Friday, December 21, 2007

How do I really feel about that, I wonder?

I see this car all the time around the northside of Chicago but have never actually laid eyes on the owner. I'm not sure why it intrigues me but it does. The stickered-up jalopy usually sits in one parking lot or another in the neighborhood near my office like some migrating obiter dictum on the state of the nation, world, and beyond. Once it was ahead of me in traffic and I did my best to catch up but I lost it at a four way stop during the evening rush. And just so you know, it's not without its own carbon footprint--a little leaky in the tailpipe for a self proclaimed harbinger of global causes, if you know what I'm saying.

Another time I actually parked next to it and waited 20 minutes for the driver to come out of a grocery store. Growing restless, I finally went inside to try and figure out who might best resemble the owner of such a traveling wilbury. When I came back to my own car without spotting a single credible suspect, it was gone. Like a gypsy in the crowd.

I suppose my interest lies more in the why surrounding this vehicular vagabond than the actual how of it all. Let's face it, the slowly rusting, smog emitting heap with all its pasted-on ideologies is just as valid a medium of expression as is this blog you're now reading (....hello out are reading, aren't you? Please don't let this be one of those trees falling in that stupid forest everyone is always taking about but nobody really hears). It may even have more of an audience than me on any given day depending where it rests its leaking headers for the night. But it's all those words with all those hidden meanings that have me scratching my head this day. Like the one sticker on the bumper that reads: Repeal Conceal. What does that mean?

Or, Think Globally Act Locally. Coexist. War Costs $. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to think about all these things. I don't know where I stand. Do I side with Hannity or Hillary? Buddah or Jesus? In times of flux, everyone makes a good argument, it seems to me.

You see, as a realtor I don't even disagree with the FSBO model of home selling. I believe everyone has the right to sell their own property. Buy it, too, for that matter. As far as I'm concerned, the consumer can do his own legal work, as well. And to be truthful, I couldn't tell you what the Title Companies do for their fee. I was in the insurance business long enough to know that the risk is mathematically designed to expire before the claim comes in--if it ever does; hurricanes and tsumanis, notwithstanding. Hey, the premium reflects it. Don't let them tell you it doesn't.

This car makes me wonder, I guess, for what I really stand for in a world full of clans and echos, divisions and paradigms. Maybe its owner is just another version of me searching for a voice to identify with and hedging as many bets as possible to get some, any point across and be heard in this vast Polyverse of humanity. Maybe it's his only way to be noticed, pasting all those stickers on his ride. Or...maybe he just bought it that way.

Geno Petro

Sunday, December 16, 2007


  1. Apparently, I now work in Alberto's crew. I haven't discussed this with my Managing Broker yet nor have I contacted the Chicago Association of Realtors for licensing specifics but you better believe both of these tasks are on my To Do list. If I have to pay yet another set of fees, this time to The Latin Kings, then I want to know what I'm getting for my money (although to be honest, I don't remember even joining a street gang). And I'm pretty sure the tax-deductible donation I made to the Jewish Defense League earlier this month doesn't qualify as 'kicking up' to a homey.

    Or perhaps I'm just jumping to conclusions. Maybe Alberto just wants a little taste, so to speak. Perhaps a referral fee. Maybe he is the regional representative for the national relocation company I'm presently doing a deal with. I don't know. He wrote all over the side door as well. He seems pretty pissed about something.

The truth of the matter is, I don't really care who I pay a fee to as long as I get something back for my money. Some trackable results. Maybe Alberto represents some emerging market I'm not aware of. Maybe he's been trying to page me and just never got through. After all, the pay phone at the end of my block has been out of order for three years. He probably just got tired of playing phone tag and decided to tag a building instead.

And if what I suspect is, in fact, true---I hope that I can at least get CE credits for watching "Snoop Dogg's Father Hood" on the E! Channel. I'm not sure if Alberto is down with that or not but hey, that's life on the real estate streets of Chicago. And if Alberto is indeed a drug dealer to boot, I only hope he's not a discount broker. Or...maybe he's just a moron with a magic marker.

Geno Petro

Friday, November 30, 2007


See you in two weeks. We're off to the Big Island (as well as a couple of the smaller ones). I'm about to click the Hybrid Realtor auto-pilot button feature on all my sites so any response you receive from me until December 14th will be totally computer generated and utterly impersonal but hey, I'm connected. So let me take this opportunity to say, as sincerely as I can...



Friday, November 23, 2007

Racoons in the Trash

There is a racoon living on our property–actually, a family of racoons. We thought this was pretty cool a few months ago when we decided to buy a timeworn, if not stately, house on the utmost western tip of the Chicago city limits. Our property virtually abuts a forest preserve to the north and a Metra commuter train stop to the south–a line whose tracks are also shared by Amtrak and what remains of the Illinois Central Railroad (the latter would be freight trains btw). Note to self: Spend an entire night in the next house I buy before cutting the final earnest money check for escrow. It’s all good, though.

There are also deer, I shat you not. Now I don’t eat venison, nor do I hunt, but if one more forest preserve denizen bolts in front of my BMW on my way to or from civilization, then I’m picking up a freezer at Costco and a red plaid jacket like every other husband in the neighborhood, if you get my meaning (hey guys, it’s Chicagohello?). Racoons, deer, and plaid are everywhere around here. Trains, too. This place is lousy with trains.

Deep breath…

But as usual, I overstate. If I didn’t find myself in such a hurry all the time and if I didn’t fancy myself as one of the few ’on call’ realtors in this new, ‘always open’ real estate millennium, I might actually be able to kick back and enjoy the implicit Americana of it all; the romantic clanging of the conductors’ bells (yes, I can see real live train conductors right out the window of my library–an actual little front room parlor with french doors at one entrance, a pocket door at the other, and a massive picture window looking out over the plantation columned veranda and beyond), the oversized city parcels ripe with foilage and wildlife, and the 1890s Victorian architecture that dots the streets and lanes of this unlikely whistle stop community. And even as I write, a Currier and Ives snowfall dusts this postcard setting known as Forest Glen, which, unlike the Classics of Lakeview Condominiums from where my wife and I just moved (neither classic nor anywhere near a view of the lake), boasts both a forest and a glen...of sorts. But it’s the racoons that are bothering me today.

They remind me of those people who dabble, or aspire to dabble, in foreclosures–the tablescraps left over from the main course that didn’t make it into the refrigerator. And since I’m pretty much dialed into REWeb 2.0, these folks are on both my website and my blog almost daily.

“What do you know about foreclosures?” they usually inquire (a question, by the way, any expert in the field has yet to ever pose to me) in response to my ‘Thank you for registering on my site /I am unable to locate my iphone at this time’ Auto-Reply.

“I know more than you,” I want to respond, “and I don’t go near them.”

Which is really to say, ’Leave that mess up to the experts/If you have to ask, then…/Stop watching late night cable/Get a real estate license, complete your CE credits, and pay your MLS dues like the rest of us so called professionals…’

In other words, I’m not a fan of this volatile housing market trend or most of the amateur quick money investors who hope to exploit it. There are a handful of pros in this town who dominate the entire foreclosure sector and whatever properties remain after they are done passing the basket (back and forth to each other, mostly) are not worth sinking a nickle into, in my opinion. What’s left is generally garbage, barely worth its landfill value.

Q. How does a racoon, with his head stuck in the trash, react when a greater force of nature sneaks up upon him?

A. Like a deer in headlights. BAM! (Hey, it’s this realtor’s attempt at a scavenger/roadkill allegory, if not apologue.) Anyway…

I was laying awake late the other evening, counting boxcars; 47, 48, 49… and staring at the dancing shadows on my bedroom ceiling. Beneath the rumble I swore I heard a distant howl. I looked over at the silhouette outline of my sleeping wife laying across the bed; back facing me, cat between us, eyemask on, ear plugs in. I reached over and tapped her shoulder as I sensed the caboose (car number 67 or so, and still no closer to dreamland for me) nearing. It was quiet now.

