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Happy to Be Here: Carefully growing a business


Forty-seven years ago Flo Smerconish interviewed for her first real estate job. She was told, “We don’t hire women.”

She had passed the real estate test on the first try. She had hesitated, almost decided not to take the test, but son Michael followed her around their house coaching her – asking questions so Flo could rehearse the answers.

She eventually found a job with Edward Crawford , who has an office in what is now Doylestown Borough Hall. A year later, she worked with Realtor Nicholas Molloy in downtown Doylestown.

Armed with a broker’s license and 20 listings, she left Molloy to start her own business in a building she owned. With the help of Lois Gordon, she hammered signs all over the lawn – people saw the signs and called her.

Flo sold her business to Kurfiss Real Estate and worked for the agency full-time until she married Jerry Cohn, an investment broker, who was a partner in the Pritzger family business of Chicago. When they moved to Florida, she was a part-time Realtor with Kurfiss.

“When I came back,” Flo said, “I wanted to jump right into the real estate business.”

She asked Donald and Douglas Pearson, the Kurfiss Sotheby’s owners, to release her from a non-compete clause she had signed, and they agreed. “Is there anyone you would like to take with you?” they asked. She said she would like Richard Zaveta to remain her client.

Later, Flo formed a partnership with Zaveta, a Bucks County builder of high-end houses, mostly the kind of houses the agency sells. Flo and Zaveta were running successful companies 25 years ago, when they realized they should work together. Today, Flo Smerconish Realtor is the exclusive agency representing Zaveta Custom Homes in Pennsylvania.

You can see Flo’s picture on a billboard at the intersection of Routes 413 and 202 advertising her affiliation with Compass Real Estate today. “I was the 200th person in Greater Philadelphia to join Compass,” Flo said recently in her Doylestown office.

Ori Allon and Robert Reffkin started the company as “Urban Compass” in New York in 2012. According to a Wikipedia account, “The seasoned entrepreneurs raised $8 million of seed funding from Founders Fund, Thrive Capital, Goldman Sachs” and others.

In 2014, Compass began contracting independent real estate agents and taking a portion of their commissions. The company opened an office on Fifth Avenue and offices in Brooklyn, South Florida, Boston and the Hamptons on Long Island and acquired offices around the country.

Early this year, the company decided to halt market expansion. It had already expanded into Denver, Aspen and Boulder, Colo.; Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Francisco, Calif.; Dallas, Austin and Houston, Texas; Seattle, Wash.; Atlanta, Ga.; Nashville, Tenn.; the east and west coasts of Florida; and Philadelphia.

But with funding from venture capital, Compass is continuing to acquire established real estate companies in its market areas. Plans are in place for a Cherry Hill, N.J., office and Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia.

The Compass acquisitions include Flo’s daughter-in-law Lavinia Smerconish’s long-established agency in Ardmore on the Main Line, and others in Center City Philadelphia and its suburbs. Flo first learned about Compass through Lavinia.

Flo considered aligning with Compass for three months before committing to the company and she was the first in Bucks County to make the leap. The big attraction to Compass was its emphasis on helping members of its group with technology. The company has what it takes to manage marketing for small local businesses.

“We were in the first wave in the region,” Flo said. “Even though we were doing well we saw advantages for our buyers and sellers.”

Flo’s agency is strategically located on a West State Street corner. There’s a staff of full-time seasoned Realtors and listings range from around $300,000 (not many in that range) to millions.

Recalling notable persons among her clients, Flo especially remembers Lee Iacocca, the executive who revived Chrysler Corporation in the 1980s. Iacocca, a graduate of Lehigh and Princeton universities, was considering moving near the Princeton. And he was looking for a home for his sister, who often visited Peddler’s Village.

Flo remembers Iacocca driving up to Peddler’s Village in a brown Chrysler. The house sale never materialized but it was an interesting prospect.

A phone conversation with Zaveta begins Flo’s day, every day, in the office – Flo is there at 7:30 a.m.

The middle child of 11 children from Hazelton in the Pennsylvania coal region, Flo knows about a work ethic. Her parents were from Yugoslavia who settled with a community of immigrants from the same area. Flo’s father was a coal miner. Her mother lived to 101.

“After me, all went to college,” Flo said, noting that of the next generation, five are lawyers and six are doctors.

Flo came to Bucks County with her first husband, Walter Smerconish, who was a teacher at Lenape Middle School. They had two sons, Walter and Michael, who grew up in Doylestown; Flo has eight grandchildren.

A true Doylestonian, Flo has been a member of local organizations, including the VIA (Village Improvement Association), founder and owner of Doylestown Hospital. She is helping in the fundraising for the new Heart Institute.

Flo welcomes the new alliance with Compass. “Think what we can do with the tools,” she said. “They enable us to do what we love and promote our properties for our buyers and sellers.

“It’s wonderful.”