Cohn & Co. celebrates 65 years
Robbie Cohn in front of 2 Congress St
Robbie Cohn in front of 2 Congress St
GREENFIELD — The first house Realtor Robbie Cohn ever sold went for $19,900, and he made a commission of $600 on it.
“My father told me to put half of that into savings,” said Cohn. “I couldn’t because I had to pay my rent.”
The real estate company that bears the name of father and son had its beginnings 65 years ago when Simon L. Cohn opened an insurance company on May 1, 1948.
“He looked around and noticed that other insurance companies had real estate signs out in front, so he got his Realtor’s license and did the same that same year,” said Robbie Cohn, who was born in December 1947. “I was only seven months old when my father opened his business,” which today is one of Greenfield’s oldest surviving businesses.
This year, though the insurance business was sold six years ago, the real estate side of the business, Cohn & Co., is going strong, said Cohn, who is the same age. He’s been with the business 40 years this year.
Cohn’s parents had moved into his grandmother’s house on Madison Circle after his father got out of the U.S. Navy, and that’s when his father decided to open the business. Cohn grew up in Greenfield with his older brother and sister, who never joined the business.
“Of the three of us kids and my father — none of us, including me — ever thought I’d go into the business,” he said. “Actually, I quit two times during the first three years, because my father and I duked it out several times.”
Cohn said as the two aged, they became best friends.
The business started out on the second floor of the same Main Street building where Celtic Heels is located today.
“There were lawyers on one side and us on the other,” said Cohn.
He said in a photograph of Greenfield’s centennial celebration in 1954, his family can be seen standing in the window of Cohn & Co.
It was in 1978 that Simon L. Cohn made his last real estate sale and his son took over.
“I bought out the insurance and real estate company,” said Cohn. “In 1986, we moved into the building where we are today.”
Cohn built that Main Street structure, where he started with eight Realtors and 15 people working in the insurance business.
He sold the insurance business, because he “got an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he said.
Today, he works with 11 Realtors, including his wife, Mary, who joined the business eight years ago.
Cohn and his wife have two sons, but he said he doesn’t believe either is interested in joining him in the business. One is an engineer and the other, who majored in international business, is graduating from college next week.
“We have the best agents and we all get along so well,” said Cohn. “That’s really key in a business like this.”
His father died in 1999, but he said his mother, who will turn 96 this year, tells him often about how proud his dad was of him.
“He had no idea I would do as well as I’ve done,” said Cohn. “I think he’d be thrilled.”
Cohn said the most expensive property he has sold to date went for $2.3 million. He said it was an industrial property.
Cohn attributes his success to his concentration on both his business and the community he lives in.
“Community has always been really important to me,” said Cohn. “I’ve tried to do as much as I could for it. You have to give back.”
The 65-year-old said there’s only been one year that his real estate business lost money.
“In 1991, we lost $25,” he said. “Even during recessions we’ve done well.”
Cohn said he has no intention of retiring any time soon. He said he wants to keep going.
“I’m always thinking about it, but it’s not in the imminent future,” he said.
Cohn said what has been most gratifying about his career is that he and his company have been able to help people make the biggest purchase of their lives.
“People like the ability to make an informed decision about that, and we try to help as best as we can,” said Cohn. “In the end, they either love us or hate us. Most of the time, we’re seeing happy faces.”
Cohn said selling real estate is probably one of the most emotionally charged businesses.
“Buying a house is a really big deal,” he said.
One of the biggest changes he’s seen over the years is technology.
“People used to call us and if we got back to them within 24 hours, they were happy,” he said. “Today, if we don’t get back to them within 12 minutes, they are calling someone else. There’s a real need for instant gratification, and technology has made that easier and more appealing.”
Cohn said when he started, he had a “little black book,” where he wrote the size of a home, the number of rooms, how many stories it had, the price, the taxes, and the condition.
“That was it,” he said. “Today, you have to have every little detail, including how much oil the previous owner has used each year. If you don’t, people go elsewhere.”
Cohn said in his father’s day, there were no business cards or purchase and sale agreements.
“You did everything through a handshake,” he said. “Now, you start with an offer to purchase, then there are inspections, then a purchase and sale agreement, and on and on.”
Cohn said 25 percent of sales fall through because of something found during an inspection.
He said when he started in the business, $55,000 was the most expensive property in Cohn’s listings. Today, it’s nothing to see a $2 million listing.
He said agents today must be proficient in all of the new technologies.
“If they don’t know how to use a smartphone or iPad or computer, they don’t belong in this business,” he said. “Everyone, including the agency, needs to be on the cutting edge to make it.”
“When I first started, a broker in Keene (N.H.) handed me a piece of paper and asked me to fax him something,” said Cohn. “I had no idea what he was talking about, but you better believe I had three fax machines by the end of that day.”
Cohn said his Realtors are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“They can get their emails and phone messages from anywhere in the world,” he said. “It’s necessary. We can’t delay someone’s gratification in the world we live in. It’s sad and great, all at the same time.”
He said when he began selling properties, mothers were home with their children and fathers were out working.
“Now, both parents are working, and still many are having trouble making ends meet,” he said. “We have to make sure that they know about every penny they are going to have to spend when they buy a house.”
Cohn said, sadly, banks have gotten bigger and politicians only care about their own pockets, so Realtors have to work with people to make sure they know exactly what they are getting into when they buy a home.
“They have to remember about taxes, for instance,” he said. “It’s not just a mortgage payment, but the tax payment on top of that, which they have to think about and figure in.”
Cohn said what has kept him going is his love for what he does, where he lives, and the people who patronize his company.
He said the company has done well, even during recessions, because people think about where they are going to live, and how they are going to pay for it, first.
The one thing that hasn’t changed over the years, Cohn said, is people.
“People dream about owning a home and raising their family there,” he said. “They’re looking to us for help. That will never change.”