Thursday, March 08, 2007

I'm The Guy In The Blue Shirt

There was a time in the not so distant past when almost everyone I knew on a personal level was either already a Realtor, studying to be a Realtor, or thinking of becoming a Realtor--either that or a Mortgage Broker, our Siamese twin back in those white hot Housing days of Post-Y2K. (Remember that whole angst ridden countdown of months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds...) Then poof! Either nothing happened or I'm just like that Bruce Willis character in The Sixth Sense who doesn't know he's a dead man yet.

The country was 'abuzz on both Coasts, the Midwest and most places in between, with land speculation opportunities, negative amortization mortgages, and 'buy to flip' property deals. Many of us, Realtors and MBs alike, entered the industry in droves from other diminishing career paths. And if selling real estate was hot back in the day, originating real estate 'paper' was smoking.

LIBOR, (the volatile index for much of today's rapidly deteriorating ARM paper), was actually a vanity license plate on one Mortgage Broker's Bentley. The black and platinum handmade beast seemed to be perennially parked in front of the same fashionable Chicago Gold Coast neighborhood bistro six evenings a week and twice on Sundays. The lending business was apparently so brisk and forthcoming that it required toasting and celebration every day including the Sabbath. Again, this was not too long ago. Rumor had it the MB was a guy in a former life who grabbed as many handfuls of zeros as he could before jumping the internet ship and swimming to shore where the word on the street was... landlubber Realtors were 'flipping condos like hotcakes' in Chitown. The news this week of New Century Bank's dilemma has made us all (in real estate related fields) take note and do a moral or at the very least, ethical inventory of sorts.

For half of the 1980's and the better part of the 1990's I tried to do my own thing in Corporate America but the number of zeros in the YTD box of my direct deposit statement could be counted on one hand (if you didn't count the thumb). I'll always remember my first big corporate function when a Regional Sales Vice President took me aside, tugged on the lapel of my double-breasted suit and whispered in my ear, "Nice suit...but you have 3 too many buttons." Strike One...'not conservative enough for an upper management career in financial services.'

Time would inevitably reveal the fact that, while my 'leadership' skills were commendable on a sales management level, my 'followship' skills were weak at best on any level. Case in point was the 1995 Middle Management Regional Group Photo Session where Brooks Brothers gray suits, pinpoint white buttondowns, and red/navy rep neckwear were, by orders of a 3-part memo from the RSVP, the suggested (required) uniforms for the shoot. I wore a periwinkle blue two-tone shirt with a Jerry Garcia Collection tie and had just shaved my head on a whim. Strike Two...'may have a learning disability.'

A couple of 'brush back' pitches later I was still at bat as it were, but looking for a new Region to play out my contract. Strike Three came so hard and fast that all I can say about it is... it sounded low and away. And come to find out, arguing called strikes can only get you ejected. At age 40 my career options were quickly reduced to mortgage banking, real estate sales or a lateral move in the financial services industry. I think I went with real estate for two reasons---first, I had already bought and sold property myself (and always knew I could succeed in this profession) and secondly, the other two fields from what I could tell, generally required some sort of mandated neckwear enhanced dress code with a big fat RSVP hiding somewhere in the corporate bushes.

Truth be known, my non-written mental math skill comfort level falls somewhere between multiplying by tens and simple division so I've always been careful to surround myself with very good counters...i.e. money people. I can't really explain what a LIBOR is but I know one when I see one. And even when it was the loan du jour, I don't think I ever recommended it off the menu. Same thing with property'FLIPS'--just not my area of expertise in the world of Chicago Real Estate. Besides, that would make for a really stupid license plate on my Mini-Cooper.

Geno Petro

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