“I think I just heard a coyote.”

She rustled for a second and I’m pretty sure I heard her reply, half asleep and offering it out to the Universe in general from her own dreamland, most likely ….

“Darling I love you but give me Park Avenue…”

Geno Petro

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Big, Lazy Beast?

We've already established that he's big and he's hungry. We also know that, like Pavlov's four legged, snouted companion, he's predictable in his response to the dinner bell. He's our big, lovable lender and without him...well, home just wouldn't be the same sweet home--on the range, or otherwise.

But just because he moves a little slower these days does not necessarily mean he's lazy. He's been on a diet after all, and is only trying to conserve his energy and look presentable for the Holiday Season and beyond.. (Easy on the wassel and sub-prime bisquits, big guy.) The new, and soon to be improved beast, has resolved to be a much pickier eater in 2008 and will emerge, a much better man's best friend as a result.

There's a concept I came across recently called Lazy Money. Who knew? Apparently, it has to do with a form of aggregate currency just laying around waiting to be scooped up and buried into the Real Estate backyard with the rest of the bones. Its aroma has the same allure that drew overseas investors in droves into our secondary mortgage market (Freddie Mac, of course, notwithstanding) with the promise of slobbery sweet returns and a bite of mom's apple piechart. But those dog days have come and gone forever, I fear; no more lounging around on expensive furniture waiting for investors to call; no more 5 minute, or better yet, drive-by appraisals by those once overburdened, third party scribes, now relegated to the lending industry dog house; no more dirty deals with pumped up projections and unlimited upside.

He may be slow, and he may be stout but can that dog still hunt? Let's ring the dinner bell, (the equivalent of spotting a squirel in a fat dog's world) and see if he drools. I have a nonconforming client with 5% down and 650 credit. Any takers?

Geno Petro

the image is my dog

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My Carbon Webprint

If you Google my name on any given day, 30,000 or so entries pop up saying pretty much the same thing; Chicago, blah blah blah: Realtor, blah blah blah; Writer/Weblog Commentor, yada yada yada. By simply placing " "s around the two words, the number instantly gets whacked by 66%. Click on the last number at the bottom of the search page and the total amount of entries under "Geno Petro" gets trimmed to either side of 100 after all the 'duplicate' articles and strings get filtered out.

Now, I'm no Al Gore (al-gor-ithm? hmmm.) but I have to believe all those wasted characters are how somehow contributing to this global warming mess we're apparently in. I know for a fact that I personally am very wasteful when it come to commas, semi-colons, and dashes. I'm also a big fan of the '...' . I use ... a lot. Those little cyberkinetic dits and dots are like pistachio nuts to me; I can't put them down no matter how detrimental red dye is to the environment. See, I just did it again. I just snuck another semi-colon. On a positive note, at least I make good use of the Recycle Bin.

Google is both smart and stupid at the same time. It thinks I'm important in some ways but doesn't really know or understand why. It's always messing around with my Page Rank 3,4,5,4,3. I consider it a fickle friend who does and doesn't know I exist. It talks a big game at first then betrays me the nanosecond someone else puts quotation marks around my name, ready to trim (laser) the fat right down to the bone for whoever dares to go (click) the distance. The question remains; where do all those wasted words end up? And why is it 62 degrees today, November 14th... in Chicago?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Big, Hungry Beast

Ding Dong (the doorbell)

...And immediately all hell breaks loose in the house. My 125 pound hound starts baying, and woofing, and snorting. toenails clicking and sliding sideways on the hardwood floors while his too short legs lose traction, and he barrels head down, straight ahead--like the slowest guard on the football team-toward the front door to protect us from the FedEx guy.

"Dude," I say, grasping his choker collar with one hand and wiping the slobber from his jowels with the side of my jeans. "Act that way when they don't ring the doorbell." Like when they come through the basement window I want to say, but there is no need to expound. He's just a hound with a three or four track mind.

He's a big guy and needs fed a lot. When I cut back on his portions, eliminate the table scraps, or forbid the bisquits until he drops a pound or two, he's very put off. He's come to expect a lot of food on a regular basis. He expects a lot of attention. He's just like my bank. Just like them...


Maybe they got a little too fat, too quick. Maybe they made some wrong choices off the menu. Maybe they liked the restaurant so much (when they were flush with dough) that they bought and staffed it--the whole chain, perhaps. An entire sector.

They found investors overseas and lured them into the business model. They spent billions on land acquisitions, brick and mortar. They increased their payrolls, cut their rates and flooded the airwaves and web with promotion. They experimented with new, low-fat, low-interest cuisine. They found a way to feed anyone. They thought they could service everyone.

Then the media stuck their snouts into the soup and found that there were just too many cooks in the Kitchen. Hell, there were just too many kitchens. They discovered that a few Chefs (Chiefs?) at the top of the food chain were skimming the cream off the top of the vat. Customers began sending their meals back, skipping out on the bill, cancelling reservations, staying at home...Perhaps the cooks and busboys were here illegally and scattered into the gangways and alleys leaving their houses (and promissary notes) behind. What about E-coli, non-smoking sections, and foie gras? The investors overseas demanded a raincheck. The tougher ones demanded a refund. The banks looked into the mirror, studied the ugly sight, and went on a crash diet. They pledged to starve themselves back into shape.


Now even the best customers have to pay more. There's a shortage of product. "The credit is a little crunchy this month, don't you think?" we say to our Loan Originators as they stand before us, still willing to serve, and a little hungry themselves.

We asked for the check but our credit card was denied. We stopped making even our minimum payments. We stopped even looking for a parking space. The red coat valets and attendants fail to even show up. There are no cars to park. Things are lean. We start eating our young...


...But for how long? How long can a big, hungry beast like my dog go without food? Eventually he will find a way to settle his stomach. Same with the banks. They are a huge part of the GDP and it is only a matter of time before the purging stops and the yo-yo begins to sail up into the opposite direction. And just like all failed dieters, they will actually end up a little heavier than before the whole cycle started. You just wait and see. You can say 'I told you so' if, in 5 years, total reported banking profits, and the number of loans originated, aren't significantly higher than they are today.

There are a few weblogs on the subject of Lending I read with great frequency. One is Dan Green's The Mortgage Reports out of Cincinnati. The other is Brian Brady's Mortgage Rates Reports out of San Diego. And of course, I communicate on a weekly basis with the Mortgage Guru here in Chicago, Chris Hahn. And we all have a different take on the subject.

But hey, from a realtor's point of view, this is how I see it. And as I sit here at my desk watching my dog asleep on the floor, snoring and twitching and chasing rabbits off in doggie dream land, I know the peace is not for long. His belly is full now and he is content. But if he goes too long between meals, and no one pats him on the head, and the door bell rings...well, I just wouldn't want to be the FedEx guy. Like I said, 'He's a big, hungry beast and he needs to be fed...'

the image is not my dog

Friday, November 02, 2007

Life Of A Butterfly

…or is it the ‘Butterfly Effect’? (or perhaps Affect?...I can never remember and I'm just too tired to Google right now.) You know...that theory or postulate or whatever we learned back in 8th Grade: A single, lone butterfly turns left instead of right 17 million years ago, gets squashed by a T-Rex and never makes it to the next flower to pollenate which throws the entire order of the Universe off by one butterfly…actually, by one butterfly plus all future ancestors of that one butterfly and everything they would have pollenated, ad infinitum. We are all effected (and affected) by some teensy weensiy event that happened in a rain forest more than two Ice Ages ago that itself, ceases to even exist anymore.

Then there is that whole Six Degrees of Separation, Kevin Bacon or whomever, and everything that phenomenon entails. I mean, if a tree falls onto a house in Malibu and everyone is evacuated, who is going to tell Leo DiCaprio who was in This Boy's Life to tell Ellen Barkin who played his mother and also starred in Diner with both Kevin Bacon and Mickey Rourke, if a sound was made---if everyone was evacuated? I mean think about it...if a T-Rex stomped on a caterpillar before it even became a butterfly back before Adam was chasing Eve around the mulberry bush (and we all know what that whole episode was really about), then none of us would be here including Mickey Rourke, even after his comeback.

The chain of events that I see in the Real Estate profession that mirrors both of these examples is the way Realtors change companies in Chicago. If a Remax office opened in Lakeview and nobody bothered to pay the franchise fee, would a Coldwell Banker office in Lincoln Park have 100 more or fewer Agents by year's end? How about in five years? If the Managing Broker left Prudential Preferred and took over a Keller Williams shop, bringing along 50 live bodies in the coup, or 250, would anyone really make a better living? Is it really any different anywhere? Why are we always fooling around with the Natural Order of things when Sales is ultimately an inside job to begin with?

I sit back and watch as people I know in this business jump from one company to the next. Some do remarkably better, at least for a while. The vast majority do not. I know how to look up any Realtor's Closed Transactions for the year as well as previous years. Every so often I sneak a peek, just out of curiosity, to see if the grass stayed green after a winter or two . Almost everyone who has ever left the office I'm presently in is doing worse now than when they were here. It's a fact. Everybody seems to know someone who knows someone who knows Kevin Bacon but just because he's a star...well, no need to spin off in that direction.

I've worked under the same fellow, Joe Pinto, since I got my Real Estate license seven years ago. I've seen countless numbers of potentially good (or at least potentially decent) Agents come through our doors only to be lured away by recruiters who don't sell, and be promised training by trainers who can't sell, much less train. It's no skin off my nose really, as I in essence, work for myself. I have no management responsibilities and am paid no incentive if someone comes, stays, or goes. But if enough butterflies get stepped on by the bigger animals in the jungle before having a chance to pollenate their own businesses, then pretty soon everything changes for all of us.

My pat answer for Global Warming concerns when approached by the GreenPeace crowd outside any neighborhood Starbucks is, "I like Global Warming...especially in February." Of course, I'm being smug because my views on these types of issues are personal. I don't want to hear the hype. Hype doesn't make me want to buy anything (except the i phone. I really want one although both the OS and carrier are in a totally different groove than I'm presently in.) What I really want, more than anything, is to believe in myself when it comes to this business of selling Real Estate in Chicago.

I don't need to go out and look for another company with a seemingly better deal. I have a better deal right here. All I, or anyone, has to do is just wake up and do it. Nobody knows what I can do more than me--no recruiter, no trainer, no Managing Broker. Whether you change the logo on the business cards or the company colors, move the office or replace the Broker, it's still me walking through the front door every morning and the only promises I need to keep track of are the ones I made myself. "...And that's all I have to say about that." (my hero, Forrest Gump)

On a side note, Ive recently been invited to be a Frequent Contributor on the nationally renowned BloodhoundBlog, a multi-author weblog championed by the most prolific blogger on RE Web 2.0, Greg Swann. If you're an avid reader in this medium and haven't read his work then... "You're not thinking fourth dimensionally! " (Doc Brown, Back to the Future)

Geno Petro

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Memoirs Of A Big Fat Liar

Lightning In A Bottle

Actually, a bunch of big fat liars. I'll include myself in the group for this exercise (as an embedded observer, of course) although I can state here comfortably--eyeball to eyeball, without flinching and safely nested behind the double locked doors of my home office library--that my truthfulness in business dealings consistently falls within the soupy gray boundries of acceptable sales chatter. In other words, I try not to exaggerate or overblow my Real Estate accomplishments when things fall nicely into my lap nor do I whine and moan (or shriek like a little girl...anymore) at the first sign of a market correction or the foreshadow of a lenghty Listing stint.

   The truth is, the Listing Agent who has the signed Exclusive Agreement when the actual Buyer walks through the door is the hero. Period. Don't let them (us) tell you otherwise. We all know this. I once lost a deal (and one of my best friends) early on in my career two days after an Agreement expired. I had a lot of activity on the property--many showings, loads of interest--but on day 90, my about-to-be-married buddy decided that the unsold property was hurting our friendship and yanked the house from me. He fired me over the phone from Vegas--on his honeymoon. (I'd love to report here how that marriage ended up but that would be gloating now, wouldn't it?)

   The new Agent was literally taking down my sign and putting his own up when the eventual Buyer came tooling along with his wife. They wrote a deal without representation (a 'double bubble' for the Agent) and Closed in 30 days. That my friends is what we Realtors call, 'lightning in a bottle.' And I've been the recipient of such happenstance, as well. I've just learned not to gloat over it when it occurs nor do I stand outside in the the middle of a thunderstorm (or worse yet, a drought), arms raised to the heavens with coke bottles in each hand, waiting for it to strike again. I have other stupid things I do...

Promising The Moon
  ...And this is one of them. Not so much anymore but still...I want to be liked. Deep down, I don't want to be the person to break the bad news...
   "You see, Mr and Mrs Climbladder, your house is very beautiful. It's just 1.2 million dollar beautiful... not 1.7 million dollar beautiful. If it were 1.7 million dollar beautiful it would most likely be surrounded by several other 1.7 million dollar beautiful homes in a 1.7 million dollar neighborhood."

   blah blah blah.

   "Yes, I know it was featured in the local newspaper but no one is reading that particular issue anymore...except of course, you."

   blah blah blabbity blah! 

   "And yes, I see you spent a couple hundred thou on the bathrooms and kitchen and I'm sure you have enjoyed them but Buyers expect such finishes at this price point. Like I said, it's's just not 1.7 million dollar beautiful."

   "Yes, Mr and Mrs Climbladder...I'm afraid so....blah."

   The point is I try not to promise the moon unless I promise a Price Recduction to go along with it. I'm very nice about it, though.

The Sunday Papers
   I once heard renowned newscaster, Sam Donaldson, state in an interview, "I don't go to the casinos because winning a hundred dollars means nothing to me but losing a hundred dollars really pisses me off." I concur. I also feel the same about newspaper advertising. IMO, it only brands the company doesn't sell houses. Not here in Chicago, anyway. To spend money foolishly on a longshot bet is one thing, but to advocate such a strategy as a Marketing Plan is cretinous. (You can look it up if you like but it basically means stupid.)

   Marketing in this day and age goes well beyond ink on paper advertising. If it is disposable then it will be disposed of. Print advertising is untrackable, expensive, and passive. I'd rather pay-per-click any (every) day of the week though the cost of doing business is equivalent. At least I know my hard earned money isn't wrapped around a dead fish in the garbage.

   I am confident that Internet Channels, Digital Open Houses, and other technologies along these lines are the way of the future in Real Estate. And even as I restructure my own business model for the next five years I'll still make it a point to tip the paperboy every month when he knocks on our front door. (Besides being an enterprising young kid in the image of you know who, he's the best hacker I know.)

Ladybug In A Juice glass 

   I won't promise 'lightning in a bottle' to a potential client but I will pledge to use my resources (spend my own money) in the most efficient manner I see fit. Let's face it, the Listing Agent is in the hole the minute he walks out the door with the Exclusive and only collects when the property actually sells--correction: ...when the property actually sells under his watch. Phone calls from Vegas are never good under any circumstance, I've found.

I'll try not to promise the Moon no matter how much I allow myself to be manipulated by the situation (potential paycheck). And that is why we do it, you know. We Realtors are ironically, the easiest people to manipuate because we count the money before it's printed. We may say we don't but most of us secretly do. After all, we have BMWs and college to pay for. (It also stokes our Ego when we nail a Sold placard across the For Sale sign. I usually wait until rush hour so everyone stalled in traffic can watch me perform the ritual. It usually takes a good half hour depending on whether or not I have to find and unbury St. Joseph.)

