A brush with death helped Russ Cofano decide to make a major career change. Now, he’ll work as a broker at Windermere Real Estate while fulfilling a dream to coach high school basketball.

In January of 2018, Russ Cofano learned he had prostate cancer.

As devastating as that diagnosis was, the 58-year-old former president and general counsel of eXp Realty told Inman that three months later the bad news just kept coming: His wife had breast cancer.

Cofano never imagined that he and his wife would both end up battling cancer at the same time, but the experience ultimately forced him to reflect on his life and “whether or not I was satisfied with the things I’ve done.”

“The answer was no,” Cofano told Inman Friday. “The answer was just fundamentally no.”

Russ Cofano

Russ Cofano

Cofano and his wife both ultimately beat their cancers thanks to early diagnoses, but a year later the brush with death has helped him decide to make a major career change. Now, Cofano will work as a broker and team leader at Windermere Real Estate.

And more surprisingly still, he also plans to begin coaching girls high school basketball.

“It really tends to frame your life in a very different way,” Cofano said of his cancer diagnosis and decision to shift his career.

To understand what led Cofano to this moment, it’s useful to look back on his varied career. He began his professional life three decades ago as an attorney specializing in real estate. For many years, he worked in private practice but eventually became a vice president and general counsel at John L. Scott Real Estate, a firm based in Bellevue, Washington. He spent three years in that position before being selected as the CEO of trade organization Missouri Realtors.

But it probably was Cofano’s next series of moves that made him a household name in some parts of the real estate industry. In 2014, he became a senior vice president at Move Inc., where he worked on the company’s popular realtor.com website. Cofano was only in that position for a year and four months, but it was during his tenure that Move was acquired by News Corp., the parent of the Wall Street Journal.

After Move, Cofano spent just over a year at virtual brokerage eXp Realty — a company that offers agents a game-like virtual work environment and which has been among the buzziest up-and-coming firms in the industry. Cofano was both president and general counsel of eXp.

Cofano left eXp in 2017, then did stints at app-based brokerage Real, and ran a real estate podcast.

Over the years, however, Cofano was also coaching basketball on the side. His coaching career began with his now 26-year-old daughter’s little league team and continued as she moved up the ranks. Cofano ultimately coached his daughter through eighth grade, then continued working with other teams after she moved on to high school sports.

“We actually coached together a few years back for an eighth grade team,” Cofano said of his daughter, “She was one of my assistant coaches and it was really cool.”

Cofano said that he stayed involved in youth sports because it allows him to make a positive impact on people at an extremely important moment.

“It’s just super important for me, in terms of being able to help young people at formative times in their lives,” he explained. “I’ve had the pleasure of past kids coming back to me and saying thank you, and there’s no better feeling.”

Thanks to his past experience coaching, Cofano recently learned of an opening to lead a girls high school basketball team. He said he can’t publicly name the school at this time, but he did jump at the opportunity. The new role will mostly require Cofano’s time during basketball season, which runs from late fall to early spring.

Coaching youth basketball does not, however, mean Cofano is leaving the real estate industry.

Instead, he has joined Windermere Real Estate as a broker, and has launched his own team, the Cofano Group. Cofano selected Windermere because, he said, they have integrity, are “forward thinking” and understand that “real estate is built on relationships.” He also stressed that even while coaching, real estate will remain his full time job.

“During the [basketball] season I’ll be extremely busy,” he said. “But I’m used to working 60 hours a week. I have a work motor. So by no means am I dabbling in real estate. This is full time.”

The real estate industry is also undergoing significant changes right now, Cofano added, and his past experiences leading different companies will give him a unique perspective in his new role.

Cofano’s real estate team is just now in its earliest stage, and the basketball season hasn’t begun yet, but he nevertheless expressed excitement about what lies ahead. Asked about the take away from his many experiences, he also said he wished he thought more about what he really wanted to do prior to getting cancer. But either way, Cofano believes the current move is now the right one.

“At least for me, I was willing to listen to myself,” he added. “That drove me to some decisions that were very difficult decisions but at the end of the day they were the right decisions.”

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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