New Company Diary: Making a Name for Himself

Accolades in a Chicago news magazine herald Conlon’s big plan to stake out new territory: the city’s Gold Coast.

December 1, 2000

I was featured last month--the November 6 issue--in Crain's Chicago Business' “40 Under 40” list, an article the magazine does every year on the top up-and-coming businesspeople in town. The editors told me I was the first residential real estate broker ever to make the list.

What's great about it is that it represents a new level of recognition and respect. I've always had respect from people in the industry, but the Crain's piece raises my profile in the general business community. I also got a great referral out of it. The day after it came out, one of the other people on the list asked me to sell his $2.5 million apartment and find him a $4.5 million penthouse. Not a bad start to the month.

Branching out

We finally opened our first branch office in Lincoln Park, about two miles south and east of our main office. What an ordeal--the carpenters, the telephone company. Especially the telephone company. I don't know how to deal with those people. They work entirely on their own schedule and there doesn't seem to be anything you can do to speed up the process. The office is staffed with 15 salespeople and five administrative people.

I'll be down at the branch office probably every other day for a few hours on certain deals and developments, and to keep the salespeople fired up.

If everything works out the way we hope it will with the new branch, there’ll be two main changes. One, the ratio of buyers to sellers for the company as a whole will increase. Right now, we're known primarily for selling new construction and probably 80 percent or more of our business is sellers. But that leaves out a huge part of the market--namely buyers. If we want to be a full service real estate company, we have to do both.

The second change is that with our new location, we’ll finally be in a position to make a push into the Gold Coast, which includes Lake Shore Drive and is the most expensive neighborhood in the city. To demonstrate what we're up against: I'm trying to put a deal together there now for a condo conversion. This week I had a meeting with my bankers about the financing. One of them asked me, "Sean, how do you think they'll react to you there? Isn't the Gold Coast a very tightly knit club?" The implication was that we were fine selling three flats to yuppies but that the Gold Coast, which represents an older, more established demographic, requires something different-- greater sophistication and family connections, I guess.

My response was twofold. One, there are very few people who don’t respect hard work. Two, I may not know Gold Coast people now, but I do know a lot of their children. I was the one who sold them their first apartments in neighborhoods such as Lincoln Park and Lakeview. So that will be our approach.

Market temperance

Meanwhile, the market--especially in peripheral neighborhoods--continues to be slow--at least compared to last spring and summer. I don't mean to sound like a doomsday guy, but I believe we've seen the peak of the market, which isn't a totally bad thing. Last year, there were five to 10 bids on every property. It was crazy, hysterical. Now everything is more rational. I still think spring will be good. My bankers tell me interest rates will probably come down and by then we'll be through all the election uncertainty. Really, when you think about it, a market half as good as last year would still be a very good market for most people.

Seasonal obligations

We're also planning the office holiday party at a restaurant near the office. No clients, just staff--otherwise it gets out of control and you wind up with a thousand people. I don't want to sound too Grinch-like, but I'm not a huge fan of parties. I spend all day talking to people and being charming and at night I like to go home. But Tim and Frank, my partners, are very social.

And my present this year? I bought it a month ago--a black 1960 Porsche Speedster. It's a beautiful machine, even if I can't drive it in the winter. Happy Holidays.

Robert Sharoff is an architectural writer for The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Magazine. With photographer William Zbaren, he has produced books highlighting the architecture of Detroit and St. Louis. He is a former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.

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