Friday, June 20, 2008

Oh, THAT Sears...

I don't believe I'm all that different from most people who live in Chicago proper (i.e. not the 'burbs) in that I rarely take in the downtown sights except in accidental passing or escorting the occasional out of town visitor. My relocation referrals and I are usually zooming by each landmark, three minutes behind schedule, taking a 'pass' on the touristy stuff in lieu of a Starbucks stop.

"Was that the Sears Tower?" They ask.

"No. Hancock Building," I answer.

"It looks smaller," They say.

"That's because we're going 72 MPH down a one way side street." I kid. I look down at my speedometer, an even steven 60 (hyperbole, still).

'Were you ever a taxi driver?' They wonder, I'm sure...

Chicago is a settlement of over 200 unique and cloistered neighborhoods (with Madison Street being the great divide betweeen north and south 'hoods and State Street sundering the east and west communities) and we Midwesterners don't like to stray to0 far from the homestead unless we really have to. Chicago was originally a city of parishes; Saint Gert's (Edgewater), Saint Mike's (Old Town), and Saint Pat's (West Loop) being but a few examples and historically, people socialize and procreate where they pray (I am told). But as usual, I digress.

So I am walking out of the Sears Roebuck store (shopping for appliances, not clothes, thank you) on State Street last Sunday when a group of foreign visitors approached me. I could tell they were foreign by their attire and I knew they were visitors by their cameras.

"Sears?" The tallest one asked me

"Yes." I answered.

"Sears?" A little more emphatically this time,

"Yes. Sears." I say again. I turn around and point up to the sign in the window. "See...Sears."

And in an instant flash of flashes; like a rapid spray of friendly fire, or a Tiger Woods 18th hole gallery, or a Lindsay Lohan papparazzi locust swarm--a half-dozen smiling, second city visitors turned their cameras upward and let loose a digital stream of gigs and pixels onto the side of the unassuming 4 story building.

They thanked me very much. I told them they were very welcome before attempting to explain for 5 unsuccessful minutes in my own broken English (I don't know why I always end up assuming the accent of the misdirected foreigner I'm speaking with) how to get to Navy Pier. They turned in unison and headed in the opposite direction. What can I say?

Mona and I had taken the Metra in from Forest Glen for a late Father's Day lunch and a little downtown Chicago shopping. As we strolled west down Adams Street on the way back to Union Station we stopped for a few minutes to check out the Rookery before approaching South Wacker Drive. There they stood, the whole group of them, heads tilted back at 45 degree angles, clicking their digital cameras 110 stories into the clouds above.

"I think they meant that Sears tower," said my wife.

The tallest one caught my eye and shot me a dirty glance. I pointed toward the exit ramp down to Lower Wacker, home of the homeless and the cardboard box Abandominium...

"Navy Pier," I mouth with an animated whisper.

Mona punches me in the arm for being a smartass as we run across Wacker, over the Chicago River bridge, and down into the diesel fumed catacombs with 3 minutes to spare before the 5:55 heads north.

Geno Petro

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Realtor's Story (the end)

The pink elephant has left the building (see previous post below). He's wandering around the Northside Chicago streets perhaps, looking for another piece of real estate on which to poach. So I hereby declare on this 16th day June, (with much less fanfare or notice than the James Joyce protagonist, Leopold Bloom experienced on this very date 104 long years ago in Ulysses):

I got the deal done at $227,950 last Tuesday. Inspection was completed on Friday. Buyers backed out today, Monday, June 16th. End of story.

And if I really wanted you to experience my pain, I could, in the fashion of Mr. Joyce, pretend I'm Irish and spend the next 24 pages describing my morning shaving ritual like our fellow, Bloom. But I'll spare you the pain. I'm more of a Hemingway man, anyway--just trying to keep away from the Bay Rum and the belt around the neck, as it were.

