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