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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Sam Powell talks buying, selling and 'steering'
by Andrew Davis
2010-10-06

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Sam Powell has not always been involved in real estate. However, once she did become involved, she found her calling. Powell talked with Windy City Times about her start in the business, the real-estate market and other matters.

Windy City Times: How did you become involved in the business?

Sam Powell: My story is kind of unique in that I was unemployed after [ 9/11 ] . My company was bought out by an out-of-state company and I didn't want to relocate. I have other talents—photography, digital imagery, that kind of stuff—so I was able to make ends meet comfortably, and I thought about retirement.

But my best buddy was unemployed. He decided to take a shot at real estate; this was back in 2002. He got his license, did his research and decided that the best company to start at was Prudential, for their training program. He did one week with them, called me and said, "I don't care. I'm paying for your classes. You're going to get your real-estate license, and you're going to come join me because this is so amazing."

I was a big chicken and knew I wasn't in sales; I never liked the idea of being in a failed environment, and having my [ salary ] based on commission made me really, really nervous. So I decided to do the class; I figured I wouldn't get taken advantage of when I go to buy my first investment property. I was taken advantage of when I got my first car; I wasn't going to let that happen again.

So I did the class, got my license, started the training—and fell in love with the ability to educate. I became educated enough to feel confident about what message I was delivering—"What is the state of the market?" "How do you qualify for a loan?" Where I was a big chicken out of the gate was the thought of screwing up, say, a $500,000 property for someone? There was a lot of pressure we put on ourselves to make sure we're as well-educated as possible before being comfortable selling a single property. So I would also give my mentor's and broker's business cards. I was very honest from the beginning.

WCT: And now you're confident?

Sam Powell: Oh, yes; I'm much more confident. But you would've teased me if you had seen me that first year. Oh, my God—I was such a scaredy cat! [ Interviewer laughs. ] There's so much to learn, every year and every day. The world is evolving around us constantly. There's so much depth to it all that it can be overwhelming until you get nuggets under your belt and build a strong toolbox of resources and education.

All you're selling in real estate is yourself. What I'm selling is my ability to manage the process for you. Anyone can drive around and show you a property.

WCT: Let me ask you about something I read. Area home sales were down approximately 25 percent in July compared to the [ same time last year ] .

Sam Powell: It doesn't surprise me in the respect that inventory is growing around us, and there are fewer buyers because they're still trying to figure out what they're going to do. They know that the government is not going to give out another stimulus package. We know that interest rates are not likely to go down any further than they are, unless a seller is willing to buy down your interest rate, which would save you [ a lot ] in monthly payments. Our buyers don't have the reserves sitting around that we once had. People are really holding on to their money, and are not willing to invest it on properties.

I've had no less than 10 people who turned out to be too nervous to buy because they discovered they're on shaky ground with their companies. They afraid of losing their money to the banks.

WCT: So who should be nervous when numbers tumble like that?

Sam Powell: I think that we should just all be aware, and that we need to move this inventory. If we're not moving housing, the economy's not growing and changing. The trickle-down effect of selling houses is tremendous in our society, in these times. We should constantly brainstorm about where the buyers are and how to educate renters who don't realize they can be buyers. You can buy for less than you're paying for rent right now.

I used to be a renter. I was in the same apartment for three years, and was paying $1,400 a month; $50,000 later, I paid a landlord for a 630-square-foot apartment. I was a scared kid coming out of college, not thinking that a lender in their right mind is going to loan me money, with my college debt. I found out that, as long as you're a responsible adult, they don't mind some debt.

WCT: What about your LGBT clients? Is there anything that you advise them?

Sam Powell: No. My concept is that we're everywhere, we work everywhere and we're a facet of society. We live where we're comfortable. It's similar to a single woman who wants to live in a safe neighborhood; well, what is "safe" to you? I can show you any community that you have a remote interest in exploring, and only you can decide if you're going to be comfortable there.

The ironic thing in real estate is that I can't tell gay clients where to live; I can't even have that dialogue in conversation. I can drive down Halsted and point at the flags hanging down from the balconies but I can't say, "Here's where we're all moving to next." People will ask me questions like, "What schools will accept me and my children?"—and I can't have that dialogue with them, so it's kind of frustrating.

WCT: So you couldn't say, for example, "Boystown is a predominantly gay area of Lakeview?"

Sam Powell: No; by law, I can't. It's called "steering" in our industry. That goes back to a time when people showed African Americans one neighborhood they had to buy in. Because of that history in our industry, [ laws ] are very strict. We could lose our license if we're found to be encouraging people to live in one area over another.

It's frustrating because why are kids calling me when they see that little rainbow flag on my business cards and my banners? We know why. And one of the first questions is, "Where should be go look?" And my answer is, "Anywhere you want. Where do you want to live?"

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

Sam Powell: Sellers should crunch the numbers first. My first [ request ] to sellers is, "I need to know what you owe on the place—and then I need to add about 8 percent to that figure." If we can sell it for that value in today's market, I can get you to a closing table and you don't need to bring your checkbook. If the market won't bear that price, you need to commit to staying in that property until the market comes back; we can rent and manage it for you as a property-management solution; or if you have an outlay of cash and you need to unload this thing, we can sell it—or you're looking at short-sale/foreclosure/bankruptcy education at that point.

For buyers, it's also about education. A lot of my clients are first-time buyers, and it's important to get them comfortable with what's happening in the marketplace—opportunities for short sales, foreclosures, relocation properties, traditional resale. Educating them about those processes [ is very important ] .

Samantha "Sam" Powell can be reached at www.AskForSam.com .


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