About the time my first marriage was ending in the late 90’s, my widowed mother decided to sell her suburban house and buy a condominium in the city. She asked me to accompany her on her viewings, though I can’t say why since she never takes my advice. When she finally settled on a vintage property in Lakeview, her very tired Realtor said, ‘ You know that daughter of yours was born to sell real estate.’ Mother only shared that sentiment with me later.
In any case, I found myself having to earn a living for the first time in my adult life and wondered what I could possibly do since I had no skills and a degree in anthropology. I suppose I must have remembered that as a little girl growing up in Oak Park, I was so enthralled with Prairie School architecture that I would knock on peoples doors asking if they lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright house. This request would generally be met with disbelief, followed by laughter and an invitation inside [a good preparation for things to come in the business world.] I’m pretty sure that my parents would have beaten the crap out of me if they had known what I was up to, bothering decent people like that, but they never did find out.
And truthfully, I do have to admit that I was influenced by my own Realtor, an amazing woman whom I’ll call Sarah Royal Marshall. She was never a salesperson but always a patient caring friend who had her clients’ best interests at heart. If I had only known then that Realtors work on commission, I would have bought the most expensive property she showed me regardless of my personal taste.
In any case after completing real estate school, I somehow managed to convince another fabulous Realtor who was active in my building to get me an interview in one of the most prestigious Gold Coast brokerage firms.
I arrived for my interview at the appointed time and was met by the managing broker who took me to his office which faced a lovely hotel. I had never been on a genuine job interview before and suddenly realizing I would have to sell myself, proceeded to talk a blue streak.
Laughing, he said, ‘You know, you remind me of M. who came here with no skills, wearing head to toe Ferre and demanded a desk because she told all her friends she was starting on Monday and couldn’t bear the humiliation of not getting the job. She’s one of my top people now.’
‘Oh Ferre is my favorite designer!’ I said, thinking swell he’s gay,we’re going to get along. I was just going to describe some of my favorite acquisitions when he exclaimed, ‘There’s a naked lady in the window of the hotel, and there’s another naked lady with her. No, its a man. Oh, I have to see this. Excuse me for a second,’ and getting up, rushed to the floor to ceiling window.
What sort of place is this? I wondered, glancing over at the handsome couple who were putting on a show for all eyes.
Once they had drawn the curtains, he came back and said, ‘When can you start?’ In my best diva manner I replied, ‘I have two other interviews and have to make the best choice for myself. I’ll give you a call when I’ve made my decision.’ I mean really, what was I going to be, a sales lady at the cosmetic counter at Saks?
I did start the following week, and my colleagues often joked that I was trying to cut my first deal before I even had a desk. It didn’t work out, but around that time I must have realized that I had to procure my own clients. Somehow I thought that the firm would be assigning them. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
I soon realized that in that office, people did business on the strength of their social connections. I had about five good girlfriends raising children in the distant suburbs and was in the middle of a divorce, one in which I knew my husband’s friends would side with him.
What to do? I wondered.
Fortunately, I’ve generally been well liked even among the scary divas in that office, and I was taken up by older colleagues who taught me the art of cold calling. Naturally, this was prior to the no call era. I began with a list of Streeterville buildings. I dialed the phone, holding a script I had gotten off the Internet.
‘Mr Smith, this is Lily Temmer with so and so, and I was wondering if you were thinking about moving?’ I said.
‘Yes, Lily. I’m thinking about moving my bowels right now,’ was the answer at the other end.
‘Well, sir, I’ll let you get to it,’ I replied.
‘Call for sale by owners,’ my mentors said. ‘Make friends with them. They usually capitulate within a month of trying to sell their properties on their own.’
I made another list and the first call went well. The gentleman and I hit it off, but he sold his own place within the week. My second call was less successful. I could tell I was losing him and ventured, ‘You must have a very impressive kitchen. I see in your description that you have 42 cabinets.’
I truly didn’t realize I had said anything wrong until I saw my colleagues collapsing in fits of hysterical laughter.
’42 inch cabinets,’ the bemused potential client explained adding,’ Lily, you’re a nice girl. Call back when you have a little more experience.’
I did get more experience, though with my next two successive clients, I was shaking so badly that the listing brokers had to fill out the contracts for me. Somehow I has assumed I would go to Realtor prison if I didn’t do things perfectly.
Around that time I had a referral from my banker. The client was a lovely woman who was looking for a house in the Taylor Street area. I did know the area somewhat but was a bit overwhelmed by the thought of having to navigate, drive, park, open lock boxes and talk at the same time. Somehow the idea popped into my head that I should ask my husband, Mickey, then still my boyfriend, to act as my driver. That was when he was still crazy about me, and he readily consented. We picked the client up in my giant Mercedes, and he was perfectly discrete and professional the entire time. He even drove less aggressively than he usually does!
At one point, I got out to check on an address, and the client making polite conversation asked, ‘ Are you the son of the founder of the firm?’
‘No ma’am,’ Mickey replied with a straight face, ‘I’m only the company chauffeur.’
By the end of the year, I was doing high end deals and had acquired the loyalty of someone I thought I would have a life-long business relationship with. Unfortunately he ended up in Federal prison after being on America’s Most Wanted List for nearly a decade. But that is the beginning of another story.