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Like many dedicated salespeople, Campbell is always selling. In the summer of 2009, she was invited to a party on a sailboat belonging to Geary Finn, a man she didn’t know. Less than a month later, Finn and his wife, Mariette, were drinking martinis with Campbell to celebrate writing what turned out to be the winning offer on a foreclosure in Mundelein that had been on the market for just one day. The Finns ended up paying the bank $69,300 for a three-bedroom ranch house previously valued at about $240,000. Geary, a contractor, put around $15,000 into the place, and he now rents it at $1,000 a month, enough that the home carries itself.
This summer, Campbell joined the Finns’ party on Michigan’s Mackinac Island after the storied Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac. “She made three real-estate [phone] calls while we were walking to an event,” Geary says. “She laughs all the time and she’s fun, but she lives and breathes foreclosures.”
Spend a little time with Campbell, and you will think you’ve discovered the perpetual-motion machine. One minute she’s walking a potential buyer into the bashed-up master bath of a Park Ridge foreclosure, warning him that “there are no potties left in the house.” The next minute she’s standing in the foyer, signing off on a phone call while throwing her jewelry-bedecked hands in the air to welcome another client who is coming up the walk.
“I’m sure you’ve gotten some of her fast-typed, fragmented e-mails,” Ott says. “I’ve learned to translate them pretty well.” They tend to open with greetings like “Hello Baby Doll” and brandish countless exclamation points.
Campbell gives two reasons she can maintain the killer pace. The first is the man she usually calls “my wife,” her husband, Michael Wallisch. Although he works as a maintenance engineer at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines, Wallisch handles virtually all the care of their two children, a 15-year-old daughter from Campbell’s first marriage and a six-year-old son, as well as their home in Algonquin. Her father, Robert Drwal, pitches in, too. (Her mother is deceased.)
The second reason? “I feel like I’m able to help people,” Campbell says. “If it’s a short sale, I can help them so it doesn’t get to foreclosure, [and if it is a] foreclosure, I want to be nonthreatening, help them get out of an embarrassing situation as gracefully as possible. I don’t want to see them get their stuff thrown out on the street, and I want them to know the bank doesn’t want to take their home.”
Campbell won’t reveal her income, but the commission is structured the same as for a conventional sale: typically around 3 percent each for the buying and selling agent. “I make a decent living,” she says. “I just bought a new car”—a $32,000 Volvo that she drives about 700 to 800 miles a week.
In the back of her Volvo, Campbell keeps equipment that a conventional real-estate agent would rarely need: rubber boots (for flooded basements), a hefty flashlight (for homes whose light fixtures have been carted away), duct tape, rubber gloves, a hammer, screwdrivers, and wrenches. On first entering a foreclosure, she never knows what to expect. There have been raccoons, roaches, trash bags stuffed with pot. “There are some [foreclosed homes], maybe 5 percent, that are cream puffs; 50 to 60 percent need something [repaired]; and 35 to 45 percent are not habitable,” she says.
Campbell understands the damage inflicted on a foreclosed house. “People get really sad when they lose their home,” she says. “I would. There’s a lot of anger and fear about what’s going to be the next part of their lives. They take it out on the house [as if they were] taking it out on the bank.”
What upsets her are the family photos she occasionally finds left behind. “I can understand if you’re moving out in a hurry you might leave some furniture,” Campbell says. “But pictures of your family? They’re your treasure. How can you go away without those?”