Monday, January 22, 2007

Urban Legend, The Top 10,000

Now that the holiday dinner party circuit has finally subsided and there's nary an occasion left to celebrate --- NEWS FLASH---
"we interrupt this editorial to bring you a special bulletin...
CHICAGO BEARS ADVANCE TO SUPER BOWL XLI" Alright, besides where was I? Oh yes, social functions.

With just one more big party to attend (until the Spring birthday season of my beloved nieces) I can finally stay home on a weekend night and not have to talk to my friends' friends' friends (in other words, virtual strangers) about this thing I do for a living; i.e. Chicago Real Estate Sales. Everyone seems to know more about it than me anyway at these functions so whenever possible I try and stay close by my wife who's usually conducting her own Q & A session in her own field of expertise, American Express. Yes, my wife works for American Express and has for most of her adult life (or more specifically, for the past 15 years... since she was age 7, I am told).

We will sometimes compare notes at the end of the night. "What were you discussing at such length with so and so's boyfriend that made that vein in his head turn blue?" she might ask me.

"I was just telling him that a) there is no such thing as the Mafia, and b) this whole 'real estate bubble thing' is a personal state of mind---some simply believe in it while the better informed 'others' don't.....And you? What was your question of choice for the night, or need I ask?"

"The Black Card,.." is her most common reply. "The usual."

The American Express Black Card, formally titled the "Centurion" is the number one topic of cocktail party discussion when the subject of my wife's personal livlihood comes up. Even the most avid amateur investor whose ear I might be bending will often times excuse himself from my Real Estate diatribe to get the skinny on the Centurion, whose reputation is one of Urban Legend proportions.

Let me pass on to you some interesting 'scoop' I've gathered on the subject. My wife has apparently taken a corporate oath of silence on the real juicy details but I've managed to get wind of the following kernels of info:

According to my blogging friends at Condo Domain, The Atelier Condominiums in NYC will now accept the entire down payment on a unit via AMEX. (any color)

There is rumored to be less than 10,000 personally invited Black Card Holders worldwide although neither American Express nor my wife will go on record to verify this.

Companions of Centurion cardholders fly complimentary on Trans Atlantic flights.

The spending limit (yes, there is one...kind of) is twice the previous highest month's balance..i.e spend $40,000 in November and you're good to go for $80,000 in December. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and shame on you if you're not Merry and Happy
Everything all the time.

There's a minimum of $250,000 annually that must pass through the Card.

That's most of the well known, publicly accepted scoop. The following bits are things I scraped off the internet that may or may not be true but certainly add to the mystique:

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.

American Express once arranged (upon special request) a private audition on a popular soap opera for an unknown but extremely wealthy client and self-proclaimed 'aspiring actress'.

When a Centurion member wished to own the actual horse that Kevin Costner rode in 'Dances With Wolves,' American Express tracked down the animal and delivered it I guess, directly to his doorstep.

The actual Card is made of Titanium2---not plastic.

And in case you were wondering... no, the Petros aren't members although we've been known to take the good old Gold about as far as it was designed to go on occasion. I do know of someone, however, who once told me he had a Black Card. This man was a friend of a friend (aren't they all) who requested my services to assist him in purchasing a 10 million dollar house in Chicago a few years back. He also had intentions of marrying one of my wife's closest friends and was apparently--according to him at least-- one of a handful of secret, overnight trading, CIA protected, currency geniuses in the world. It was my opinion that he drank a little too much to be very successful at anything but then again, I'm judgmental.

At the conclusion of dinner one evening at a pricey Chicago steakhouse--after bearing witness to hours of self-aggrandization and conversational hostage taking he finally, finally motioned for the check.--a couple hundred, easy. Three hundred with a tip, to be sure. As he reached into the breast jacket of his blazer I was watching with a keen eye and my wife was, too. We'd been waiting for this very moment all evening. We knew where his mouth was. Now could he put his money there as well. We came to see Black.

