The ink is barely dry on Jon Spisiak’s real estate license and he’s raring to go.

"I can’t slow the guy down," says his soon-to-be boss, Mark Hodges, who has hired Spisiak to sell homes at K. Hovnanian’s Four Seasons at Delray Beach, an active-adult community in Florida. His first day on the job will be Jan. 4.

But Spisiak isn’t your average newbie sales associate. He’s 72 and long retired from a highly successful career in the financial services industry — though earlier in life he flirted with the real estate business.

Spisiak may be the new kid in the Hovnanian sales office, but he’s hardly starting with a blank slate — he already lives in the development where he’ll be selling homes. Spisiak says he got the idea to apply for a job there when Hovnanian took over the subdivision after it had run aground financially under another developer.

"I contacted them the first day I heard that they were going to be the new owners," says Spisiak, explaining that he was jubilant after a long period of worrying about the future of the development, which had been showing the strains of having numerous unfinished homes.

"I found him irresistible," says Hodges, Southeast division president for the homebuilding company. He says three other residents in the development also had sought sales jobs, though Spisiak was the lone hire. "He was so excited."

So it’s going to be Act II for Spisiak, and it’s about time, he says.

"I retired about eight years ago as a senior vice president of Morgan Stanley," he explained. "I was looking forward to retirement and I did enjoy it."

But after awhile, he says, he got bored.

"I don’t play golf and I don’t sail," he says. "I’m in a community where all the landscaping is done for me. I had time on my hands."

And, he says, he felt a need to reinvent himself.

"I feel like I’ve been asleep for a long time, and just woke up," he says. "I have a purpose.

"When you retire, you’re somebody who used to be a senior vice president with Morgan Stanley," he says. "But you’re yesterday’s news. Here I have a chance to prove myself again." …CONTINUED

So Hovnanian decided to take him on, and Spisiak found himself sitting in a real estate licensing class.

"Most of my fellow students were young enough to be my children — some of them the age of my grandchildren," he says.

He passed the licensing exam on the first try. "A lot of people failed, so I was really proud to be able to do that," Spisiak says.

It’s not his first brush with real estate, though. Very early in his finance career, he became licensed in New York on a just-in-case basis when he was doing some acquisition deals. The license didn’t turn out to be necessary, he says, though he and his father developed a couple of subdivisions and a shopping plaza. He also worked for a time as a sales manager for a prefabricated-home business in Buffalo, N.Y.

Then, about 25 years ago, while a Morgan Stanley executive, he was dividing his work-year between Florida and New York. His wife, who had been a real estate agent in Buffalo, began working with a Florida condo developer.

Though Spisiak was well established with Morgan Stanley, he decided to obtain a Florida real estate license. "I helped her on weekends, and I loved it," he says.

His recent go-round with Florida licensing seemed much harder than the first, he says. He attributes the difference in the exams to the current market downturn, which he presumes prodded the state to raise the bar for licensees.

But he regards those early experiences as ancient history. The vast majority of his career, he explains, was in financial services, which he says has some parallels with real estate.

"The housing market is somewhat like the stock market — it has its ups and downs and it has its bubbles," he says. And now, he says, seems to be a good time to get into real estate.

"Prices are down by almost 50 percent from the top price three years ago," Spisiak says. "Starting in the stock market when you have a major decline is a good thing. And it’s a good thing to be starting in the real estate market at this time. You know that property values aren’t going to drop 50 percent more — we’re probably scraping along the bottom."

And so, he’s getting psyched for the new job. Fortunately, it’s a short commute, he says — his house is four doors down from the sales office. And he’s ready for some long days and the irregular schedule that usually go along with home sales.

"I’m giving my card to the security guards" at the gated development, he says. "And if somebody drives up at 10 p.m. and wants to see the community, I told them to call me."

Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.


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