Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rabbit R.I.P.

He was truly a man of letters. He won two Pulitzers. From essays on baseball to short stories in The New Yorker, he continued to publish long past the point where he ever needed the money---or the recognition. He had been my favorite writer since undergraduate school. John Updike, of Rabbit Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich, and Rabbit at Rest notoriety, is dead...and I feel saddened today by the loss.

For my 52nd birthday I received the above mentioned Rabbit Angstrom tetralogy in a single bound 1500 page hardback. I've been reading (re-reading actually) a little bit at a time since last August. I pick up the book now and notice I'm on page 1314, almost done with the final novel. It's the only American publication in its genre written entirely in the present tense. It unfolds like a screenplay in real time; four screenplays written over four decades--one book every ten years, streaming through the base and mosaic mind of Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, protagonist/antagonist/hero/anti-hero flawed post World War Two modern Man.

I have a theory. When great thinkers pass on, exceptional humanitarians die, or virtuoso guitarists crash and burn, their extinguished super-talent gets somehow spread among the living and everyone left behind gets just a tiny bit better. And this is the only thought that keeps me from being any sadder right now. In the present tense, today, like it's supposed to be.

I suppose now he knows...

Geno Petro

Friday, January 23, 2009

Chicago Cold Snaps

Pictured below are a few frames of interest that made me pull over in traffic, jump out of the vehicle, and risk my life on the streets of Chicago as I snapped away on my iPhone camera. I don't know why....maybe looking at all those National Geographics as a kid imprinted a latent desire to be a photojournalist (although I've yet to run across a naked Watusi---which is the reason, of course, any American 10 year old boy would even be looking at NG to begin with).

1) Ouch!

This guy was really pissed because he drove his truck under an overpass on Clybourn Avenue...almost. He is pictured letting the air out of the tires so he can hopefully back out of the....ahem....jam. Both he and the approaching Chicago city policeman at the bottom left told me to "GTFO" which I did at my own pace. Hey, I'm a Cook County property tax payer. I have the right to investigate which rocket scientists are running their trucks into our bridges and who's being paid to Serve and Protect us. My comment back to them...

"Close, but no Watusi."

2) Irony!

I heard someone crunching up behind me on one of the "M" streets in Jefferson Park the other morning asking "Can't you read the GD sign?"

"Why, is that your sign?" I asked old Mr Grumpy Retired City Worker.

"GD right it is." said he. (What is with all the potty mouth this week?)

"I don't see any grass..." I muttered as I walked away.

"That's because #%$%#s like you can't KEEP OFF IT," said the Last Word Grump.

And he was right. I just couldn't resist.

3) Enough Already!

I learned my lesson back in 1994 when I had an Ollie North sticker pasted on the back of my own Jeep bumper and birds kept pooping on my hood. Anyway, the owner of this traveling think tank was a little put off when she came out of Jenny Craig on Diversey and caught me snapping a shot of her Jeep's rear end. Yes, I said her Jeep's rear end. (I noticed a box of Ho Ho's on the back seat but kept my mouth shut not really expecting the situation to Change. Besides, anyone who has a WTF sticker on their car is fair political game in my yet to be written book.)

Geno Petro

photos by me

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (shelter)

A Real Estate contract is generally not enforceable in the great state of Illinois unless it is a) Written, b) 'Signed-off ' on by competent parties (Acceptance), and c) Some form of Consideration ($$$) is placed in an escrow account to show 'Good Faith' on the Buyer's part. Think of it as the Holy Trinity of the home buying experience.

It's the 'Good Faith' part of the experience I wish to address here. The truth is, most of the negotiation process in this North Side Chicago market takes place verbally. Once a written Offer is submitted to the Seller's side of the deal, the details usually get hammered out by the respective Realtors involved via cell phone, text messages and email. Sometimes we are The Negotiators, other times, mere Messengers. Either way, there are at least four channels of emotion, rationality and objectivity that need to be successfully navigated--the Seller, the Listing Agent, the Buyer, and the Buyer's Agent-- not to mention the chorus, and supporting cast of Attorneys, Home Inspectors, Lenders, Appraisers, and Blood Relations waiting in the wings for Act II to begin. Once there is signed Agreement the 'experience' as it were, takes off in another direction altogether. Another story for another day.

