Jerry Ettinger, RPBG Director

Jerry’s direct involvement with RPBG is relatively recent, and it has only been a little over a year that Jerry accepted Mike Glasser’s invitation to become an RPBG Director. But Jerry is no newcomer to real estate. In fact, there are few people in our organization with Jerry’s broad experience.

After interviewing Jerry for this article, I came to one firm conclusion: the man never sleeps! He probably gets a wink in from time to time. But Jerry is a multi-tasker if ever there was one and can do in a day what most of us would take a week to accomplish! Jerry describes himself as someone who can’t sit still and is always looking for the next challenge.

Jerry is also a Chicagoan through and through, with deep ties to Rogers Park. Born in North Lawndale, Jerry moved with his family at age 8, first to East Rogers Park, then to Albany Park, and finally to West Rogers Park. Jerry went to the University of Illinois at Chicago (then called “Circle”), majoring in Mathematics Education. After graduation, Jerry got his first job teaching math at Orr High School in West Garfield Park. Within a few years, Jerry became Chairman of the Math Department.

This part-time endeavor taught Jerry how to prospect for business, gain people’s trust, make a compelling presentation, and then close the sale.

But it was not his experience as an educator that led Jerry to his successful career in real estate. It was a side job to help augment his CPS salary that taught him the skills that eventually led him to change careers. What was this side job, you might ask? The answer may surprise you. Jerry sold encyclopedias door-to-door – and found that he was really good at it.

Selling encyclopedias might not seem like an obvious entry into real estate. But this part-time endeavor taught Jerry how to prospect for business, gain people’s trust, make a compelling presentation, and then close the sale.

Jerry says his “lightbulb moment” came when he sold a 41-unit, mixed use building at Lunt and Sheridan. The commission on this sale was more than he had ever made in a year of teaching.

Eventually, changes in consumer laws made it a lot harder to sell encyclopedias, so Jerry took a break from his sales job and set his sights on becoming a high school Principal. To do that, Jerry needed to go back to school for a Master’s Degree in Education. Jerry enrolled at DePaul, working at Orr by day and taking classes by night.

Shortly after receiving his master’s degree, Jerry decided to take a class in real estate. He was instantly smitten and, for the first time, began to think about whether this might be something he wanted to do full-time. He got his Broker’s License, found a sponsoring broker, and made his first sale within a week of being hired. More sales kept coming.

Jerry was still teaching while working part-time as a broker. But, at the end of the school year in June 1977, he took a leap of faith (and a leave of absence from Orr) to see if he could do real estate full-time. Early in his new career, Jerry began canvassing the East of Sheridan area in Rogers Park, shifting his focus from residential to multifamily properties. Jerry says his “lightbulb moment” came when he sold a 41-unit, mixed use building at Lunt and Sheridan. The commission on this sale was more than he had ever made in a year of teaching. Jerry was hooked and never looked back.

Not long after that 41-unit sale, Jerry found a client who owned a 160-unit, four-plus-one apartment building at 6610 N. Sheridan Road. The client had only owned it a year and did not plan to sell. But, he agreed to let Jerry market the building if he could get what seemed like an eye-popping price. Jerry took the challenge and found a buyer, giving the seller an 80% return on his investment. The seller was so impressed that the two men ended up starting their own company. This is how Jerry and business partner, Jeff Kolodny, founded what came to be known as Hallmark & Johnson. Jerry ran the brokerage division and Jeff ran property management. The year was 1979.

Jerry and business partner, Jeff Kolodny, founded what came to be known as Hallmark & Johnson. Jerry ran the brokerage division and Jeff ran property management.

In 1995, the partners decided to split the company into separate brokerage and management entities, both retaining variations of the name, “Hallmark and Johnson.” At its peak, Jerry’s brokerage division employed a full-time staff of five and 30 commissioned brokers. The company continued to grow rapidly, expanding from its North Side and North Shore roots across the entire Chicagoland area.

But 2008 brought new challenges that caught Jerry by surprise and forced changes to his company. Not only did the Great Recession put a sudden and dramatic end to most sales activity, it also marked the beginning of some profound shifts in technology that Jerry acknowledges he was slow to recognize and adapt to.

The end result was a smaller company with a new focus on acquisitions as Jerry began buying deeply discounted properties in the wake of the recession, building his own real estate portfolio. Along the way, he also changed the Hallmark and Johnson name to Ettinger Realty. While Jerry remains focused on apartments, he also owns some retail and office properties in locations from Hyde Park to the North Side Lakefront and northern suburbs.

Rising real estate taxes is Jerry’s number one concern, but Jerry also worries about the increasing number of laws and ordinances harmful to property owners.

Jerry has always had a relationship with RPBG through his long affiliation with Al Goldberg, one of his early employees and colleagues at Hallmark and Johnson. But it is only in recent years that Jerry became a member of the group. As he describes it, he was “blown away” by the caliber of the people in the organization when he first started attending monthly meetings and relished the sharing of information that always took place.

Of course, Mike Glasser played a pivotal role in getting Jerry involved. Jerry gives Mike full credit for all the amazing work he does on behalf of small property owners, both as President of RPBG and the NBOA.

While Jerry remains a huge fan of his native city, with its vibrant culture and magnificent Lakefront, Jerry also worries about the ever increasing costs of doing business due, in no small part, to growing interference from our elected officials. Rising real estate taxes is Jerry’s number one concern, but Jerry also worries about the increasing number of laws and ordinances harmful to property owners.

Jerry believes too many politicians choose to solve the problems of one group of people at the expense of another, coming up with quick fixes rather than thoughtful, long-term solutions. Ironically, this approach often ends up harming the very people these elected officials think they are helping. Jerry knows first-hand that many good investors and developers are leaving Chicago and shifting their capital and efforts to other cities with friendlier political climates and stronger growth potential.

Jerry has played a prominent role in Chicago real estate and is a wealth of knowledge about the city and the industry.

But don’t think that Jerry is all business and no play. Jerry is very much a family man and has lots of interests and passions beyond his work. Jerry and his wife Liz have been married for 49 years and have two daughters and four grandchildren – two each in San Francisco and Evanston. Jerry’s happiest times are being grandpa which he gets to do often with his two Evanston grandchildren.

Jerry is also an avid sports fan. His major regret is giving up 20 years of season tickets to the Cubs only to see them win the World Series four years later! He does not intend to make that same mistake with the Bears where he is still a season ticket holder!

Jerry also loves poker and is part of a group that has played regularly for the past 30 years! Jerry finds a lot of similarities between the game of poker and negotiating a real estate transaction. Giving back to the community is also a priority. Jerry is a long-time supporter of the Jewish United Fund and St. Jude’s Hospital.

Jerry has played a prominent role in Chicago real estate and is a wealth of knowledge about the city and the industry. If you haven’t had the opportunity to talk to Jerry directly, don’t miss out. He looks forward to getting to know other RPBG members and sharing his thoughts about Chicago real estate.