I may be big, and I may or may not be fat depending on the season or what I'm wearing, but a Big, Fat, Liar I am not. Not all three. I won't promise 'lightning in a bottle' but I will do my best to catch a ladybug in a juiceglass. Oh yeah....and work for free until I get the place sold, just like every other self-respecting Realtor.

Geno Petro

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Eight Deadly Sin...

Fear Knocked

We've all heard tell of certain California and Nevada housing markets in recent years where simply offering 'List Price' on a property didn't cut it on the real estate trading floor. Demand had a strangle hold on Supply and only the earliest of pre-approved birds brought home the juciest worms to the nest. Even the economically horizontal section of the United States where I reside and conduct business enjoyed it's own vertical spike in new construction housing starts with six and seven figure price tags to go with it. The appetite for real estate--condominiums in particular--seemed insatiable and looking back I'm not quite sure if it was greed, gluttony, or some other deadly sin feeding the emotional frenzy. The market was big and it was fast and the word on the street was...the only 'losers' were the snoozers when it came to building a portfolio of brick and mortar. What we didn't realize at the time was we were approaching the top of a housing cycle. No biggie, unless you really overpaid.

Over the past 18 months though, the typical real estate Buyer has steadily evolved from the above mentioned 'Emotional' type to the more cautious 'Analytical' type, or so notes my Broker, Joe Pinto. It is a keen observation, I believe. No longer are young couples packing a 'back-up' checkbook in the glove box of the Hummer before beginning their weekly Open House patrol on Sundays. The day of the great American housing auction has gone the way of detente, it appears.

CNN reports that 'outbidding ambushes' in model units by the ubiquitous Jones clan (down the street) as well as Multiple Offers in general declined sharply in the Third Quarter across the Midwest. I heard Alan Greenspan sneezed during a luncheon in Washington and the market reacted accordingly. Sellers are jumping from first floor windows of their cul-de-sac ranch homes from Peoria to Padukah, says one suburban Broker. In downtown Chicago, Listing Agents just take the elevator to the lobby, head straight for the bar and wait for the Buy-side representation to serve up a lowball on the rocks....Ingredients: Identify a property, measure twice, Offer once, hold the urgency. No bubbles, please.

Faith Answered

Shame on anyone in the market for a home if they fail to make a deal at the bottom of this current housing cycle. One National Association of Realtors (NAR) report pointed to an 18 year high in housing inventory across the board nationally. That's a lot of meat in the freezer, as they say.

It is my observation that only the truly needy' are moving forward these days. And by 'needy' I mean just that--in need of a home. Be it a job transfer, domestic change (marriage/divorce), or unexpected triplets, there is a certain sector of the population always in the market for a new place to live.

If a thousand closed escrows a week was the Chicago average in 2004 and that number has been reduced by 30% today, this is still 700 transactions being negotiated, closed and recorded on the tax rolls. And while once wily investors are perhaps now standing in the wings licking their collective, speculative, and respective spreadsheet papercuts, I believe the path is clear and safe for those who purchase real estate for their primary residence.

No One Was There

The Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cold War. The Gas Shortage of the 1970's. The Double Digit Mortgage Rates of the 1980s. Inflation. Solar Flares. The Savings and Loan fiasco of the 1990s. The Killer Bees. The Killer Asian Carp. The Killer Asian Beetles. Recession. The Dot.Com thing of a decade ago. Health Care. The Y2K computer thing in 2000. The Housing Bubble talk of a year ago. Sub Prime Lending. The Credit Crunch. Over a dozen Presidential elections in my lifetime, both Republican and Democrat...all those panic driven headlines for the past 50 years and you know what?

Nothing really happened. Nothing that a little patience couldn't have remedied. Nothing that couldn't be attributed to some type of cycle except maybe that whole Y2K thing which was just plain stupid.

So Relax. Buy a house. I just did. In five years I'll be wishing I bought two at this price (like I always do). Only my self-proclaimed 8th Deadly Sin of Fear is keeping me from doing so. I admit it, I too am human and not immune from the media scuttle of the month. I keep one ear on the radio and one eye on the news channels like everyone else I know. And just between us, I do still wonder about those Killer Bees on occasion.

Geno Petro

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lessons Never Learned

While awaiting my turn in the checkout line (for the fifth time in as many days) at the Home Depot last Sunday it occurred to me that my wife and I alone probably spend as much money in a single weekend as my parents spent in an entire month raising a family of five. Even after backing out the present day cost of housing which borders on ridiculous, and adjusting the 1967 dollar to the 2007 equivilant, our lack of frugality is pretty close to shameful. We are 'consumers extraordinaire,' us Petros. 'Recycling' in this household means riding a bicycle we paid $900 for, more than once.

My mother used to run the house on around $100 of my father's monthly paycheck so it was Wheaties and whole milk on the 2nd and rolled oats and powdered milk by the 30th. Somewhere around the 15th, the 'milk' became a 50/50 powder solution, gradually increasing to 95% water by month's end. To this day, on the rare occasion I ever touch the stuff, I still shake a milk carton out of habit before pouring. And as far as ground beef goes... well just never mind.

The first house in my memory was a 3 bedroom, 1 bath Levittowner with a carport, in Levittown, Pennsylvania. Millions were built with three models to choose from, all with the same 3/1 layout. Everyone in the extended Petro family has either bought one or lived in one sometime in their (our) lives. Only the fronts of the houses, the color, and how they faced the street distinguished one from one's neighbor as many errant spouses claimed as a defense for Adultery in Divorce Court--or so went the neighborhood joke. "But your Honor, it was dark and I walked into the wrong Levittowner and..."

It was post WWII and the first modern suburban boom was sounding. $9999.99--which computed to $100 down and $69 a month for 30 years at a miserable interest rate--bought at least the first half hour of the not so great American Dream. And it was clear to anyone with even the slightest lick of ambition that the remainder of the Dream involved getting the hell out--which my parents eventually did 10 years later, selliing for a mere thousand more than they paid a decade earlier.

Our new house cost $26,000 in 1963 and was followed immediately by two additional children and the afore mentioned budget crunch. My mother stopped working and became a stay at home mom and in fairly short order I went from privileged Only Child status to the Oldest of Three in a single income household. In other words, it was Fruit Loops and cream to rolled oats and powdered milk in one fell swoop. No hard feelings or permanent damage, though. My sisters and I still shake our milk cartons one leg at a time to this day although the youngest, Liz, claims to have blocked a good portion of her early years completely from her memory.

On the ride home from HD I started to make some mental notes of my current spending habits and how these behaviors are most likely rooted in my past.---Brief Interruption---{Case In Point Number One (CIP#1): I'm downstairs in my home office writing this piece and my wife just calls my cell phone on her cell phone from the third floor of our house in her home office to ask me where I want to go for dinner tonight. Forty years ago I got grounded for using the wall mounted telephone in our Burnt Orange kitchen and if I ever dared to ask where we might be going for dinner that night, I'd probably get double grounded for being a smart ass-- which I was, BTW.} At any rate, I offer the following for your perusal:

* CIP #2: My mother would only drive the most basic of Volkswagons. No air. No radio. Roll-up windows. Stick-shift. Results: Both my sisters and I can drive any stick-shift vehicle of almost any non-commercial size variety with deft ability (my sister Margie can even drive a forklift) but if my car isn't made in Europe and equipped with power everything, I am an unhappy and discontented man.

* CIP #3: The whole living on a budget thing. Results: I check the price of almost nothing before I purchase and would rather throw-up on the table before ever presenting a coupon to a waiter. Even gift certificates bother me a little. I can only tell you in rough estimation what I have in any given bank account on any given day and our monthly American Express bill is so high that I can't remember the last time we ever had to buy airline tickets or hotel rooms with anything but Rewards Points--and we travel quite a bit.