Geno Petro

Monday, June 09, 2008

A Realtor's Story (part one)

The seller thinks she's being robbed. She hasn't actually come out and said it but I can tell. I can always tell. The Chicago real estate market has not responded well to her little corner of Uptown these last 365 days and the MLS listed 2 bedroom, 1 bath condominium she is trying to sell is now hovering close to the price she bought it for in 2004. She reminds me again that it's already priced below the last 'closed comparable' in the neighborhood. I gently remind her that I represent my buyers and that the 'market' ultimately determines what things sell for--not her or me.

She has also dropped the original list price $40,000 (in three spaced out increments) over the past several months. The Cook County tax records indicate that indeed, even at her present asking price, once commissions are paid, closing costs covered, present mortgages satisfied (there are two) and tax pro-rations escrowed---a flat-line, break-even, zero-margin net-sum-gain scenario is almost certainly in the woman's future. I advise my clients to make a move.

We come in low and hard. The seller tosses back a cookie the following day. Two days later we toss it back with two big bites taken out of it. The seller waits a day then reluctantly slips below the net-zero-sum line she's been stradding for the last 90 days and into the realm of capital losses and cookie crumbs as she goes directly to her absolute bottom number--a little below, actually.

My buyers, however, feel we can still get a better deal--after all, we are, in essence, the Chicago real estate market on this particular property in this particular point in time. In other words, we have the only bona fide offer on the table. Everybody involved is very nice but there's a pink elephant in the sunroom and at this stage of the process, no one cares to empathize with the other side or acknowledge the squatting beast in the corner. Money is involved--big, fat, pink, sunroom money. We all want the deal to happen but no one wants to say as much. Not just yet.

Final counter offers have been exchanged and presented. We stand $3,000 apart on a $250,000 property. We are now going entire days without talking, each side waiting for the elephant to make his move toward foyer, down the hallway, and out of the building forever. I imagine the pink pachyderm trouncing past the motorists on Montrose Avenue, across six lanes of traffic on Lake Shore Drive, and into the depths of Lake Michigan to swim away like Puff the Magic Elephant, freeing up all of our futures in this Northside real estate allegory.

It just so happens that the seller is also the realtor and is representing herself in the transaction. At this particular point in the pink elephant game, I am merely the messenger working on behalf of my buyers. It's not my job to spend my clients' money. My job is to guide this deal to the closing table with their best interest in mind. I ponder big Pinky in the sunroom...

A wise man once posed the question to me, "How do you eat an elephant, Geno?"

"Huh? I dunno." Big, dumb me.

"One bite at a time," said the wise man. "You eat an elephant one... bite... at...a...time." A wise man, indeed.

to be continued...

Geno Petro

Saturday, June 07, 2008

On the 7th Day a house got sold

Our Managing Broker is a big proponent of the Sunday Open House, as am I. Yes, even still. Tens of thousands of people visit our real estate company website on a monthly basis and there's never a day that goes by when a potential client doesn't register as a new user at But week in and week out its the open house aspect of Chicago real estate we talk about at our Monday morning meetings. The open house is still the listing agent's bread and butter (if no longer his meat and potatoes).

To use a sports metaphor, Sunday is game day. Its the one day of the week (although many of our associates host Saturday opens as well) where we are almost guaranteed to have face to face contact with the public. Needless to say, we strive to be our most polished and shiniest selves on these days. Even after nearly eight years in the business, I still get up early to prepare for this three to four hour afternoon commitment: E-mails to people I've been in contact with that week reminding them where I'll be that day; double check brochure and sign-in card counts as well as my supply of business cards; go over all comparable properties and other open houses in the immediate area--(ours as well as other brokerages); make sure the agents covering my other open houses (can only be one place at a time, you know) have what they need for the day; and finally, putting out my signs in strategic places at least an hour prior to the scheduled start time.

