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10 to watch in 2007: Nancy Riley

The new state Realtors chief is a go-getter who has two immediate concerns: taxes and insurance. And she can do something about it.

By Helen Huntley, Times Staff Writer
Published April 1, 2007

[Special to the Times]
Nancy Riley has been in real estate for more than 30 years and says the computer has revolutionized the business.

10 to watch in 2007
Meet some of the leaders who are likely to have the largest impact on the business community.

With a glut of homes on the market, this might not seem the most auspicious time to become president of the Florida Association of Realtors.

A record 30,000-plus single-family homes were listed for sale in the Tampa Bay area last month, and the median sale price in Pinellas County dipped below $200,000 for the first time in three years.

But Nancy Riley sees opportunity in the slump: "When things cool down, those who want to sell need a professional." The good ones, she said, get an opportunity to prove their worth.

And Riley doesn't see things staying slow forever. She and her colleagues at the 170,000-member association are pushing for resolution of the two big issues they think are hurting homeowners and holding back the market: property taxes and insurance.

"When this gets resolved, we will have another real estate boom like you've never seen," she said. "We have a great quality of life in Florida. I don't see anything that could stop us except taxes and insurance."

Riley, 59, will be employing her political connections and legendary persistence to try to influence the process. In addition to being the Realtors' president, she's a Republican committeewoman and potential delegate to the party's presidential convention next year. So who does she support for president?

"I'm waiting to be romanced," she said. "One of the things I want to know is how they feel about disaster insurance."

Gov. Charlie Crist recently appointed Riley to the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, charged with reviewing the state tax structure. But she said she doesn't think the Legislature will wait for the commission's report to provide property tax relief.

"Something will happen," she said. "The citizens are demanding it."

Riley has been involved in political campaigns since she was 12, and last year she ran unsuccessfully for the Florida House of Representatives. She said the experience showed her she probably doesn't have the right temperament to be an elected official.

"They ask me a question, and I tell them the answerm" she said. "I'm a bottom-line person. Running for office any more, you can't be that." Her friends say she has never been shy about letting her positions be known.

"She's relentless," said St. Petersburg appraiser Frank Gregoire, a longtime friend and current chairman of the Florida Real Estate Appraisal Board. "Nancy has an incredible passion for anything that she gets involved in."

Between trips to Tallahassee, Washington, D.C., and Realtor headquarters in Orlando, Riley still shows houses to clients.

"You find time to do the things you really like," she said. "If I won the lottery, I would still sell real estate. I like getting to meet people and trying to match their needs and personalities with a house."

With more than 30 years in the business, Riley said she chose her career out of economic necessity after discovering that she wasn't cut out to be a legal secretary or a dental assistant.

"Real estate was something you could do without having a degree," said Riley, who dropped out of Florida State University to marry, then found herself a single mother with two daughters.

Her first real estate job was pitching condos at Envoy Pointe on St. Pete Beach: "It was $39,900 for a two-bedroom, two-bath on the gulf and you could take your pick." After a decade of working for developers, she ran a real estate office in Feather Sound, then ended up with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in St. Petersburg. Last year she ranked in the top 5 percent of the company's Realtors, with more than $6-million in sales.

Riley's sister, Kathy Doermer, said, "She had to prove herself all the time. Thirty-three years ago, there were no role models for us; you were a teacher, a mother or a nurse."

Now real estate is a family affair. Doermer and Riley's daughters, Alison Bearnarth and Jenna Wells, all sell real estate through Coldwell Banker. Remarried for 30 years, Riley said her husband, Tom, who is technically retired, keeps his real estate license active so he can pitch in and show a house when needed.

Four of her six grandchildren led the pledge of allegiance at her installation as the Realtors president in January.

Helen Huntley can be reached at (727) 893-8230.

[Last modified April 6, 2007, 10:52:57]

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