* CIP #4: Housing then and now. Results: What can I say? I'm a Realtor. My wife and I buy places to live like other people buy basic transportation. Hopefully that pattern has been broken as I write this from our new (to us, that is. It was built in the 1890s) house in the Forest Glen neighborhood of Chicago. No, it is not a suburb. Yes, it's still within the city limits although it is an old established bedroom community with the Metra commuter stop (and all that goes along with that) just across the corner of our property line. It was by far, the biggest house on the market for the money. So what if nine hundred tons of diesel train and clanging bells come rolling through all hours of the day and night? One thing is for will never be mistaken for a Levittowner so all you errant men, stay away from my wife.

*CIP #5: Puppies in a box, $5. Year 1965. Results: Elvis, our overpriced 'Designer' American Bulldog/Boxer 'cross-breed' (i.e. mutt). Even he knows we got ripped off when we bought him a few years ago for $800.

*CIP #6: Family Values. Results: I think we're cool in this regard. A little spend thriftish? Maybe. But I truly believe my wife and I both took the best parts of our respective upbringings and integrated them into our present day lives. Neither one of us came from families of great or even marginal wealth. We both have Poverty-era parents who probably spend a lot of their silent time still worrying about money. My wife and I have a list of things from those wonder years that we ask each other and laugh about on occasion:

"Did you have to bring your brown paper lunch bags back home from school each day to use again the next day?"

"Did you have to refold the aluminum foil and bring it back, too? Pickle juice and all?"

"Did you have to drink 'Ting,' the cheaper version of Tang?"
(I mean expensive could Tang have ever been?)

"Did you have a 5 gallon keg of ice milk (not ice cream) in your freezer jammed between the rest of the 'side of beef'?"

"Did you have a lunch money jar? One Quarter, one dime, and one nickle...40 cents a day?"

And of course, my all time favorite: the above mentioned 'shake the milk bottle' scenario. I was talking to one of my childhood friends and his spouse at our 30th Class Reunion a few years ago who apparently had several children of their own. The ill fitting clothes and dull, pale pallor of the squat couple couldn't hide the years of sacrifice they themselves must have incurred. The college tuition alone must have set them back a cool half million. The subject came up in passing.
"Yeah," he remarked out of the blue. "What was with that milk thing at your mother's house?"

I ordered him a top shelf single malt scotch from the bartender to make up for the resurfaced mental picture from decades past and added that apparently his father got paid more than once a month. He didn't say anything. I then turned to my wife, the best looking woman in the room by everyone's standards and said in true Petro fashion,

"I'm hungry. Let go to Ruth's Chris."

Life is short and you're dead for a long time, as they say.

Geno Petro

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Be Back Soon... I know how to fish. Besides, it's a cruel sport. Anyway, I'll be catching up on my writings soon. It's a long, long story and involves a move from a condo to a house that needs work, a new computer that's apparently lost in DHL limbo, and a non-english cable/broadband guy who has my finger and thumb prints around his neck. (The latter is my fault I suppose, for never picking up the Eastern European languages in my younger years. And I'm just kidding about the neck thing.) If I can find a way to curb the profanity I think I may have a few things to say once all the construction dust has settled.

Ciao for now.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

1520 N. Sedgwick--Just Listed In Old Town



LISTED AT $574,500

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

All Talk, No Walk

A Real Estate contract is generally not enforceable in the great state of Illinois unless it is a) Written, b) 'Signed-off ' on by competent parties (Acceptance), and c) Some form of Consideration ($$$) is placed in an escrow account to show 'Good Faith' on the Buyer's part. Think of it as the Holy Trinity of the home buying experience.

It's the 'Good Faith' part of the experience I wish to address here. The truth is, most of the negotiation process in this Northside Chicago market takes place verbally. Once a written Offer is submitted to the Seller's side of the deal, the details usually get hammered out by the respective Realtors involved via cell phone, text messages and email. Sometimes we are The Negotiators, other times, mere Messengers. Either way, there are at least four channels of emotion, rationality and objectivity that need to be successfully navigated--the Seller, the Listing Agent, the Buyer, and the Buyer's Agent-- not to mention the chorus, and supporting cast of Attorneys, Home Inspectors, Lenders, Appraisers, and Blood Relations waiting in the wings for Act II to begin. Once there is signed Agreement the 'experience' as it were, takes off in another direction altogether. Another story for another day.

So here's the scenario: A potential Client sits at her computer, Googles 'Search Chicago Real Estate' and of course, lands on Page One. After surveying the first 10 choices she decides to click on because...well, it just sounds so right. Chicago...Home, no...even better... Estates. She then decides to choose an Agent so she can Register on the site for greater access, picks the best looking one and Voila!...she arrives at my Home Page. Once registered, she is free to search the Chicagoland area for a home or estate of her dreams. She requests a showing for a Condominium that piques her interest. I respond.

Now this is where the afore mentioned 'Good Faith' begins. Our website Features our own Listings while at the same time providing a Search Engine for the entire MLS of Northern Illinois. This is provided under under the guidelines of Broker Reciprocity and is about as clear as clear can be, in my opinionated opinion. Every Listing that is not in the Chicago Home Estates personal inventory has a clearly marked icon (a little house button to click for more info) stating so.

There is a question asked and a response box to be checked: Working with a Realtor? YES or NO.

Check NO, and I'm her guy.

Check YES, and her own Realtor will need to show her the requested property (and should probably also invest in his own website with advanced Search Engine capability). Just so you know, there are only two sides of any Real Esate transaction as far as Realtors are concerned--the List side and the Buy Side. There really isn't any more room in a deal for a third Realtor. We have a name in the business for such a soul. We call him 'The Unpaid One.'

It is at this point in the experience that I make it crystal clear to my potential Client that her Request For Showing either is or is not my own Listing (I have no intention of ever being The Unpaid One) and I proceed from there.

Now let's just say that we meet at the property, introduce ourselves to the Listing Agent, and take the tour. Thirty minutes later she decides the place is perfect and wishes to make an Offer. Whether I write the deal or not I have established what is called Procuring Cause on that particular property, thus avoiding any possibility of becoming The Unpaid One. We soonafter fill out an approved Board of Realtors contract, sign in all the appropriate spaces, forward it on the the other side of the deal, and wait for a counter-offer.

It is at this point that the verbiage begins. Several phone calls back and forth between all parties involved and hopefully, a middle ground can be found. Let me walk you through the dialogue of a recent negotiation attempt that mirrors my example above. The gender has been changed to protect the idiot,,,I mean innocent..

"The List Price is $639,000," I said. "I suggest we come in around $605,000 and hopefully get this deal done under $620,000. " Just so you know, while aggresisve in negotiations I am not a 'low baller.' If the Listing in ridiculous then that's another story but in this competitive Chicago market, most properties sell within 3% of the Asking Price in less than 120 days.

"We are obviously not on the same page," says my Client. "I will not consider offering anything with a '6' in it. Tell them $550,000 and we'll close in three weeks." (In case math wasn't your best subject in grade school, that's $89,000 under List Price.) I put on my Messenger outfit and prepare to deliver the news.

"Good news is...we have an Offer for you!" I say to the happy, happy Listing Agent. "Bad news is we are coming in 15% under List." Actually, I don't really say any of this. Instead, I just let the ink on paper speak for itself.

As expected, our opening Offer was met with dead silence by the other side. After 10 minutes of verabal resuscitation and another 3 or 4 minutes of 'point and counterpoint' with the Listing Agent I was finally able to persuade him to just give us a counteroffer. He called back an hour later. "$625,000. November 30th Close." This was good.

"Not good enough," was my Client's response. "$565,000 and we want our September Close date..."



"They are willing to spilt the middle and come down below their 'Drop Dead Number,' I inform my Client. "$600,o00." I deliver the news feeling more like The Negotiator than the Messenger for the first time in a couple of days. I know that I am but $1 away from getting a deal done with no '6' in it. I am indeed, the man.

"Okay, but I want $10,000 more back in the form of a Closing Cost Credit paid to me at the settlement table," demands my Client. "Net sale price of $590,000. It's my final Offer. Make it happen Geno!" Bad Faith. Bad Faith, but I do as directed.

