HARRISON, OH–After 30 years in the real-estate business, Jack Parker knew what he was: retired. His time in The Life had given him more than his share of ups and downs, and the veteran RE/MAX agent was finally out of the game for good, with a little house of his own and some money socked away. Yes, Jack Parker's days of proudly serving the home-buying needs of the greater Cincinnati area were over.
At least, that's what he thought.
Last Thursday, four months after hanging up his red RE/MAX blazer, Parker was drawn back in for one last big score. "I was out on the porch, taking a little nap, when I hear a guy walk up," Parker said. "I tell him go away, I don't want any of whatever he's selling, thank you, when a voice I never wanna hear again says he might have a job for me. And I think, oh, Christ. It's Sneaky Pete."
"Sneaky" Peter Kelp, a rattlesnake of a broker in his mid-40s who has had a hand in upwards of half of all Harrison home sales since the mid-1980s, had a job all lined up. And Parker, he knew, was the perfect guy to pull it off. All he had to do was bait the hook.
"Nice little place you got here, Jack," said Kelp, giving Parker's modest suburban split-level the once-over with what Hamilton County realty insiders call "the sharpest gimlet eye this side of the Ohio." "I mean, it's not where you'd expect a hot realtor to retire to, but I guess it keeps the dogs off your scent, so to speak."
Shooting Parker a telling sideways glance, Kelp added: "But it's no 1.5 acres of prime Harrison property with a 6.31 percent 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, either, you know what I mean?"
"I knew right then he was working an angle," Parker said. "He knew it hurt me to retire without that one last big score. But I wasn't about to get up out of my chaise lounge. The realty game cost me my health and a couple of perfectly good marriages. I wasn't about to go back to that. So I tell Sneaky Pete I'm retired, and that there ain't enough commission in the world, and that he can get off my property, thank you very much, and who the hell ever heard of a three bedroom/four baths on a prime piece of Hamilton County property for just $237,851, anyway? But he just smiles and throws a picture of a house in my lap."
"And, oh, man, what a house," Parker added.
Through his various realty-world connections, Kelp had been able to secure guarantees on a 3,200-square-foot one-story home on Westlake Court, an area with low property taxes and good public schools.
"Sneaky Pete says to me, 'It's the one last big score every realtor dreams of,'" Parker said. "'The commission on this, you simply would not believe. It's a cream puff, a lead-pipe cinch in the right hands. But that's the catch: I gotta move it in 30 days, or it reverts back to the client's estate for tax reasons. I gotta do this now, Jackie Boy, and that means I need your magic.'"
Parker sighed, put his head in his hands, and told Kelp to ankle it off his half-acre lot.
"I just waited," Kelp told reporters. "I knew it wouldn't be long. I left the photos and the floor plan there. And he hadn't said no."
Two nights later, Kelp received a call from Parker shortly before 3 a.m.
"Okay, damn you," Parker said. "I'm in. But we do it my way this time, with my guys. And no screwups, Kelp. I'm not letting you do me like that splanch in Walnut Hills."
Parker soon had his scheme nailed down.
"We get a guy interested, see," Parker said. "We show him pictures and tell him how lovely the place is: the all-new moldings, the built-in fireplace, the vaulted ceilings. 'They don't make 'em like this anymore,' that whole rap. Then we pick him up wherever he wants, in broad daylight. He doesn't suspect a thing. We take him right in through the front door, just like we own the place, hand on his arm. Real friendly. Real friendly. We lead him around, maybe I say something about the screened-in porch or flagstone patio or some snow job like that, and I sneak behind him so I can see him but he can't see me. Then, when he walks through the French doors into the living room... blammo!"
Parker then smacked his fist into his palm to illustrate the buyer's reaction upon seeing the broad expanse of hardwood flooring leading up to the bay window with the view of Pike's Pond.
To make sure things go as smoothly as a double-glazed picture window, Parker has contacted all of his old associates from the realty game.
"It ain't gonna be easy," Parker said. "I must've cased the joint with Kelp a million times. I had two specialists drive down from Dayton with a truck full of fancy equipment to sweep the place for bugs. I got the best roofer in the business, Big Beef Manzo, checking the shingles. And, if things get down and dirty, I just call in Joe The Cleaner to have a little talk with the client. He'll clean the place up nice."
Kelp said he never had any doubt that Parker would be in on the plan. And he has no doubt about his motivation.
"Parker isn't doing it for the money," Kelp said. "He thinks he is. But I know why he's really doing it: the thrill of the sale. It's in his blood. He loves the plan, the pitch, the drama of it all. It's the only thing in his life he's ever been good at, and he knows it. It took him all of 36 hours to call me after he threw me off his acreage. Oh, he's in, all right. He's in for life."