Willard Says...

June 26, 2017

More Stories!

By Jonathan Zimmerman

Back by popular demand, I hereby present: More of the Most Outrageous Stories that I Have Encountered During My Career. While I would not necessarily place these in the Murphy’s Law category, looking back, they are quite amusing. Here we go.

1) In a building I formerly leased, a corner retail space became available on a prominent Loop corner and we had substantial interest. Perhaps the most persistent prospect was a well known fast food establishment. The use was not exactly what we had in mind, but their national real estate director was able to persuade the owner into a face-to-face meeting. He entered into the owner’s office dressed in a nice suit with a presentation in hand that he clearly spent a great deal of time on. His introductory words were barely out of his mouth when the owner cut him off with a question I will never forget: “I just have one single question for you: How the hell are you going to prevent my building from smelling like your f***ing hamburgers all day long?” Yada yada yada, a bank is now located at this site.

2) For that same retail space, we ended up having two financial institutions actually get into a bidding war, so the owner decided to meet with the respective bank presidents before making a decision. One was a national player who had a clear advantage going into the meeting; the other was a growing local bank and on the day of the meeting, the president and his attorney came in with a long, drawn out presentation. Frankly, this was not the right approach to win over this particular owner. Right in the middle of the meeting, the owner excused himself, walked into the adjacent room (still in clear sight of everyone) and opened up a wooden closet which contained a sink. He unzipped his fly and took care of business, essentially right in front of the bank president. Clearly flustered after that, the presentation came to a quick end. Afterwards, the owner said that he needed to get that guy out of his office and that was the best way he could think of to make that happen. We also learned that his coffee mug that he was incessantly sipping on throughout the meeting was filled with beer.

3) While working at Rubloff, one of the owners asked me to accompany 4 developers in town from Seoul, South Korea on a tour of several Class A Loop properties so they could get ideas for a new office tower they were planning to develop. Three of the four individuals did not speak a word of English and the one who did was shaky at best. Halfway through the tour, we took a break for an hour, went our separate ways and decided to meet back up on corner of Michigan and Wacker Drive. I showed up to what I thought was the designated meeting place but the group was nowhere to be found. This was pre cell phone, so I had no way to reach any of them. I was in a complete panic and feared an international incident was on the horizon. I just started walking around and miraculously, there they appeared … on Michigan and Wacker Place. They had gone shopping at Marshall Fields and bought me a picture frame to thank me for my time.

4) In a rather dysfunctional building that I used to lease, we rented a space to two gentlemen claiming to be jewelers. The build out was not very complicated and the tenant needed to take occupancy within 30 days of lease signing. As we crept up on the possession date, I walked into the space to check on the progress and not a single thing had been done. The property manager completely dropped the ball. The tenant was furious and made all kinds of threats against everyone, myself included. Ultimately, we ended up letting them out of their lease. Fast forward to two months later, someone from the Department of Homeland Security showed up to the building with pictures of these two individuals and asked many questions. As it turned out, they were being investigated on the suspicion of participating in terroristic activities.

5) My favorite lobby attendant ever was an 80-year old gentleman named Nick. All of the tenants loved him and I purposely showed up early prior to tours just so we could talk. Nick was not a big guy, but even at 80 years old, it was best not to mess with him. Case in point, a messenger was riding down the elevator with a woman and as the elevator doors opened, the messenger forcefully grabbed her purse and starting running. She screamed and Nick went chasing after him, actually caught him and held him down until the police arrived. He lectured the messenger the entire time to do better and make something out of his life, making for quite the memorable surveillance video.

6) One of the more difficult clients who I had the (mis)fortune of representing for nearly three years really put me though the ringer. I actually tried to fire her several times, but she told me that I was not her father and could do no such thing. Fortunately, we eventually found a space for her store. Unfortunately, patience was not her strong suit and she started construction early without either a permit or landlord approval. Her second-rate contractor promptly cut a main power line which effectively shut down the building’s parking garage for three days. The owner was not too happy and stuck her with the bill. Predictably, this was all my fault for introducing the space to her in the first place.

7) An owner who I used to do work for often liked to meet with prospective tenants if we ever needed help getting across the finish line on a deal. I took him up on the offer once when we had a few stubborn lease issues that could not be resolved. The owner was in his 60s at the time, while the two principles of the firm were in their early 20s. From the start, it was oil and water. The meeting ended after ten minutes with the owner yelling (something I never witnessed before), “You young whippersnappers think you have all the answers, but you do not know the first thing about running a business. Get out of my building; I will never rent space to you.” The tenant yelled back with a few choice words to the “old man” and left. The owner then looked at me and said, “If I need to experience that kind of treatment, I can call my son. He will gladly treat me that way.” As a side note, the owner was exactly right (as always). A year later, the business was caput.

8) A halfway decent vacant space that I was showing in an otherwise drab building always had one door that was locked. My master key would not open the door and even for showings, the manager refused to unlock it. One day when the manager was on vacation, I complained about the locked door to the building engineer. He took me up to the space, removed the lock and we discovered an elaborate computer network. It turned out that the manager had a day trading operation set up where he would hide out for several hours each day during trading hours. After he was confronted about this, he magically got a new job elsewhere shortly thereafter.

9) My shortest leasing assignment ever was at a star crossed Loop building. I was excited to get the listing because in spite of past problems at the property, it was very well located and there was a good amount of vacant space. After I went over to the owner’s office to hand over the signed leasing agreement, he said, “Well, this is probably as good of a time as any to tell you that I actually have no money right now and will probably have a tough time paying commissions and funding build outs. Will you still stick with me while I figure things out?” Uh, no.

10) A building I formally leased was expertly cleaned for many years by two wonderful ladies of Polish descent who did not speak English very well, or at least that is what everyone thought. One afternoon, one of the women came into the Office of the Building and, with nearly perfect English, described an encounter where she walked in on an attorney and his secretary “having relations” on the conference room table. I’m not sure if we were more shocked by act itself or the graphic description she rattled off; we had no idea she could speak English, let alone describe (in detail) something like that. The next day and from that point forward, it was as though it never happened and we heard maybe 10 words of English out of her mouth.

Lucky for you, I’m still accumulating these “experiences” so don’t worry, I’ll have plenty of blog material for the next few years.