And I do get it done, feeling a little uneasy about throwing in a Closing Credit curveball so late in the negotiation (poor form, to be sure). The Sellers however, eventually agree after several more hours of persuasion, and I forward the good news to my Client.

And then within a matter of hours my Client bails out of the deal totally. The reasons and excuses were numerous but the real reason (and thus the point of this sad but true essay) is she could. The original contract was written over the phone and faxed to all parties (not unusual for people with busy schedules and allowable by law), no Initial Earnest Money check was ever collected (again, the initial check is but a token gesture and is not needed until Signed Agreement occurs), and the motivation to Sell was greater than the motivation to Buy in this case. My internet Client was just fishing around the bottom of the lake seeing what she could snag on the cheap. Looking back, it was just a lot of words accompanied by very little action, not the least important of which was the Seller's signature. Lots of talk with no accompanying walk.

Postscript: As it turns out the Buyer (no longer my Client at this point) tried to go around me and cut a deal with the other side on her own shortly before this all even started. When that didn't fly she then tried to persuade me to take my commission out of the Listing Agent's portion hoping to keep the Buy-Side Co-Op for herself. Again, failure to launch.

In the end, she had just agreed to use my proffered services as the great Negotiator/Messenger I am, and waste my time for half a week ultimately doing what she felt was in her own best interest. And I'm actually cool with that. Thus is the nature of the beast we call the internet.

The other three deals I'm presently working on (all internet Registrants on our site) are as sweet as blueberry pie--the people couldn't be nicer. Half of my annual business comes from a mixture of the website and the Blog you are presently reading. The other half is made up of past Clients and referrals. And only a few deals a year come from people who can't talk and walk at the same time. C'est la Vie, say I.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ol' St Joe Is Good To Go

When I walked through the big oak doors of the Archdiocese of Chicago's Holy Relic Bookstore a few weeks ago, I knew for sure that I'd be lying to a clergyman within minutes. Like many post-WWII children who hail from the eastern seaboard, I attended Catholic school for the first six years of my education and became proficient at an early age with all the loopholes surrounding Confession, Penance, and Absolution. I figured out pretty early on that if I had to tell a fib then I could just as easily get out of trouble with God by reciting a few Hail Marys and an Act Of Contrition. A quick Amen later, and I was off on my merry way to play and lie another day...

So by the time my poor parents figured out that parochial school tuition was a waste of money on a perennial 'C' student with little or no priestly ambitions, the imprint of Guilt (and all the psychological antibodies associated with it) had already left a permanent mental stain on my psyche. In other words, even at 50 years of age I still get a twinge of remorse when I hear my own voice speaking less than truthfully. You think it would stop me...but it doesn't.

"Do you have any statues of Saint Joseph," I asked the young, pale seminarian working the register. He was wearing black pants, a black collarless shirt and a black buttoned up sweater. It struck me funny that a lad similar to him, and no older than him for sure, had terrorized me well into my second year of grade school forty-three years earlier. Still, I felt a little guilty for my intentions and what I had mentally rehearsed in the car ride over....The statue would 'be for my boss (lie), whose name was also Joe (true), for his birthday (lie). He too, is a devout Catholic (not sure, but pretty certain a lie) and would be surprised at the kind gesture on my part (no doubt)'--just in case someone at the store happened to inquire why I was really there in the first place..

"Yes," he said. "We have three sizes of Saint Joe. The small one is $3.00, the big one is $8.00, and the stone statue for the garden is $49.00.

"I don't have a garden," I told him, immediately wishing I could snatch back my words from the thick, dusty bookstore air. The lie barely had time to dry as it floated in the silent space between us. I felt the frowns of invisible Guardian Angels looking on in judgement, if not downright disapproval. The young man just looked at me with his holy brown eyes.

I meant to say "My boss, Joe, doesn't have a garden" but you know how it is once you start lying. I decided to plod forward anyway, offering as little as possible to the web I'd already begun to weave, and just get the hell (heck) out of there---with my statue.

"The $3.00 one will be fine," I said, feeling like a real cheapskate. A cheapskate liar, actually.

"Cash or Charge?" he asked, writing out my receipt with perfect parochial penmanship. I felt like he was mocking me. I almost pulled out my American Express Gold Card but thought better of it.

"Cash," I said, my eyes fixated now on the $3.00 sticker attached to the small, cardboard box on the counter wondering if I was even allowed to charge something on Amex that was only $3.00. Saint Joseph looked a little Chinese to me through the small, cellophane window. I had a fairly good idea where it was made as I removed the statue from its box and examined the bottom of the plastic painted relic. Taiwan. Close.

The young man, back at the register now, charged me tax. I wanted to object---the Church being non-profit and all-- but I let it slide since I was there on such false pretenses in the first place. Although, according to the unwritten laws of Karma... as I understand them, I should be entitled, not only to any duty-free (and Guilt-free) religious purchase for whatever reason I choose, but also to a couple free cracks to the side of his head for retribution of his predecessor's cruel and usual actions back in the day. That too, I let pass without incident trying my best not to blow what was left of my Christian cover.

I was almost out the door with my sacred score when I heard him speak from across the room..."Good luck selling the house."

I froze for a second. God, or perhaps one of those invisible angels, must have whispered something into his inner ear. My true motives were now exposed. I should have dressed nicer--no boots, no jeans. Should have taken the diamond stud out of my ear. Of course I couldn't pass myself off as a decent Catholic much less be in possession of any friends named Joseph or otherwise, who might even appreciate receiving such a $3.00 Chinese statue from a heathen such as myself. What was I thinking?...I should have sprung for the $49.00 garden model and stuck with my original story.

"You know, we have a complete St. Joseph's Home Selling Kit for eleven dollars more," he said. "It's blessed, too."

He led me to a Patron Saints display aisle where they also stocked kits for St. Francis of Assisi (Animals), St. Adelard of France (Gardens), and a St. Lucy/St. Clare 2-for-1 package (Eye Disorders). St. Joseph, by far, had them all beat as far as inventory went. There was even a Discontinued shelf with one last remaining St. Christopher (Travellers) who apparently lost his Patron Saint status during a corporate re-org when Vatican I came to an end. I almost bought it out of pity (and because he was the only statue without Asian features) but I was already over budget for this folly.

Onward Christian Soldier...

Back at home I took out the instructions, along with the statue and remaining contents from my upgraded St. Joseph Home Selling Kit, and laid them all out on a tiny patch of earth in front of my Condo. I dug into the mulch area next to a bush where my dog pees every morning and placed the Chinese looking statue into the hole, upside down and facing west. I covered the treasure with mulch and walked back into my home feeling like the least successful Listing Agent on the North Side of Chicago--forty days on the market, no Offers, and to top it off---snickered at and upsold by a second year Theology student in a cardigan sweater. That was the weekend before July 4th.

I forgot it was even there until yesterday when I was talking to my mother on the phone. She mentioned an article in her local paper back east about the powers of Saint Joseph and how she herself, had been praying for the sale of our place for the past two months. I told her the bookstore story and we laughed until we almost cried. She's not nearly as irreverent as me but I gotta tell you...I learned it somewhere.

A few hours later my phone rang and I received my first 'second showing' in weeks. An hour or so later another 'second showing' request came followed by an e-mail later in the day from a suburban agent. She said an offer was on its way and that her clients had seen the place a month earlier and was hoping it was still on the market.

I opened my desk drawer and rustled through my papers for the Saint Joseph instruction sheet. I'm pretty sure I was supposed to be praying too along the way but I can't say for sure as the sheet must have gotten thrown out with the rest of the kit. That's just the type of Catholic I am--throw the instructions out with the box and hope nothing breaks. The truth is, I can't imagine that a saint as renowned as Joseph could care less if I ever sold my house regardless of how many of his kits I buy or how many prayers I say for my own sake. I know that advertising in the Chicago Tribune doesn't fare much better, either

An Offer has yet to arrive on my fax machine but I've since concluded that the real secret lies in those mother's prayers. If anyone has the Old Man's ear upstairs, they do. Think about it...what in this world is closer to God than words from a mother's lips? Put together a combination of that, a big enough lever, and a $25,000 Price Reduction ....and get ready to move some Earth, baby.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

West of Western...(Avenue, that is...)

