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Kelly Fondow talks suburbs, selling—and BP
Real Estate
by Andrew Davis

Kelly Fondow is a real-estate agent who knows about dichotomy—after all, she shows properties to clients in the city of Chicago as well as suburbs such as Berwyn and River Forest. Fondow—who lives in the Chicagoland area with her longtime partner, RoiAnn—talked with Windy City Times about differences between the areas as well as buyers/sellers, her own background ( which includes working with petroleum giant BP ) and "steering."

Windy City Times: Is this the slow season for real estate?

Kelly Fondow: Well, typically it is deadly slow starting from Thanksgiving through January. Usually, you see the beginning of a "spring market" right after the Super Bowl. But I've been busy since the second week of January.

It was a very quiet second half of the year [ last year ] . That first-time home buyer's credit went away and the people who bought felt hurried—and business just stopped. I think people started thinking over the holidays, and people are ready to buy. It feels to me and people in my office that it's been a very nice start to the year.

WCT: So I was reading about your background on

Kelly Fondow: And who knows what it says there. It's been a while since I've messed around on there. [ Laughs ]

WCT: ...and it states that you were once in the heart of corporate America. So how did you come to be involved in real estate?

Kelly Fondow: I just decided; I worked for BP, actually. [ WCT: Oooh. ] Yes, I know. They were always big oil, but they didn't always bring a shiver up everyone's spine when I said it. [ Laughs ]

I had been in human resources for many, many years, and the last seven or eight were with BP. We had worked in London, we had come back to Chicago and they were going to try to move us to Houston—and my partner and I decided that we weren't moving to Houston. If we don't stay here, our kids will never have a place to come home to.

I took a severance package from them, which was nice. And I decided that I didn't want to be in the position of handing people their walking papers, which I had done for two years at BP. It was emotionally draining; it was horrible. I figured it was a good time for a change, so I held my breath and jumped in.

I started in 2008, when the market was starting to fall apart; I watched a lot of realtors around me really struggle with the new reality. I didn't know any better; I hadn't worked in real estate. I just worked really hard and it turned out great.

WCT: So when did you know it was for you?

Kelly Fondow: Oh, within the first few months. Actually, I had the mental chops and it turned out that a lot of the personality traits that made me a good HR director were transferable. You become a shrink and counselor to buyers and sellers. I tend to have very intimate relationships with my buyers; it's one of the biggest decisions they make.

WCT: You cover a pretty large area, don't you?

Kelly Fondow: I do. I'm from Wisconsin, [ but ] I've been in the Chicago area for, what, nine years now? I know it very well. I started in areas I know pretty well; I do about half my business in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park. I probably do another 35 percent in Chicago. Plus, I worked for BP so long in the western suburbs that I know that area pretty well, and that tends to be referral business from BP.

However, sometimes are surprised by how little they can buy for their money, depending on where they come from. If they come from L.A., for example, there's not so much "sticker shock."

WCT: Are there any key differences between conducting transactions in the city and the suburbs?

Kelly Fondow: Oh, absolutely. What I've found is that every community has a distinct real-estate personality.

The transaction, once the negotiation has happened, tends to be pretty predictable. However, typically, in the suburbs, listing agents use lockboxes; if I'm representing a buyer and make an appointment, I can let myself in the house and take my clients through. In Chicago—probably a good 90 percent of the time—an agent representing the seller is at the property to show it.

Also, in the city the scheduling is much more precise. In the suburbs I can say I'll be at a place between 10 o'clock and 11 o'clock on a Tuesday morning. If I'm showing a property in Andersonville [ in Chicago ] , I'll say I'll be there at 10:15, meet the selling agent, take my client through and then we'll go to the next property. It changes many things, like what I discuss with clients in the property; you have two agents there in addition to the home seller.

WCT: It sounds like it's more laid-back in the burbs, which sounds like a reflection of life itself in the city versus the suburbs.

Kelly Fondow: Absolutely. It's a completely different animal.

WCT: I have a question about a [ concept ] , and I hope you can clear things up for me. When I recently spoke with another realtor, we talked about the whole idea of "steering." She said, for example, that you can't tell a gay client that Boystown is a predominantly gay area of Lake View.

Kelly Fondow: Right.

WCT: But when I looked at your profile, it said, for example, "Kelly Fondow has provided these details about Berwyn, Illinois: Berwyn is quickly becoming a top destination for Gay families." Isn't that steering?

Kelly Fondow: Well, I take steering incredibly seriously and I think, as a realtor, we all have to do that. With that said, when I am working with clients, I believe it's professional to help them make decisions, especially if it's a client who's not from the Chicago area. If a person asks me what neighborhoods are specifically gay-friendly, I have no problem discussing that.

WCT: One of the places is cover is River Forest. Admittedly, I know nothing about River Forest. [ Fondow laughs. ] What can you tell me about that particular suburb?

Kelly Fondow: First of all, it has a beautiful housing stock; a lot of these houses were built from the late 1800s to the 1920s. It's on the Green Line and the Metra, so it's a 10-minute [ ride ] to the Loop. It has a very, very strong school system. It's a sister community to Oak Park, and they share a high school. It also has a small business district it shares with Oak Park.

WCT: What's one piece of advice for sellers and one piece for buyers?

Kelly Fondow: My advice to sellers—and, obviously, it depends on their situation and why they're selling—is to not wait, hoping that prices start climbing. Things will [ get better ] , but not quickly. So my advice to sellers is the same as my advice to buyers.

A lot of people are waiting for things to change. What we have right now are very low interest rates that are beginning to [ increase ] . It's a perfect time for buyers to buy right now. Interest rates are at 4.75 percent; at their lowest last year, they were 4.35—which is absolutely unheard-of. It's a good time for buyers and sellers to make decisions. It's going to be a long time before things get better.

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