So here's the scenario: A potential Client sits at her computer, Googles 'Search Chicago Real Estate' and of course, lands on Page One. After surveying the first 10 choices she decides to click on ChicagoHomeEstates.com because...well, it just sounds so right. Chicago...Home, no...even better... Estates. She then decides to choose an Agent so she can Register on the site for greater access, picks the best looking one and Voila!...she arrives at my Home Page. Once registered, she is free to search the Chicagoland area for a home or rather...an estate of her dreams. She requests a showing for a Condominium that piques her interest. I respond.

Now this is where the afore mentioned 'Good Faith' begins. Our website Features our own Listings while at the same time providing a Search Engine for the entire MLS of Northern Illinois. This is provided under under the guidelines of Broker Reciprocity and is about as clear as clear can be, in my opinionated opinion. Every Listing that is not in the Chicago Home Estates personal inventory has a clearly marked icon (a little house button to click for more info) stating so.

There is a question asked and a response box to be checked: Working with a Realtor? YES or NO.

Check NO, and I'm her guy.

Check YES, and her own Realtor will need to show her the requested property (and should probably also invest in his own website with advanced Search Engine capability). Just so you know, there are only two sides of any Real Estate transaction as far as Realtors are concerned--the List side and the Buy Side. There really isn't any more room in a deal for a third Realtor. We have a name in the business for such a soul. We call him 'The Unpaid One.'

It is at this point in the experience that I make it crystal clear to my potential Client that her Request For Showing either is or is not my own Listing (I have no intention of ever being The Unpaid One) and I proceed from there.

Now let's just say that we meet at the property, introduce ourselves to the Listing Agent, and take the tour. Thirty minutes later she decides the place is perfect and wishes to make an Offer. Whether I write the deal or not I have established what is called Procuring Cause on that particular property, thus avoiding any possibility of becoming The Unpaid One. We soon thereafter fill out an approved Board of Realtors contract, sign and initial all the appropriate spaces, forward it on the the other side of the deal, and wait for a counter-offer.

It is at this point that the verbiage begins. Several phone calls back and forth between all parties involved and hopefully, a middle ground can be found. Let me walk you through the dialogue of a recent negotiation attempt that mirrors my example above. The gender has been changed to protect the idiot...I mean innocent..

"The List Price is $639,000," I said. "I suggest we come in around $605,000 and hopefully get this deal done under $620,000. " Just so you know, while aggressive in negotiations I am not a bush league 'low baller.' If the List Price is ridiculous then that's another story but even in this somewhat flat North Side Chicago market, most properties still sell within 5% of the Asking Price in less than 180 days.

"We are obviously not on the same page," says my Client. "I will not consider offering anything with a 'six' in it. Tell them $550,000 and we'll close in three weeks." (In case math wasn't your best subject in grade school, that's $89,000 under List Price.) I put on my Messenger outfit and prepare to deliver the news.

"Good news is...we have an Offer for you!" I say to the happy, happy Listing Agent. "Bad news is we are coming in 15% under List." Actually, I don't really say any of this. Instead, I just let the ink on paper speak for itself.

As expected, our opening Offer was met with dead silence by the other side. After 10 minutes of verbal resuscitation and another 3 or 4 minutes of 'point and counterpoint' with the Listing Agent I was finally able to persuade him to just give us a counter-offer. He called back an hour later. "$625,000. March 30th Close." This was good.

"Not good enough," was my Client's response. "$565,000 and we want our February Close date..."


"They are willing to spilt the middle and come down below their 'Drop Dead Number,' I inform my Client. "$600,o00." I deliver the news feeling more like The Negotiator than the Messenger for the first time in a couple of days. I know that I am but $1 away from getting a deal done with no 'six' in it. I am indeed, the man.

"Okay, but I want $10,000 more back in the form of a Closing Cost Credit paid to me at the settlement table," demands my Client. "Net sale price of $590,000. It's my final Offer. Make it happen Geno!" Grabbing with both hands from the candy dish. (Gimme Gimmee Gimmee)

'Bad Faith Bad Faith
Bad Faith,' I think... but I do as directed.

And I do get it done, feeling a little uneasy about throwing in a Closing Credit curve ball so late in the negotiation (poor form, to be sure). The Sellers however, eventually agree after several more hours of persuasion, and I forward the good news to my Client.

And then within a matter of hours my Client bails out of the deal totally. The reasons and excuses were numerous but the real reason (and thus the point of this sad but true essay) is she could. The original contract was written over the phone and faxed to all parties (not unusual for people with busy schedules and allowable by law), no Initial Earnest Money check was ever collected (again, the initial check is but a token gesture and is not needed until Signed Agreement occurs), and the motivation to Sell was greater than the motivation to Buy in this case. My internet Client was just fishing around the bottom of the lake seeing what she could snag on the cheap. Looking back, it was just a lot of words accompanied by very little action, not the least important of which was the Seller's signature. Lots of talk with no accompanying walk.

Postscript: As it turns out the Buyer (no longer my Client at this point) tried to go around me and cut a deal with the other side on her own shortly before this all even started. When that didn't fly she then tried to persuade me to take my commission out of the Listing Agent's portion hoping to keep the Buy-Side Co-op for herself. Again, failure to launch.

In the end, she had just agreed to use my proffered services as the great Negotiator/Messenger I am, and waste my time for half a week ultimately doing what she felt was in her own best interest. And I'm actually cool with that. Thus is the nature of the beast we call the internet.

The other three deals I'm presently working on (all internet Registrants on our site) are as sweet as blueberry pie--the people couldn't be nicer. Half of my annual business comes from a mixture of the ChicagoHomeEstates.com website and the Blog you are presently reading. The other half is made up of past Clients and referrals. And only a few deals a year come from people who can't talk and walk at the same time. C'est la Vie, say I.

Geno Petro

image clearly courtesy of weirdthings.org

Monday, January 19, 2009

Change for a Buck

I spoke briefly with this gentleman (above) today as he stood near the corner of Irving Park and Elston Avenue on Chicago's near northwest side. He mentioned that this gig was not his chosen profession and that he and all the other hired statues were indeed, hoping for at least some kind of career change with the coming Administration. I felt it was my civic duty to step up and fill him in with the real scoop. After all, I am a blogger and if nothing else, I have an opinion.

You see, I'm not sure Obama's new Jobs Initiative Proposal has a place for this guy (or his co-workers) but then again, there's probably not a spot carved out in it for me either. Sorry folks, I am not working on roads or bridges (vertigo) for a living. It's better for everybody, believe me.

I still owe my college, Slippery Rock, a library fine from two decades ago (over $300 interest and penalties as of this writing. I can pay it any time...but I won't. I'm leaving it to them in my will, I've decided) and they wont release my transcripts---so I can't be a teacher. I tried to explain this to my new friend...you know, as an example...so as not to get his hopes up with all the political rhetoric he's been hearing on the Chicago sidewalks these past several months. It was my intention to simply help prepare him for yet even more career disappointment. He just shrugged and told me his boss was hiring if I was interested. I thanked him and politely declined an interview. (I'm still reeling from the last time I wore a costume for a paycheck: the bad Easter Bunny at Neshaminy Mall back in 1976.)

I think back on the things I, myself, have done for a buck: I was a morning paperboy for most of my early teenage years (and thus, I am wide awake at 4:45AM, even to this day), I've picked tobacco in North Carolina (2 days), worked in a warehouse loading 120 lbs boxed dumbell sets into a semi truck all day (okay, half a day...once), painted apartments (okay apartment) with a recently released, convicted, practicing alcoholic felon who stole my radio when I went to the bathroom (again, one half day and I left at lunch after he accused me of calling him a thief and wanted to fight me.), the afore mentioned Easter Bunny gig (one long alcohol induced week) and an insurance salesman (15 even longer alcohol induced years). So I offered Mr Liberty a buck for a snapshot, you know...to be polite. He held out for a five note. Come to find out, he didn't really want change after all. Or at least, not the kind of loose change I had in mind. He smelled a little boozy, too. I told him he didn't have to drink, that his life could get better---maybe even shed the costume one day, but this is about the time his mood changed for the worse and I decided to split before I got into a fight and he stole my iPhone and my radio.