For the past two or three months I have been venturing farther and farther north and west in my Real Estate travels. I was pleased to discover, much like Columbus, that the world is not flat (contrary to what many believe) and that I in fact, would not sail my Mini Cooper off the edge of the Earth if I happened to wander a block or so past California (Avenue, that is...). That subconscious mother's voice that had been yelling into my inner ear these past few years (alright, all my life) ...

"Genie, stay away from those far west streets. You'll get side-swiped by a part-time realtor. Those 'west of Western' (Avenue, that is...) agents communicate by pagers and Supras (electronic lock-boxes for the laziest of Listing Agents) and every property has at least 2 kitchens with aunts and uncles everywhere. There's not a Starbucks to be found, Sushi is a four letter word (to them) and you'll be wearing a gold blazer with a name tag within a month. You'll have to put your picture on your business card. Please be careful son..."

...that voice...has finally subsided. It's safe now. The Northside spill-over has officially begun. My wife and I recently purchased a house in the Forest Glen neighborhood of the city (I saved my beloved spouse just seconds before she became an honorary Trixie, I am certain).

And by 'safe' I mean from an investment standpoint. With basic land values steadily hovering above $750,000 per 25'x125' parcel in Lincoln Park, most single family home buyers have no other choice but to expand their searches outward from the sweetspot of the upwardly mobile speedball of Chicago's Northside, and head west. And for those of you who are not from this topographic region, just believe me when I say that heading east is not an option--big, big lake....And while I suppose there are arguments to be made for meandering north or south, it is my professional opinion that northwest is indeed, the only way to fly. My last five deals have occured in this geographic annex of Greater Chicagoland and if it's good enough for my clients then it's good enough for me. I will soon have a yard to cut and a house to paint every 10 years.

The thing is, if you want a relatively spartan single family home in the neighborhood I presently reside in (Lincoln Park) then you'll have to spend around a mil. If you want it to be real nice then you'll need to spend around 2 mil; exquisite...3 mil. Exquisite and in the best part of Lincoln Park, 5 mil for starters; 30 mil if you want a Pritzker for a neighbor. If all of the above price points are not in your housing budget but you just gotta have the 'hood and all it has to offer, then guess what...? C.O.N.D.O.M.I.N.I.U.M.

Bottom Line: If you want to spend less than seven figures for an actual house--and you don't mind having a Petro for a neighbor--then by all means, sell the Condo, point your vehicle in a westwardly direction, continue 30 or so blocks past the edge of the Earth (California...Avenue, that is), and claim your stake before all the other Trixies and Chads get here first. A Starbucks is sure to follow--I'm betting heavily on it. Sushi, however, might be another story altogether.

Geno Petro

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Earlier in the year I wrote about the mystique of the American Express Centurion (blacker than black) Card and how once, a few years back, I met a Commodities Trader who boasted of having one. For those of you not in the know, Centurion cardholders number in the mere thousands world-wide--10,000 or so is the estimated 'buzz' number that is floating around the web although A.E. never goes on record one way or another on the subject. The privileges associated with 'The Card' are other wordly from a layman's perspective and the fodder for many an urban legend. One example:

'The Card arrives at your residence accompanied by a security guard who passes on to you a big black, velvet lined box with two Black Cards and a mini-computer. One Black Card is the actual Card while the other is an exclusive 'entrance pass ' to some of the most prestigious clubs in the world. The mini-computer is yours to keep to track and record all of your purchases.'

"Hmmm...perhaps," say I.

Now my wife, who has worked for the company since 1990, has never seen one herself even though her particular area of expertise is 'corporate travel.' Apparently, Centurions get from point A to point B some other way--private jets, yachts, limos, astral projection would be a few of my guesses but what do I know? I only have a Gold Card and I'm pretty sure my status numbers in the millions. Which brings me back to the Trader I met who mentioned he had one.

To recap that story; A friend of my wife's new boyfriend---wait a minute....that doesn't sound right. Regroup; My wife's friend's new boyfriend was apparently a billionaire Trader---self proclaimed, come to find out (duh)---and in the market for a house in Chicago. A very big house--not just Trader big but billionaire Trader big. He had already wasted some other Realtor's time for several weekends (there was nothing in the 'up to 5 million dollar range' that suited him as he desired his new estate rest on at least four city lots) when I burst on the scene with all my best Real Estate mojo. We had shmoozed for an hour or so at a dinner party when I suggested he double down on his price-point. I told him of a particular Vanity Builder I knew (heard of) who would assemble a city block if necessary, to build such an estate. Average price: 10 million.

I was immediately annointed his new 'go to guy in Chicago.' He soon after married my wife's friend, adopted her already once adopted child, and to put it as nicely as I was all downhill from there. When I shook his hand at the wedding I noticed the gold tone on his watch was rubbing away at the wrist band. Hmmm... Also, he was acting pretty drunk for a billionaire, I thought, but as I've mentioned often...I can be judgemental. I Googled him out of sheer curiosity--nothing. Not a strong indicator of a man with 9 zeros of supposed net worth behind his moncker. Cheap watch, drunk and no Google. Come on...even I got Google.

Nonetheless, we set the development machine into motion and the Vanity Builder, my new best friend, began to put together a deal to buy out all the owners of a particular condominium complex on one of the premier streets in Chicago. We would then knock down that structure and proceed into La La Land with the new project. "Money," we were told by my client, "was no object." Architects were brought in, designers retained and limestone from France was hunted down. And although nothing was actually put into writing (or signed) as of yet, my client decided a nice dinner was in order and thus, the moment of truth would finally arrive: my wife and I would once and forever see what a black Amex card in motion looked like. I ordered a bottle of Cristal and I don't even drink. (Read here later to see how the rest of that evening played out.)

The following Monday I set out to meet him and pick up the initial Earnest Money check. He instead, back pedalled out of the appointment over the phone and attempted to have me give him a check for $10,000 for a position on Unleaded Gas Futures. He told me he was putting the 10 million dollar house project on hold for a while and wondered if I'd be kind enough to let let all the other parties know, as well. Oh, and that we should play golf at his club sometime soon. He subsequently backed out of the whole project, packed up his new wife and child, and left the state. My new ex-best friend, the Vanity Builder, thinks I'm an idiot to this day. Whenever those months in my life come to mind, so do I. This is where the old story ends....

And the Postscript begins:

In August of the following year my ex-client left to go to a bank in another state and never returned, leaving his wife and child behind in a virtual panic. They were to close escrow on a newly constructed house the next day and he was supposedly gathering the needed additional funds from one of his private accounts. The Builder defaulted the wife at the closing table, kept the $100,000 Earnest Money (her retirement savings from before they met) and killed the deal and her credit for good. Shortly afterwards, a couple million dollars of other peoples money (mostly investors) went missing along with the remainder of his new wife's assets she had turned over to him in the early months of their short marriage. Her 80 year old parents had given him their life savings, as well. My wife's friend, along with her child, and her parents are now penniless. We haven't heard from, or of, any of them in months.

The other day on a whim, I decided to Google the Trader again. A few moments later I came across his name under the headline, Mystery of Missing Trader Solved. His badly decomposed body was discovered eight months after his disappearance, in a secluded area of a Midwest state. The article mentioned that the FBI had been searching for him all year, that possibly millions of dollars had been swindled from dozens of people, and that the one time Trader, a man with a 'tendancy to exaggerate' according to acquaintances, had apparently taken his own life leaving behind a wife and newly adopted child. One definition of exaggerate is 'to magnify beyond the limits of truth.' This whole sad scenario however, is almost magnified beyond the limits of belief.