Ironic as it may seem, she had never seen The Card in person either. Now was our chance to witness first hand, the look on the waiter's face when he plunked the Black Titanium2 onto the silver check tray. I was wondering what it would sound like, that Titanium onto Silver, when his hand appeared from within his jacket holding a fist full of rumpled bills.

"We ordered dessert so here's $20 more for our half." he said laying his end of the loot on the tray.

Ten hours of silence. My wife finally kicked me under the table. I still couldn't grasp what was happening to me. My 10 million dollar client was a fraud. The other signs I previously ignored were now becoming crystal clear. A few days earlier when I attempted to secure his initial earnest money for escrow he instead tried to get me to buy $10,000 of unleaded gasoline futures. He sported a very bad haircut, scuffed up shoes and his watch was a piece of crap. He told me later that evening that his 'advisors' wanted him to go in a different direction as far as the 10 million dollar house went but that we should definitely play golf at his club sometime. The story gets much worse but I'm getting a bad feeling just thinking about it again.

Now I suppose there really is a handful of 10 million dollar house buyers in Chicago just as there is an elite group of Centurion Card members flashing black titanium on Oak Street--in fact, they are more than likely one in the same collective creature. And while only two Chicago single family homes closed for over 10 million dollars in 2006 (recorded in the MLS) I do know of at least a half dozen more being built for private clients--although none of course, are mine. I don't know how many black, velvet lined boxes were delivered during this same period but if someone tells you they got one then invites you to dinner, just make sure you have enough dough on you to cover your half of the bill. I should probably be quoting Trump but I think I'll go with Gump to end this cocktail party..."and that's all I have to say about that."

image and gossip by

Geno Petro


  1. Geno, I have 2 for you on this, as to the black card, the broker at my former agency had one, he was actually a very unassuming guy, 20 yr. military, real estate as a 2nd career, top selling agent in Charleston for 10 years and his only vice was long weekends in Las Vegas. Sad story, he semi retired and was diagnosed with cancer shortly afterward and passed within 6 months. Well, his wife is a good friend of mine and once she started to handle the funds, what comes in but the annual renewal on the black card, $10,000. Well, she was amazed and decided the prudent thing was to downsize to gold.

    As to your 10 mil client, always watch the signs and trust your instinct, I had a client looking to retire and relocate to Charleston and interested in a home from 1.5 to 2 million. I asked how he would be paying, cash or loan. He chose cash and I told him that he would have to provide proof of funds. On the first house hunting trip, he brought out a scad of paperwork indicating a real net worth of 5-6 million liquid so I decided to put him in the car. We looked on a couple of house hunting expeditions but nothing was just right. He didn't buy but at least he was real.

    Give my best to Mona, Howard

  2. Howard, thank you very much for your comments. Fascinating, isn't it,how one man can be as unassuming as your dearly passed Broker (and have money) and another moron, still living I assume, having little or none but needs to act like he does. What I didn't say in my article was that the man still married Mona's friend then cleaned her, her elderly parents and several friends and associates, out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and disappeared as suddenly as he first showed up, Very sad. I'll pass your regards on to Mona.

    thanks again for your input,


  3. My Mortgage Guru, kind words from a financial pundit as yourself are always appreciated on this end. I'm hoping we do at least 1/2 of that 20 Million together.


    ps...I only write my blogs in the evenings now as my week days and weekends book up quickly.

  4. Geno, I find that the less people talk about their money, the more they have. It's interesting, go to a fine shoe store and wear some old scuffed shoes, the salesman will always look at your shoes as you enter and ultimately dismiss you as not worthy of his precious time as you proceed to purchase some Bruno Magli's or Donald Pliner's. It's all about prejudging, very dangerous in this or any other business.

    My former broker had 2 seasons for clothing, winter (brief as it is, thankfully) was a blue blazer, dress shirt, Sears polyester pants (he owned about 20 pair in 3 colors) and never a tie. For summer, he wore the same pants and had a selection of 50 "safari" shirts in about 5 colors. What a character. Very unassuming and of course, very sad to lose him.