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Profile: Jill, the Carfree Realtor
by crandell | 02/15/2009
Jill Press is a Chicago Realtor who manages her work and home life without a car. Born in Chicago, she received her BA in Journalism from Temple University in Philadelphia and remained in Pa. before returning to her home city in 1995. Jill has been a Realtor since 1997 and specializes in lakefront properties in the city. She lives in East Lakeview. You can read more about her experience as a carfree Realtor on her new blog, Jill Press Box.
How long have you been carfree and why did you choose that lifestyle?
I've been car-free since 1983.
I'd moved to Philly in August 1982 along with my then four-year-old son, leaving our 200-year-old log cabin-turned-three-bedroom-house on two secluded, wooded acres in rural Berks County, Pa.
After a few short months living in Center City, I came to realize that owning a car in an urban environment was just not for me. I was not geared up (!) for auto maintenance; insurance rates were sky-high; finding parking was a major debacle if I'd get home after 8 p.m. Sound familiar?
Plus, Center City was such a cute, self-contained little neighborhood. I had all the shops, my gym, everything within easy walking distance; there was no reason to keep a car.
So I bought a bicycle, a Fuji 12-speed which I still ride, placed an ad for my white VW Rabbit in the Philadelphia Inquirer, sold it for my asking price and never looked back! In fact I have had a goal ever since: never to own a car again...
I'm guessing being a buyer's agent, you have to travel around the city a lot with clients. How do you show clients properties without a car?
As a car-free realtor, working with buyers is easy and enjoyable! First, understand that most people in the city own a car; couples often own more than one. Example: I'm working with a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Buyer, and we're scheduled to see six houses one afternoon in the Jefferson Park/Portage Park areas. Depending on where I'm meeting them and where I've been just prior to our appointments, I simply take CTA (bus or train) or a taxi and meet them at our first showing; then I ride along in their car for the remaining five showings. When we're done, I make my own way to my next destination.
I feel I add far more value to buyers as their agent when I am pointing out neighborhood sites, answering their questions, and discussing pertinent real estate issues while one of them does the driving and the parking.
Before I start working with a new buyer I let them know that I am a "hard core urbanite" who doesn't believe in having a car in the city; that it is a personal lifestyle choice, one that I embraced long before getting into real estate; then I proceed to explain how I work and no one has ever objected!
In the rare instance that a buyer of mine does not own a car, he or she will be looking to live somewhere along the lakefront in close proximity to CTA. Makes sense! So, again, I will meet the buyer at the first location, most often a downtown high-rise. Then we can usually walk to the other buildings in the same vicinity. If it's not an easy walk, I take us in a taxi.
One out-of-state couple actually asked me to show them how to take the CTA. They said, "We want to be like Jill." So we took a bus, we took the Red Line, we took taxis; and they bought a condo and moved to Streeterville. Shortly after they moved in the lease on their car was up and they did not renew the lease! That was over two years ago; and to this day (I just had lunch with them last week) they are thrilled to be car-free; they shop locally and if they need to go out to the 'burbs they rent a car. Quite simple!
I love the idea of showing the local train stop along with the property. In the city, I feel like you're not just buying a home with real estate, you're buying a neighborhood. Considering how many people in my neighborhood take transit even if they own cars, I'm curious how important you think transit is to the real estate market in Chicago.
OMG! Transit is very important to most city buyers even if, as you correctly point out, they own a car. First, as buyers (and not yet owners) they're always thinking "resale value" and inherently understand that "Close to Transportation" is a very good place to be. Location Location Location, the prime mantra of any real estate market.
But more important, once they become owners, they want the convenience of hopping on the "L" for an evening concert at Millennium Park; or taking the 135 LaSalle Express downtown and back each workday; or the Red Line to a baseball game; the Blue or Orange Lines to the airports! And they want all of the above easily accessible from their homes! So, yes, transit is very important to the Chicago real estate market. If only more people knew it...
I couldn't agree more that people buy not only the real estate but they buy into a neighborhood. In relation to the downtown buyer without a car: Our real estate search is, in effect, a practice run for how the buyer will live her life on a daily basis. We walk, we see, we feel the fabric of the neighborhood. We board a bus for a short ride and we are connected to greater humanity. And I'm not being melodramatic.
I know that without a car in Center City I got to know Philly in a way that I would never have experienced if I'd stayed in my car. Walking from river to river, biking to the Italian Market and beyond, what a great way to feel the neighborhoods, to get to know the people! I got my degree at Temple University in North Philly via the Broad Street Subway and my trusty Fuji!
Chicagoans KNOW that the city is way too congested; they want the transit to be there for them when they want it. They know good public transportation increases the value of their real estate. Easy access translates into more commerce, more diversity and opportunity -- in sum: a greater quality of life.
Do you have a favorite memory of a moment when a bus or train ride gave you that feeling of being connected to Chicago and greater humanity?
I could enumerate many dramatic moments that would be of interest, but for me it's not about one favorite memory.
The feeling I have as a commuter -- a deeper connection to Chicago and greater humanity -- has developed over a great deal of time. Remember, I've been car-free by choice for longer than some of your readers have been alive! So, call it a cumulative effect.
When I'm surrounded by strangers all being transported to different destinations, I am drawn to a sense of mystery; and at the same time I detect a similarity. Whatever the case may be, I suppose I merely enjoy being part of, contributing to the mystery that is humanity!