I wanted to forward a copy of the article to the Vanity Builder but then I hesitated, examining my motives. Why? I asked myself. To save face? The Builder is a multi-multi millionaire in his own right. He couldn't care less about me or any of those mentioned above at this point. That deal is as dead as my client. Besides, all I lost was face and a couple hundred thousand dollar commission I never really expected anyway. Shame on me for spending it in my mind. The reality is, there's a woman and her child scraping out a living somewhere in the Midwest who has lost a whole lot more than face. And I should have seen it coming....

Geno Petro

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

True Story...albeit a little off the subject

True Story. I sat next to a one-armed girl in typing class back in the 8th grade. I know it shouldn't have... but it freaked me out and I couldn't ever really concentrate on the teacher's instructions. I forget the girl's name now although our surnames must have been similar (alphabetical seating, and all), but I do recall that she was the fastest typist in the school. That fact was well broadcasted and she received constant praise from the Faculty of Secretarial Curriculum. Thinking back I guess maybe she had two arms but only one hand. I can't say for certain. I tried not to look too closely but I do remember the way she returned the carriage with her left elbow at the end of each line or paragraph.. So yes...two arms, two elbows, one hand. I'm pretty sure.

Ironically, I would later in life lose most of my hair (to absolutely no praise or acclaim) and the majority of sight in one eye (drinking accident), and come to understand how one adapts to such curveballs Fate hurls ones way. Anyway, the result was I became among the worst typists in the grade.--me and everyone else that didn't sign up for the class to begin with, although I wasn't given that choice. As you might suppose, most of the guys who enrolled in Intro To Typing did so because of the obvious high 'girl to boy' ratios in such classes. Mine was just a bad handwriting issue and a mandate from my Guidance Counselor. Typewriters were 'the way of the future,' I was told. I didn't buy it, though. One armed girl or not, I hedged my bets and went in the opposite direction saving up my paper route money for something called a calculator. And even though they were $200 at the time for the simplest model, it was my only hope of getting through four more years of Math. I eventually bought a guitar instead and graduated in the bottom third of the class with all the other smart alecs.

So, I didn't become a rock star because of the hair loss issue (although I understand the drummer of Def Leppard has only one arm and one leg), a pilot because of the bad eye, an architect because of low Math IQ or a writer because of horrible handwriting and equally bad typing skills. And as luck would have it, typewriters were not the 'way of the future,' but computers were, leaving me on the sidelines in about every way imaginable from a career standpoint. Ultimately, I sold Insurance for a living until I was 40.

Add on another 10 years in the Real Estate arena and the mercurial cycle of life completed yet another revolution and landed me back to where I was in 1969--in front of a keyboard with a lot to say and only two fingers with which to say it. At this stage of the life game I would almost gladly give up a hand--or even a hand plus an elbow (no return carriages necessary on a laptop) to be able to spill out a couple hundred volumes of work at a 120WPM. There are not only Real Estate related blog posts floating around this shiny dome of mine, but novels, short stories, essays, and screenplays, as well--or so I imagine as I peck away in earnest trying to complete a sentence before I forget the driving thought. As a result, I am seriously considering enrolling in an adult typing class just to help extract these ideas from my brain to the screen via my fingertips in a speedier manner. It certainly couldn't hurt

I met a one-armed man on a cruise a few years back. Sat next to him in a whirlpool almost everyday on the pool deck as we cruised the Caribbean at Christmas for the umpteenth time each, it turned out---St Maartens, St. Kitts, who cares. Anywhere but the Midwest in December, is my credo. His too.

"Let the wives shop and we'll just get a tan on whatever is left of our aging bodies," my new friend said one morning, including me some way in his own personal quagmire of physical shortcomings. He probably meant the hair, come to think of it, or perhaps it was the slight limp from an old high school football injury that pops up every so often. He sold cars in Detroit. Judging from the gold Rolex on his remaining wrist he seemed to be doing pretty well for himself. I can only hope that my junior high school typing companion found a similar route to success in her life---or at the very least, simple happiness and a decent computer programming career.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Send Lawyers, Guns and Money...

When I attended my very first Closing of my very first deal with my very first client I sat at the Title Company table feeling a little like a simple house cat trying to wrap his mind around calculus. Honestly, I never paid much attention to what I was signing for the six or seven properties I bought and sold as a consumer before I was an actual Realtor. I just always assumed that my agent and mortgage guy 'had my back' and figured that they wanted to get paid as much as I wanted to move in or out. If I learned one thing in my pre-Realtor Fortune 500 career it was the concept of 'Recruit and Delegate' and there was no reason to believe it shouldn't spill over into my personal affairs, as well.

I discovered during my 15 years in a suit and wingtips that a person can recruit, if not delegate himself into and out of almost any business situation. I was even going to write a book about it once but only got about as far as I've communicated to you here before I began looking for someone else to write it for me. I'm not sure how many words per minute I type these days but I've already been at work on this for 20 minutes so you can do the math if you like. An IBM Selectric typewriter was my weapon of choice in those days so without the technology that now rests at my fingertips (and that would be exactly two with my typing technique) the man hours involved in such an endeavor would be have been brutal. And as usual, I have digressed...

So at my first Closing as a licensed Realtor I was like that actor in that dream about to go on stage with a pretty good idea of what the play is about but not the slightest idea of what the exact lines are--a cross between that, and the calculus curious cat I mentioned above. I watched and listened in amazement as the real estate Attorney went through the scores of pages in both packets--first the loan and then the title. He explained in detail what each form meant; where to initial, where to sign, and what to expect if too many late payments occured or how to make an extra payment every now and then to reduce the principle and accelerate the mortgage.

"This goes to the city. This goes to the state. This goes to your broker," glancing my way with a nod and a wink. His voice and the occasional sigh from my client were the only sounds in the room besides the furious scratching of ink on shuffling paper. Like I just said, I didn't know my lines back then so I wasn't saying a thing although I did want to interject the fact that whatever was coming to me was actually coming to my brokerage office instead and I would receive but my mere cut of the proceeds. Whatever. I just looked on in silence as I've learned to do at every Closing since.

My point here is that a Real Estate Attorney is a 'must have' for any transaction in Chicagoland. Rarely do they come into the picture before an Offer is accepted but they certainly earn every cent of their flat fee, in my opinion, from the Review Period onward. And an FYI to those of you from neighboring states or places far beyond the boundries of Cook County; Title Companies here only record and check the paperwork and distribute the funds. It is the Attorney who does all the explaining. Even after witnessing a hundred or so of such escrow closing ceremonies myself, I would be remiss in thinking I could accurately guide a trusted client through 200 pages of legal documents. And since my transaction activity spans the entire gamut of six and seven figure properties, there are just too many zeros and virtually no room for error in these scenarios for this cat.

Same holds true with the banking end of my deals. I defer to my Mortgage Guru almost 100% of the time I write an Offer. He's helping one of my clients out of a jam even as we speak, as her 'low interest rate internet loan' suicide bombed itself a week before Closing. Recruit and delegate, I'm telling you.

So okay...maybe it's not enough subject matter for an entire book but if you are still reading this by now then I am happy I guess. As I often tell people requesting my advice in real estate legal matters, "I purposely didn't go to law school because I purposely didn't want to be a Lawyer. Besides, have you ever tried to explain the Pythagorean Theorem to any of your family pets? Sure, they will listen but it's pretty obvious from the look on their faces that they are really quite content not knowing what they already don't know. What they do know is how to get fed and watered at regular intervals and I'm pretty sure that's a form of delegation, even if at the lowest of intellectual levels.

Anyway, that would be me. I'm real good at stalking down and retrieving property in Chicago and will even mix it up with the opposing licensed tomcats in the alley if necessary. But my suggestion to you when I show back up with the goods is, if you havent already my Guru then get a Lawyer.