Beat this


February 19, 2016

Judy Kepecz-Hays has sold real estate on Longboat Key and Sarasota since 1978. Photo by Mark Wemple

Luxury Realtor Judy Kepecz-Hays received some blunt advice a few days after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in summer 2014: Don’t tell anyone.

Several fellow real estate agents suggested Kepecz-Hays, with a focus on Longboat Key and waterfront properties in Sarasota, stay mum on her diagnosis for competitive reasons. “People told me I would start losing listings if everyone knew I was sick,” says Kepecz-Hays.

One of the leading Realtors in the Sarasota-Manatee region in annual sales volume, Kepecz-Hays mostly followed the advice. She told her husband, John Hays, other family members and a few close people at the busy Coldwell Banker office she works out of on Longboat.

And Kepecz-Hays kept on working. She showed properties, pored over listings and returned phone calls — many times the day after chemotherapy treatments. For a Realtor with more than $1 billion in sales volume in a 35-year career, and a team of three associates on the payroll, this wasn’t mere busywork. The years she was sick, 2014 and 2015, were among career-highs for Kepecz-Hays, with $47 million and $72.62 million in sales volume, respectively.

“I just blocked everything else out and kept focusing on working with clients,” Kepecz-Hays says. “I’m good at blocking things out.”

Now, 18 months later, with the cancer gone, Kepecz-Hays has a better than good story of overcoming obstacles in her battle to beat cancer, and keep her career momentum rolling. Her ethic and attitude wowed colleagues and peers — all the more so when word trickled out how sick she was. “Neither myself nor her assistants could figure out where she got all the fortitude,” says Bob Stanley, the branch manager in the Coldwell Banker Longboat Key office. “She wasn’t going to give in to this. It was very impressive.”

Kepecz-Hays comes from a family steeped in resiliency. A native of Budapest, Hungary, her father was a college professor who spoke nine languages, and her mother was an entrepreneur who started a sewing business. But the family was forced to move from Hungary in 1956, after the Soviets invaded their homeland. They spent some time in a refugee camp in Vienna before they moved to the United States. The family settled in Chicago when Kepecz-Hays was 6 years old.

A decade later, Kepecz-Hays’s mom died — of breast cancer.

Kepecz-Hays has had several stellar years in sales volume during her career, but the past two years have stood out. The surging market helps, but most of the success stems from her determination to keep going during her diagnosis. She also credits her support team, which includes two executive assistants and a marketing professional. On sales, her team includes her brother, Gabe Buky, and his son, Charles Buky.

When Kepecz-Hays got the news she has breast cancer, she tried to remain stoic. The first month, she says, was the hardest, when she came to grips with the reality. “You can’t negotiate with cancer,” she says. “The word cancer is like death.”

Adds Kepecz-Hays: “At night I cried.”

After consultation with her doctors and family, Kepecz-Hays made the decision to have a double mastectomy. She spent most of summer 2014 in chemo. Then, in the fall, she developed neuropathy, a form of nerve damage in the arms and legs that restricts movement and is often caused from chemotherapy. “That was very painful,” says Kepecz-Hays.

She was able to stop the chemo treatments in December 2014, and switched to daily pills. The cancer is now removed from her body, and she talks about the experience, somewhat reluctantly, mostly for two reasons: One, to send a message to women over 40 to never neglect an annual mammogram. And two, she wants to prove to others that positive thoughts, and prayer, can really help during trying times.

“Quitting was not an option,” Kepecz-Hays says. “I knew I would get better and beat this. I wasn’t going to let it beat me.”

— Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon