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.