Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Fathers' Day - Some background on your Guide

Fathers' Day 2008

Dedicated readers who truly have too much time on their hands, along with a few of my clients, have asked on occasion about the quote in my bio about “having real estate in my blood for my entire life.”

This Fathers' day post is a perfect time to look back at how it all started.

I think my earliest real estate development memories begin with our family building a new house across town from the first house I remember. My father and uncle each purchased lots in a suburb of Chicago in the early 1970's as potential investment lots or as the site for a new house. My uncle decided to sell and selected somewhere else to settle; my dad chose to build on his.

I remember this lot being one of the last undeveloped pieces of land in our town. It was quite a favorite play space for neighborhood kids. A city park was located only a block away, but I remember all the neighborhood kids playing on the lot rather than at the park. Perhaps it was the unkempt and uncontrolled nature of the lot. Though only 100 feet by 65 feet, at the time it seemed enormous – with a wild slope to the rear and even a dirt dune for climbing or BMX bike riding. It was regarded by the neighborhood kids as quite the tragedy that construction began on a new home on this treasured play area.

It was completely natural for my father to take both me and my sister, Jeanne (VP, Finance, Fancy Schmancy Downtown Developer), where we watched the whole process for the first time. Looking back, I distinctly remember excavation being punctuated by hours spent playing on bulldozers and earth moving equipment. It seemed like forever for the puring and curing of the foundation. Thinking back, this must have been the typical late fall pour before the winter, with a hiatus until the weather broke again in Spring. Framing was quite a marvel to behold.

Installation of major systems – electrical, heating, plumbing, each brought new revelations. Leftover junk became treasure – I collected punch-out slugs leftover from electrical boxes and saved them for years. The neighborhood kids warmed up to us as they were welcome to climb all over the construction as well as get to know the new playmates that would eventually move in.
At the same time as the house, Dad was also working on the first of four memorable construction events that I can recall. I am sure there were more, but the four were milestones in our childhoods.

First was a racquetball club in Westmont. The size and scale of this building was wondrous, what with nearly 30 foot tall ceilings in the courts and enormous glass walls for viewing. I can only describe the the interior as the ultimate in late '70's chic. Envision the d├ęcor influenced by both whoever imagined the set for the original movie version of “Hairspray” along with a healthy dose of modernism inspired by the Picasso in downtown Chicago. Shagadelic, baby! (Indeed, the vending area and lounge were finished with textured and patterned carpet that seamlessly scaled up the walls.)

Though I never saw our family name in the newspapers nor was anyone ever indicted for bestowing political favors, somehow my father became aware of the development and construction of what was Illinois Highway 5 which is now I-88 running roughly parallel to Ogden Avenue through the western Suburbs. Envisioned as the main artery for a High Tech Corridor, major technology companies such as Amoco Oil and Bell Labs were planned and built near major interchanges in Oak Brook, Westmont, and Naperville. Somehow dad know where and when the major interchanges were going to be located and bought up the parcels that he could afford.

Next door to the Racquetball Club in Westmont, Dad and my uncle developed a small office park. The small one and two story office parks in a landscaped setting that were all the fashion in the late '70's and through the 80's. I don't know if anyone goes for this kind of space anymore, but at the time was a perfect setting and product for the booming small business economy.

Next out in Naperville, Dad started on another, grander, racquetball AND tennis club (very exciting and innovative) along with a strip mall next door.

Today, the whole concept of a strip mall is quite routine. But back in the day, I remember that we were the landlords for a Chines Restaurant, a Quick Printer, AND a dry cleaner. This was quite impressive to me.

Dad and my uncle held onto most of these developments and managed them, but at some point during my High School career, Dad went corporate and took a job as a commercial appraiser for one of the downtown appraisal research firms. During my College years, I think the mini-empire was slowly sold off.

When I returned from the U of Iowa, we still owned the Westmont office park, and Dad had returned to working for himself. The brothers had sold the racquetball club to the Westmont Park District (I think it's still there today.) I went to work at the family owned commercial Real Estate Brokerage which was just breaking into Residential Sales. I think it was East-West (no relationship with Steve West, my current Real Estate partner) Darrow Realty.

The Naperville club was converted into an office building and I think the strip mall is still there. Oddly, these two are the smallest buildings around as the Naperville Road interchange on I-88 is home to some pretty famous corporate HQ's and is surrounded by towering hotel towers and mega-malls.

Shortly thereafter, Dad decided to close the residential brokerage and I located a job with a Relocation Company. The Relo company had me first in Lombard, then Naperville, Downers Grove and Oak Brook. At some point, I transferred to the Chicago office. It wasn't long thereafter that I switched to brokerage and have stuck with the same career ever since.

Dad retired to the Gulf Coast of Florida, and in keeping in character, started buying up land, lots and pre-consruction condo's in advance of the coming aging Baby Boomer migration to the south. I don't think I envision myself in the "Republican Riviera" but I certainly wish I sent some cash that way a few years ago...