For those who know Jan R. “John” Kwapniewski, perhaps the most difficult thing to remember about him is how to spell his last name. After all, over the years, it’s been butchered by the best of the lot. But there’s one thing that cannot be forgotten these days — and that is that Kwapniewski has been owner/broker at Coccia Realty now for 30 years.
It was 1989 when the man, who at the time had been in real estate for just four years, bought his share of Coccia Realty. Then in 2008, he became the sole owner. But from the time when he first came to the company now known fully as Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate | Coccia Realty — one thing has been clear.
He’s been nothing short of successful every single one of those 30 years.
To better understand his success, let’s first take a trip back to May 1985.
It was that year when he first got his real estate license while going to college part-time and while working at a paint store on the Belleville Turnpike as a salesman, something he’d been doing since he was 14.
“I had a vision of being an attorney,” Kwapniewski says. “I remember sitting in class and thinking of how long it would take to get a law license. And I started to sell real estate and I really enjoyed it. So I just decided to go on a different path. My father wasn’t too pleased, but later on, he was very proud I chose a career in real estate.”
Regardless of what his dad thought back in 1985, if there’s any doubt as to whether Kwapniewski made the right decision, one only needs to look at the body of his work as the leader at Coccia. You see, while he has been extremely successful — he’s sold a lot of real estate over the years, owns his own properties, has four total offices, etc. — he’s always remained someone who has taken what he’s learned and shared that know-how with the agents who affiliate with him.
His sales acumen began to develop whilst he was a student in the third- and fourth-grade at the former St. Cecilia Elementary School, Kearny. He’d sell Christmas ornaments and would also get a lot of joy doing that. It was the same when he would sell ads for the yearbook and 50/50 raffles when he moved on to the now-closed Queen of Peace High School, North Arlington.
“They took me to Ma Bell’s restaurant, in New York, for selling the most ads,” he says.
Fast forward to 1985. Again.
“When I first started (in the business), I enjoyed it, I was good at it, but I didn’t have any mentorship from anybody.”
And that is part of the reason why he takes pride in mentoring new, younger agents who are just starting.
“There wasn’t any help. There wasn’t anyone who really focused on anyone else’s success. I just learned on my own and when I became co-owner with Joe Coccia, one of the things I set out to do was to help others.”
To help others achieve similar success, his company has always provided agents with help on the back-end of things — by offering a staff that does the paperwork, marketing — things many agencies simply don’t help with anymore. And, when his company affiliated with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate six years ago, that aspect only got stronger since they offer even greater learning opportunities for agents.
A life-changing meal
By 1989, Kwapniewski was already well-established in the real-estate world. It was then that Joe Coccia, the late founder of Coccia Realty back in 1961, got word John was considering opening up his own agency.
So, Coccia arranged a meal with John at Don’s 21 in Newark, on Rt. 21, sometime that year.
“We chatted for a while — we basically hit it off,” Kwapniewski recalls. “And within a couple of days, we came up with an agreement that we would be equal partners in his company. I think he saw something in me that would help bring his company back to the forefront because back then he was concentrating more on insurance than he was real estate. And I am glad we got together because he taught me a lot. He gave me a lot — he polished my business acumen. I genuinely loved the man — he was just a good guy.
And the contract that led to all of this — it was signed on Friday, Oct. 13, 1989. So much for superstition.
Now as we wrapped up our interview with Kwapniewski, we asked him what he thought his legacy might be years from now after he’s happily retired. First, retirement is nowhere near in the cards, especially since he has three children — including a daughter who is a senior at Montclair Kimberly Academy and on her way to college next year and a younger daughter and son.
Yet he couldn’t, quickly, come up with an answer — because that’s the kind of guy John Kwapniewski is. He’s selfless, he does so much for others and it’s never about him. After about a minute, though, he did come up with a reply.
“I like to help people,” he says.
And that, without question, sums him up perfectly. And who knows — maybe he’ll continue to help people for 30 more years to come.
Learn more about the writer ...
Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.