I played organized team sports from grade school all through my college years. Growing up it seemed like I was always at an afternoon practice of one sport or another while my less commited friends were off rollicking in more pleasurable activities. And later on as a Theatre major, if it wasn't practice it was rehearsal. Many days it was both. So when I prepared to join the world of the gainfully employed I was certain of one thing--I wanted a job with weekends off. I was willing to put in 50 or 60 hours a week, just not on Saturday or Sunday. I did not become a Realtor earlier in my life for this reason alone. I knew I'd be great at it but I also knew that weekends meant 'lost forever' hours of open houses and clients in the car--no golfing, no tailgating, no pool parties.

Once into my forties though, my thinking changed along with some other newly established priorities. I made the decision that I wanted to sell real estate more than I wanted two days a week off. Today I work almost everyday, often times for months in a row before a break. But when I do break I travel the world with my wife. (see sidebar, Mona,Mona,Mona!)

Its a wonderful gig to be sure, this life as a Realtor. Throughout my real estate career I've met and the majority of my clients through our company's open house system (although these days, that percentage has started to tip toward the internet side of our marketing plan). Contrary to the findings of most studies on the subject, I still often times sell the actual property I'm hosting--too many to even mention in this writing.

And while I'm deeply immersed in the internet during the week and lost without my PDA at anytime, its those hours I spend at the weekly open house that a) keep me connected to the business at a grass roots level--and b) keep the owners of my listings satisfied that I'm doing all I can to represent their properties. And more than a few times a year its on this final day of the week, when the rest of the free world is resting or rollicking, that the house gets sold and the real estate deal gets done.

Geno Petro
image by communityiexplore

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Correct Pricing in Chicago (thoughts of a third realtor)

I'd like to be able to rewrite Chicago history, specifically Chicago real estate history. As I've mentioned many times in the past, I'm intrigued by all things counterfactual--i.e. What if Harold Washington never died? What if there was never a Great Chicago fire? What if Al Capone went to Divinity school? What if Lincoln Park properties were still appreciating by 7% annually?
What if...
Just so we are clear, this is a rewrite of an earlier blog I posted in an earlier sales cycle just as the Chicago real estate market was beginning to flatten out in late 2006. I published it as an All Points Bulletin to sellers across the Northside or more specifically; to all future sellers I might be encountering. I believe the piece still has legs today:

I am of the opinion that now is not the time for Chicago sellers to be "testing" the real estate market; condos, single family houses, or otherwise. Hovering above correct pricing hoping to "see what happens" only makes for agonizing market time, frustration, and interesting fodder for less optimistic writings than this; for one. (Ironically, NR has not posted on their site since February 18th of 2008 while a year ago they couldn't keep their negative trap shut with daily housing bubble chatter ad nauseam. They would often quote and link back this very blog only because a certain few housing bubble keywords would occasionally pop up in my writings.) To be sure, there are still hundreds of transactions a week occuring in Chicago.

When an overpriced property goes New on the market three things are immediately set into motion. The first one is Market Time. The clock starts ticking on the first day and continues until Expiration, Cancellation or Closing.

The second thing is the New property is placed in a category of similar priced properties--many of which are correctly priced and thus--superior by comparison in the eyes of the potential buyer. Its not unusual for even a correctly priced property to stay on the market for upwards of thirty days. (60 days now.)

But probably the most critical thing that occurs is the loss of the real potential buyer. The overpriced property is "off his radar" and this results in it not even being seen. By the time the inevitable Price Reduction occurs, the potential buyer has already purchased. And it may not just be one or two lost buyers. (There are often times more than a few listing agent casualties along the way as well.)

An experienced realtor (hopefully the first and only one) will strongly advise against being too aggresive in a static market as far as price is concerned. The time of just taking the listing to test the market is in the past, or at the very least, not in the present. There are still many points to negotiate in a contract such as tax prorations, closing cost credits and total earnest money held in escrow. What may seem like a concession in price in the beginning may actually net a higher bottom line at closing when the monthly carrying costs associated with a lengthy market time are reduced.


There is a saying in the real estate business that applies: First love; Second wife; Third realtor.


Geno Petro