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May 25, 2017

Hey Mr. Murphy, can you cut me a break?

By Jonathan Zimmerman

As with most things in life, a certain degree of luck comes in handy. However, it seems that Murphy fellow and his wicked Law is always lurking–something out of your control goes awry, thereby wrecking the event.

During my career, I have endured my fair share of these experiences.

For brokers, showings are a critical component of the job. Simply put, showings lead to deals. If we are not leasing space, there is no food on our respective tables. On a typical tour, prospects see several properties in sequence and there is a very limited window to make a positive impression; failure to do so means the deal is going elsewhere.

As a nod to Murphy’s Law, I thought back on a few different times when it truly seemed that whatever could go wrong, did go wrong. Here are a few notable examples. (Names and addresses have been excluded but will be revealed in my book due out in 2033).

1) I have one building where it seems like the locks are being changed on the vacancies every two weeks for no apparent reason. Once, a janitor was supposed to meet me at 9:00 AM sharp to unlock a space. After standing aimlessly with the prospect outside the entry door for a few minutes, I starting calling. On the fourth try, he finally answered in a groggy voice and said, “Dude, I am hung over and somewhere in Indiana. You best break down the door because I ain’t coming.” Since this was a small building with no onsite management, the tour ended abruptly, never to be rescheduled.

2) I scheduled a tour for a vacancy that had not been shown in a few weeks. When I opened up the door, it was magically occupied by a tenant who just moved in. It turned out that the building manager leased the space without bothering to tell me. Later, I learned he did that thinking he could keep the commission for himself.

3) During a tour, I took a prospect into a seldom shown vacancy on the 9th floor. When we entered the only office in the suite not facing the alley, a dead mouse was found right in the middle of the room. After a loud scream, the prospect was quickly out the door.

4) In the same building, on numerous occasions, I encountered roaches (dead and alive) during showings and often had to strategically hop from one area to the next in an attempt to cover the creatures up with my shoe, all while usually receiving puzzled looks. As a side note, why does every building engineer in Chicago emphatically refer to roaches as “waterbugs” and vehemently deny what these really are?

5) While conducting a tour in a building with notoriously awful elevators (even after a multi-million dollar modernization), a prospect and I got stuck on the ride up. The woman started to hyperventilate and I seriously thought she was going to die. After 20 minutes, the elevator doors finally opened and we found the fire department waiting with crowbars in hand.

6) Continuing with the elevator theme in a different property, I showed up 5 minutes before a scheduled showing to learn that the only two elevators were both out of service. The only way to access the floors was by walking the stairs. Of course, the space I planned to show was on the 12th floor. That was quite a message to deliver prior to starting a showing. The broker said he would contact me to reschedule, but shockingly, the client lost interest.

7) While patiently waiting for a tardy showing, a disheveled male entered the lobby and demanded to use a bathroom. Since the gentleman did not have an appointment with anyone, the guard denied access and asked him to leave. The man then promptly unzipped his pants and started urinating all over the security desk. On cue, my showing entered right as this was going on and said, “Oh wow, does this sort of thing happen often here?” As a matter of fact, yes it does.

8) A property I formerly leased had a small tenant who assisted the less fortunate with money management skills. A very good cause, indeed, but it also attracted some unique individuals. Case in point: while finishing up a positive showing, one of their clients, a 250 pound man with a bushy red beard and wearing a dress was seated with his legs wide open. Yep, you guessed it, no underwear. The prospect took note and then was no longer a prospect.

9) While bringing a prospect into a former coffee shop that I was marketing, we heard some rustling behind the counter. When I went for a closer look, I found the building manager lying naked on the floor wrapped up in a sheet. She said, “Oh, I wasn’t expecting you. Let’s keep this between us, okay?” 17 years later, I still cannot get that frightful image out of my mind.

10) On another retail showing, I approached the space and noticed homeless person nestled up against the front door and snoring up a storm. He was a rather large individual and would not move. Quite a first impression! Thank goodness for back doors.

11) While waiting to do a showing in a building with a school, a student thought it would be cool to pull the fire alarm. When my tour showed up, the relatively small lobby was filled with over 100 students and staff, plus a countless number of paramedics and firemen. Given there was nowhere to move and the elevators were shut down, it was time to chalk up another loss.

12) I leased a space to a tenant who had misrepresented its use (and subsequently was evicted as a result). It turned out to be a de facto union hall who decided to make the building a gathering point for a sizable rally being held downtown. Hundreds of people showed up in a building with a small lobby and tiny elevators. Not only could my prospect coming by to look at space not get into the building, neither could many tenants. It took a rare visit from a furious building owner to clear everybody out.

13) To save money, the owner of a basement office condo I was marketing decided to stop paying the electric bill and had the power shut off. Yes, showing a space in complete darkness makes it quite easy to lease (the fact that it showed better in the dark than light is a separate story).

14) Years ago, I was given the green light to start showing a small suite where the tenant was getting evicted. Being new to the business, I made a rookie mistake of not touring the space first before bringing someone inside. The manager told me it was exactly like another suite in the building, so I thought that was good enough. I opened the door with the prospect by my side and the space was a complete mess. Taking a closer look at some of the debris, we discovered several copies of Playgirl magazine and a box full of porn movies on VHS. We later found out the tenant was running a male escort service out of the space.

15) When showing spaces on two contiguous floors, I often will bypass the elevator and take the stairs instead. Well, I regretted that decision mightily one day when we encounter the building manager making out with the engineer. Both were married at the time, but not to each other.

As the saying goes, you cannot make this stuff up. Truth be told, I could probably fill another blog with additional stories. I cannot wait to try and top these moving forward.