Anyway, I hope this serves as a symbol of how great a country we live in. Remember, in just a few quick months and a corporate mandate here or there, any one of us can find ourself standing on a corner getting patronized for a buck or two. Now that is what I call liberty and justice for all...if not, good old American equality.

Geno Petro

Friday, January 16, 2009

Chill Chicago, Chill

I strolled into the garage this morning bundled up like Randy in "A Christmas Story," jumped into my vehicle, and stared at the dashboard through frosted eyelashes. It was so cold the radio didn't come on. I cranked Old Paint and she coughed and choked before rattling to life and I almost fumed myself into the next 'Kingdom Come' waiting for the interior compartment to warm up as I sat there idling.

I finally pulled onto the street and glanced up at the Forest Glen Metra platform. My wife stood there shivering beneath her Orbitz backpack, hooded dog walking coat (warm but not pretty) and snow boots (cute). The temperature was well below Zero and her train was already ten minutes late. We made eye contact. My iPhone immediately rang.

Ten minutes later I'm driving her to work downtown in bumper to bumper to bumper traffic. I snapped a shot of my instrument panel (above); 6MPH and Minus 8 Degrees Below Zero... Fahrenheit. The radio finally came on and we listened to a preacher ask for money on a Bible station for the next forty-five minutes. This will serve as church for us for the next 6 months. We made dinner plans, kissed each goodbye and went on our separate ways for the day--her to the world of travel, me to the world of Chicago real estate. An hour later we were chatting on Facebook. Hey, it's Winter, it's Friday.... and I'm FMAO. I always fancied myself more of a Summer Realtor anyway. If you want to see one of my Listings, call for the Lockbox number. BTW, this is the last time I'm mentioning the weather (or traffic) until I can see the grass below my hammock.

Geno Petro

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Forest Glen Freeze Out

Inside looking out from my second floor window in the Forest Glen neighborhood of Chicago.
Sunday morning.

Also...check out my latest post on Bloodhound Blog.

Geno Petro

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Chicago B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted

I stopped in for an icy shot of Blues this past weekend at, where else?... B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted Street. It's been my favorite live musical joint ever since parking my own U-Haul sideways in a Chicago alley one snowy December night some 13 years ago and unloading once and for all. Whenever things aren't low down, dirty, or tattered enough in my own life as a Chicago realtor, I just pop into B.L.U.E.S. for a reminder of how sad it really can be. On this eve it was Carlos Johnson, on a vintage left handed Gibson, and his band dealing out the pain shooters. As usual, Big Time Sarah was hunkered down at the main bar, bellowing her own crushed rock baselines above the amplified Peavys. The place, as always, was jammed to the rafters.

One man was missing though; in mortal body anyway. And if Chicago guitar legend Chico Banks was indeed in the room, which I believe he just may have been, it was in spirit and memory only. The audience learned from an overwrought Carlos Johnson that the 47 year old virtuoso had just unexpectantly passed away. Johnson gave a checkerboard bluesman's eulogy to a now hushed crowd, raised his snifter to the Heavens, took a sip of cognac, then immediately ripped into a 15 minute jam that tore the wallboards from the studs. And I mean that. Each musician in the tightly wound quartet tore...it...up. The dude on keys, the brother on bass, the monster on drums, and CJ out in front. Shredded it. I raised my own club soda from a stool against the wall in back and silently toasted Life in general. I got the fix I subconsciously came cruising for.

Women were crying. Men were choking. Big Time Sarah was howling on the floor. The crowd was emersed, swallowed by the sound and the soul of the Blues. And not the weak ass, watered down swill they serve up across the street at Kingston Mines but the real deal. The kind that comes out indigo when you cut. The kind that pumped through the veins of Chico Banks until a few days ago.

Geno Petro

I snapped the shot of Carlos Johnson (but I did not shoot the deputy)