agents biggest cheerleader. I believe they can do anything they set their mind to. My only job is to make my agents successful.

Like my grandmother I had to balance work and family. She cooked most of her family meals in the back of her store. The family had to eat while they worked. My husband and children had to live with constant interruptions in our family life because of my business. My children say that they had to share their childhood with my company; that it was their other sibling. It was true. There were sacrifices and difficult times – months on end without a day off, growing pains and challenges of market fluctuations, owning my mistakes and learning from them, always looking to seek out relevant technology, hiring the right people and constantly trying to improve our service. My company is my chosen extended family.

I embraced everyone, but only if they share our work ethic and moral compass. I love to teach so I can impart all my experience. I celebrate and live vicariously though the agents development and growth. Nothing makes me happier than to witness the trajectory of career I have helped to create.

I feel my company is run like the solar system: it’s circles that intersect, no one is more important than another, we all have our jobs to do and we all need to respect the contributions we all make. I have no ego. I am not special. I have my path and have the best life because work has never been a burden but instead an infinite amount of possibilities to explore. I am 100% available to my agents, mangers or staff. If someone needs me to brainstorm through a difficult situation, I am always happy to collaborate. One of the strengths of my company is that I have created an environment that welcomes suggestions or constructive criticism. I am not threatened by a difference of opinion and will always take the ultimate responsibility for anything that happens. I believe when everyone has the permission and is encouraged to add their brain power, we are stronger and we are all engaged in the company’s success.

I am so fortunate that Candida Ellis has become my amazing business partner. She is taking over the reins and building on the legacy I started. I have no doubt the next 20-30 years under her leadership, with me as her mentor and partner, we will continue to be the best in service to our clients and continue to guide the next generation of caring professionals.

If you would like to contact me:
Text or cell 845-532-6915

To find out more about how Coldwell Banker can be the place that supports you and your business, visit

Senior Manager, Public Relations & Giving for Coldwell Banker. Grew up in Sarasota and attended college at Western Carolina University. Athena wanted to wake up in that city that doesn’t sleep so headed to Madison Avenue to start her marketing career. She has been with this awesome brand for more than 15 years and can be found generating buzz about CB in every way possible. Athena helps to grow the brand’s position as the most storied real estate company within the industry and has led many high-profile endeavors; she was at the forefront of the brand’s pioneering smart home campaign, raised $6 million in two years to build 130 Habitat for Humanity homes, and led the Homes for Dogs program in partnership with that resulted in tens-of-thousands of dogs finding their furever home. She currently leads the CB Supports St. Jude program, which encourages the Coldwell Banker network’s 96,000+ real estate agents to make donations to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital for every real estate transaction they represent. In her spare time, you can find her either digging up a new area in her yard for another flower bed or planning her next travel adventure. She's the proud mom of three cats Jolene, Ziggy and Lucy.

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