Sunday, February 24, 2008

Taxes Schmaxes (Active Rain re-post)

(This essay originally got 'buried' at Active Rain back in January so hopefully, Google has bigger kids than me to kick duplicate copy sand on before the next page ranking comes out. I used to be featured on AR quite often but now that there are over 70,000 members and HouseValues is involved, an infrequent blogger like myself just gets lost in the multitude of hourly posts. Hey, if I'm going to write for thin, cold air then it might as well be here in sweet cold Chicago.

I'd rather be ignored locally than nationally any time and the truth is, business has so increased that writing at all is a time allotted struggle--thus the recent rash of picture posts and no Sis, I haven't taken up Scrapbooking as a hobby.They're good for a 1,000 words each, I'm told. Also, I've embeded a new video toward the bottom of my sidebar. Of course, it has to do with me and my world. Me, me, me, as I like to say...)

I was half-listening to a lady being interviewed on NPR a few weeks back as I drove in a gazy daze out of the city and toward the general direction of Canada. I was running late for an appointment with my tax Wizard, a fourth generation accountant who fled from the tangle of the city 10 years ago to kick back On Golden Pond and perform his magic in a more bucolic setting. His father was an accountant, his grandfather was an accountant and every first born male for the last 500 years in his family were accountants--all pencil and paper sort of fellows from what I gathered.

My guy however, has flat screen plasmas throughout his office suite with a different financial news channel on each, and the latest in electronic everything to get his fiscal point across to the rest of the universe. He also has an IQ that hovers around the batting average of a Major League 2nd baseman. He barely had time for my call...

"Taxes, schmaxes," was his response to my initial phone inquiry two months earlier. That, and something about $200 an hour. I thought he was kidding. The mutual business acquaintance who ultimately hooked us up would soon after assure me otherwise.

"He's pricey and a little odd but he's a genius. A tax genius. A wizard, really..." she told me.

"Yeah, but $200 an hour? I don't pay my shrink but half of that," said I, lying about the shrink part.

"Your shrink sounds about as good as your last accountant." Which was true. I was my last accountant.

The lady on the radio, a spry sounding 65 year old, was talking about being 'in oneness with the all,' or maybe it was ‘one with the allness,' I'm still not certain. I immediately shot over to the shoulder of the interstate to enter the lofty, if not misquoted, phrase into the Note section of my new iPhone for later review. This is my biggest gripe with my car radio; no digital replay-no RiVo, as it were.

Normally, I would have just continued along with the 70 mph flow, eyes darting up and over, to and fro, steering with my knees in and out of the morning suburban egression and typing the qwerty with my thumbs, but I have yet to master the nuances of my newest tax-deductible gadget with its slick, electromagnetic glass face and all those colorful, vascillating screens; shrinking, expanding and spinning sideways with even the slightest tilt of the wrist. Ah, iPhone..mere marconian radio is but a relic in comparason.

The truth is, I haven't had an original conveyable thought in weeks so I risked the morning rush triple lane change maneuver and found a semi-safe idling spot alongside the poor, frozen remains of some animal who wasn't nearly as deft at negotiating the northbound lanes of I-94 as me. I looked out the window and half-wondered if it too, was now one with anything besides the pavement and the ice and the rumble of the highway. Bad omen, I thought. I said a prayer in my own way for both of our souls, remembering again, for a quick nauseating second, the box of tax records in my back seat and the IRS auditor waiting my arrival in exactly 37 minutes.

She was attending Maharishi University and studying flying yoga or some type of meditation where one can eventually learn to ‘hover,' continued the lady on the radio. She went on about sitting in silence and levitating in her mind and, well...just becoming one with everything, or allness, and I have to say, at that particular moment, I felt pretty darn mortal. It was snowing very hard, I had a back seat full of bank statements; money long spent and barely accounted for, and to be quite blunt, an IRS agent was the last person I felt like encountering that day. I believe I also experienced a sudden sensation of levitation but it wasn't of the transcendental nature nor was it anything even remotely close to what the lady on the radio was discussing. Traffic screamed by my window while I took a few seconds to gather my senses, enter my notes of oneness onto its proper screen, then push hard and away toward the Illinois/Wisconsin border town of Genoa City for a few hours of fun and games at $200 bucks per copy.

An Accountant, an Italian, and an IRS agent walk into a bar...

It was the wrong day. A Treasury Department representative was in fact, in the conference room but he wasn't there to see me. My own red letter day had been moved 'indefinitely into the future' according to my Wizard. Somehow, even with all the technology on both ends, I never got the message. This was fine. This was oneness, floating above the ground, with sugar on top, as far as I was concerned.

"Let's get some caffeine," said the Wizard, grabbing his hat and overcoat while motioning toward the conference room with a head tilt.

"Tell him he can come, too. His appointment just called to reschedule. Too bad, huh?" He said, chuckling away at 5.5 cents a second.

I froze. Why did I have to break someone else's bad news to the G-Man? I was the one who drove an hour through a blizzard to stick my neck on the block for a tax year ending in a very foggy period of my life from a previous century I barely recall. And, I was on time, too. At $200 an hour I just wanted to about face and bolt.

We made eye contact. The IRS guy got up from the table and approached me just as my iPhone pinged my e-mail with a blast of news alerts; the Dow was fighting hard to recover, the foreign markets were going apeshit, Heath Ledger was found dead...

"How do you like that?"

What? How do I like what? Why is he talking to me? My appointment was rescheduled indefinitely into the future. I was on time. I prayed for a dead animal. My Wizard said everything was cool...

"Your iPhone. How do you like it? Thinking about finally ditching my BlackBerry."

