Meet the 86yo real estate agent whose Wollongong business operates in a bygone era

PROPERTY: Bob Onofri, who turns 86 on Tuesday, is a fixture of the Illawarra’s real estate industry. Pictures: Robert Peet

Forget about the modern trappings of a mobile phone, computer, website or social media – real estate agent Bob Onofri happily operates without any of them. 

“I don’t even know how to use these things,” he laughed.

“If I need to, I’ll call the people (on the landline) myself.”

Wollongong resident Mr Onofri, who turns 86 on Tuesday, is a fixture of Illawarra real estate. 

He’s been in the same location in Crown Street for 51 years. 

Relatives help with some of the business aspects such as leases, as well as posting listings on sites such as Gumtree.

However, it’s predominantly a one-man operation, maintaining a modest shop-front with photographs and typed descriptions of his latest listings posted in the window. 

Initially a boilermaker by trade, Mr Onofri relocated to Australia in 1952 so he could earn money to send back to his family in Italy.

He worked on the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme from 1954 to 1956. 

He worked at EPT at Port Kembla for several years, and then started working in real estate in 1961.

“In those days there weren’t many real estate agents… There have been big changes since then,” he said.

“(These days) I look and see buildings go up overnight; you just see a six-storey building that wasn’t there yesterday,” he laughed. 

He started working in real estate in 1961, launching his own business Coastline Realtors in 1967. The name was changed to Bob Onofri Real Estate in 1974. 

He still uses his original telephone switchboard.

Mr Onofri said while the industry overall had altered drastically throughout the years, the ideas of trust, persistence and treating the customer with respect hadn’t. 

“You have to look after people,” he said. 

“To be successful in business you have to be trustworthy, and how you present yourself is also important.”

Mr Onofri’s wife Ruth died nearly 12 years ago.

“I like to talk to people, and it makes my day go quicker,” he said of working. 

“Real estate has been good to me. It’s made my life easier, and helped me look after my kids.

“When you go to a new country, don’t let anybody say, ‘you can’t do it’. You just go and do it’.”

Mr Onofri said his most recent sale was a block of land at New Dapto Road about four weeks ago. 

He plans to continue working, “as long as I can walk”, and will be celebrating his birthday with a lunch at Centro CBD. 

This content was originally published here.

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