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My Fellow Americans: Real Estate Agent Jan Smith


The hot housing market means that many real estate agents are enjoying boom times. In the latest installment of our occasional series My Fellow Americans, we hear from Jan Smith, a longtime Chicago realtor who remembers a different kind of market.

Ms. JAN SMITH (Realtor): (Speaking to a client) Hi. I'm Jan Smith. Nice to meet you. Welcome to 557 Arlington. The property's listed for 2.85 million.

I'm a very small part of a very big real estate scene in Chicago. I mean, I'm fortunate to be in the top, you know, 10 percent and have been in the top 1 percent of brokers in the city, but, you know, I'm still the person at Kinko's at 7 in the morning, you know, xeroxing condo docs.

(Speaking to a client) Come on in.

I started in--working in ...(unintelligible) probably in 1985. You know, it was in the days when properties were $50,000. People were buying and flipping properties left and right. I mean, many of the buildings I showed you only got by going up to a la--you had to use a ladder to get up to the front door. Now I sell 2, $3 million homes. So it's very, very different. I used to spend a lot of time in rat-infested basements. I always wore boots because I was scared to death that, you know, rats may climb over my feet. Now I'm in high heels mostly.

(Speaking to a client) The home is 6,200 square feet. We have five bedrooms, five full baths--all the bedrooms are en suite--and then two powder rooms. So the living room was designed to accommodate a grand piano.

You learn a lot about a person in a real estate transaction. There are people who just have to win, you know. I mean, when you're talking--when you're on a $2 million house and you're sitting there arguing about $5,000, it's almost at the point of ridiculousness. And so I've had a lot of success in sort of saying, `OK, you know, in the spirit of cooperation, let's all throw in, you know, $1,250, which is, you know, so little and get it done and move forward so nobody has to swallow hard.'

(Speaking to a client) So when we reach the rear staircase of the house, this is where the original structure ends and the new addition begins. And the floors change from oak to mahogany here.

Well, obviously, when you close a real estate deal it's pay day. So pay days are good, I mean, I think in any profession. It's kind of a lot done. I actually sold a building for--a very expensive building and it was--I had both sides of the deal, what we call a double bubble. I was the list agent and the selling agent. So I got a very large check, the largest check I'd ever had. And I thought, `Well, gosh, today's one of those days if I was ever going to go buy some sort of fancy, racy convertible, you know, that's what I should do.' And I actually stopped and deposited the check in the bank and, you know, went home and had a microwave hot dog for dinner.

(Speaking to a client) And then this is my favorite room in the house, the butler's pantry. This one's especially lovely with a dishwasher and a wine cooler, and I love the Carrera marble.

I'm envious of builders and architects because I think it's pretty neat to, you know, 25 years from now drive your grandchild down the street and say, `I built that house,' or, `I built that building,' or, `I designed that building.' `I sold that house, you know, three times'--I don't know.

(Speaking to a client) Well, thanks for coming. I hope maybe you'll--I hope I'll see you again and good luck in your search.

BRAND: Jan Smith's profile was produced by Catrin Einhorn as part of an exhibition called Daily Meaning: Life Inside America's Service Industries. The exhibition was developed in cooperation with Chicago Public Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Catrin Einhorn