I forgot I was still holding it. The little fellow couldn't have been more than 30 years old. He wore a black shirt and wrinkled black tie with equally wrinkled pants and scuffed-up shoes. He had one of those haircuts that Starbucks baristas and bank tellers in grocery stores like to sport these days--kind of shaved, kind of not--you know what I'm talking about. He had a very soft voice. I handed him my iPhone for examination.

"Heath Ledger just died," was all I could think of to say.

He took my device, read the screen and looked me back in the eye. I thought he was going to cry. He waited a few seconds before speaking. The young civil servant, with his watery blue eyes and stark, unpressed attire indeed, appeared to have a soul. His face showed compassion and remorse. He fiddled with the screen for a moment or two before handing it back to me.

"Tax deductible if you use Schedule C," he said.

"Yeah. I know," I thought to myself. "It's my favorite Schedule. It's the whole reason I'm even here to begin with..."said I.


Geno Petro
image by fusilly

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pick me, Pick me...

Click on the hyperlink below to see this week's Bloodhound Blog contest winners (including my own She tried to make me buy a rehab... {...but I said no, no, no} which won the Odysseus Medal. Hooray!)

As you probably know, I've been posting my more general and wide sweeping content on the Bloodhound national platform since November while keeping my real estate focus here at CHW more 'localized' and relevant to the market I work in every day. Anyway, check it out. You'll find 23 of the best writers in the country at BHB, all unchained, and all baying to the voices in their own heads....Oh yeah.

Geno Petro

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Is Snow Organic? (or just distasteful)

This is one of the many windows in my house I stare out of when the snow is too deep to shovel, there is unwanted excess time on my hands, or I can't think of one meaningful real estate-centric item to write about without being negative about the political forces that be in this city; in other words, any and all events outside of my control that cost me (and my clients) money. And in case you haven't noticed---from the Chicago Association of Realtors (C.A.R.), to the the public servants we taxpayers elected to mandate law in City Hall, to that pontificating supernova of talking hairdos that calls itself The Media---it's all political.

That, and there's nothing good to eat in my house. Everything we have on the shelves or in the fridge seems to be organic and personally, I was just fine with the old way--pre-organic or un-organic or not organic or whatever it used to be called before our grocery bill doubled. Cold, hungry, with nothing really upbeat to say about my chosen profession is not a good place for an otherwise blithe real estate blogger like me to find himself in. The half-full glass of organic pomegranate juice starts looking a little half-empty, if you know what I'm saying.

You see, one recent Chicago real estate news 'development,' reported in tandem with another non-related but equally germain city 'issue,' has had me speaking in tongues back to my car radio every day for a week now; as if mere rush hour traffic in itself isn't enough to make a holy man, much less a sinner like myself, take you know Who's name in vain a dozen times in as many city blocks behind a staggered bevy of CTA buses, insane bicyclists (oh yeah) and C-Dot snow plows. So here it is, laid out for you; the ugly reality that has me seeking something warm and beautiful on the other side of the frosted window pane...

First of all, the Cook County property tax bills are arriving in the mail again this week (for some smelly political reason I won't go into here) just a mere 60 days after the last semi-annual payment was due in full. In my case, this is another $6,000 thanks to the sad fact that the city is always 18 months in the arrears and I closed on my new house last September before the tax pro-ration formula could be accurately factored into my settlement costs. BTW, we couldn't determine the actual tax at that time because (again, for the same smelly reason I won't go into here) the budget wasn't balanced in Springfield and the whole process was excessively late due to legislative bickering. I've never been to Springfield but I'm pretty sure I hate it there.


Secondly, the City of Chicago Aldermen (i.e. our elected officials), against the wishes of, I dare say, every future property owner within a 12 mile radius of City Hall (i.e. the city limits) and any self-respecting buy-side representative who pays his dues to C.A.R., overwhelmingly (41-6) passed a 40% Property Stamp increase on future real estate purchases, effective April 1st of this year. The new 'Transfer Stamp' (which is a political word for a #@&#! tax) is now $10.50 per each $1,000 of purchase price. (That's over $5,000 on a $500,000 purchase, $10,500 on a million.) The old 'Stamp' of $7.50 per $1,000 was already barely palatable and considered by most on the buy side of any real estate transaction to be the ugliest line on the HUD statement.

Those two concurrent issues along with organic food in general are really putting me off right now. So like I said; I'm staring out the window, eating a carrot stick (from a gently hugged,locally grown carrot tree, no doubt), imagining something warm and beautiful on the other side to write about. Deep breath...

Let's phone has been ringing, albeit not off the hook, but ringing, nonetheless. Two listings recently came under contract and another just closed. Our internet presence appears to be handling anything Morse's Law might extrapolate into the foreseeable future and clients are in my car every weekend for the next four weeks. I suppose as long as you don't mind paying taxes and you don't care what what you put in your mouth or how much it costs then hell, it's sunny and 72 outside... as long as you wear shades and four layers of gortex. Oh yeah...and saved up for a snowy tax day.

ps...I know that carrots really don't grow on trees but it's as funny as I can allow myself be under such circumstances...

Geno Petro

Friday, February 01, 2008

Oh yeah, one more...for Spicoli

My parents hated this one so much they refused to pay the school photographer. Nor did it make it into the class yearbook that year. (What you're seeing is a bootleg copy I smuggled from my homeroom teacher's desk before it got sent back to the warehouse with all the other rejects.) Oh, how things have changed since 1972.

I think I thought I was Kurt Cobain--- before Kurt Cobain was even born --okay, maybe he was 5 in '72 but I had the look first--(Courtney Love, please stay away. There's no liquor in the house.) However, my boss thinks I looked like Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Anyway, what the glam shot doesn't show is a copy of The Catcher in the Rye in my back pocket and a yet undiscovered and unyielding passion to be an advocate for the Chicago Real Estate consumer. Ahem...

"Free bird!"

Geno Petro