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Marty Max, Past RPBG President and Current Member of the Finance Committee

Whenever I do one of these profiles, I always like to start by emailing a short list of written questions so that the person I’m profiling can get a head start on what I want to cover.

Marty Max – ever diligent and responsive – sent me back a detailed response one day after the 4th of July holiday, despite hosting his extended family at his lake house in Southern Wisconsin for the long weekend, and despite all the other responsibilities he is constantly juggling with his own properties and a portfolio of third-party properties he manages.

One particular response caught my eye. I asked Marty why he remains so deeply involved in the RPBG organization after so many years of dedicated service to the group. He said this:

“I believe in what the RPBG is: a group of great housing providers who are truly unselfish that care about their community and their tenants.”

If anyone in our organization is living proof that this statement is true, it is Marty Max. There are a lot of great people in our organization, and I have had the privilege of profiling many of them. But Marty stands apart as someone who is just always there for everyone else. He has played a key role in keeping the organization running. He is always, ALWAYS willing to give out free advice, information, assistance, or just about anything else when asked (and he gets asked a lot)!

If I had to pick one word to describe Marty, it would be “selfless.” He is the definition of service to others and to his community, however you care to define it. Quite honestly, Marty is one of my personal heroes and I know I’m not alone. This profile is long overdue.

So who is the amazing Mr. Max? What got him going in real estate and how did he get involved with RPBG? Marty didn’t really start his career in real estate until he was 40 years old. Up to that point, Marty and his father-in-law owned and operated a business selling men’s accessories – mostly hats and caps but also gloves and scarves – to large retail establishments like Sears Roebuck.

As we all now know, retail has seen some pretty big changes over the past few decades with the rise of the internet and on-line shopping. Ask any random Gen-Z about Sears Roebuck and you’ll probably be met with a blank stare. Like a lot of people in the retail world, Marty recognized that he was going to have to shift gears to be able to continue to make a good living. He decided real estate, and especially apartments, seemed like a safer bet since people always need someplace to live. It also gave him the flexibility to be his own boss and have more control over his life.

Marty’s first venture into real estate was the purchase of a 3-flat in Logan Square which he fixed up and resold at a nice profit. His next acquisition was a 24-unit building which he converted into condos. As his business grew, Marty bought some buildings for condo conversion and others that he maintained as apartments. Over the next decade, he created and sold hundreds of condos and built up a solid portfolio of rental properties.

Doing both condos and apartments proved to be a good strategy after the condo market hit a wall and condo sales suddenly dried up after the onset of the Great Recession in 2008. In recent years, Marty has further diversified his business by adding third-party management services to his own portfolio of rental properties.

Marty got involved with RPBG early in his real estate career and credits former RPBG President Michael Wallk for inviting him to attend his first meeting. It has now been 24 years that Marty has been involved with RPBG. He says he was instantly hooked and has never regretted getting involved.

Over his long run with the organization, Marty served as President for six years and has been Vice President at least a few times “always following Michael Glasser.” Marty and Mike are close personal friends as well as colleagues. Marty says he finds members of RPBG to be very intelligent and equally willing to help others learn from their experience as housing providers and housing advocates, a trait he finds both “unselfish and refreshing.”

Marty more than anyone has taken the role of housing advocate to heart. Anyone who knows Marty knows that he has THE BEST (often verging on alarming) stories about being a housing provider. Marty’s stories are legendary and have kept RPBG members enthralled for years. Marty regaled us with some of these stories in his “As I See It” column that appeared in The Builder during his six years as President. Our readers loved these stories which were often the first thing people wanted to read when a new Newsletter came out.

Marty’s “take no prisoners” style carries through in his story-telling. I think Marty secretly enjoys the reaction of his audience when he tells them about his many unbelievable experiences with wayward tenants, over-zealous city officials, or the never-ending madness of Housing Court (Marty never uses the word “Housing” when describing this particular court – he prefers substituting another word for a famous Australian marsupial). These stories are always super entertaining and funny, but also educational and, quite often, surreal. They are the kind of “only in Chicago” stories that Marty has mastered, and that the rest of us crave.

In all seriousness though, Marty says that his role as housing advocate during his years as President was highly rewarding. This was a difficult period for RPBG which suffered along with the rest of the neighborhood and the city in the wake of the devastation of the Great Recession. These years and their aftermath put a lot of developers out of business while many housing providers struggled to keep current on their mortgages and maintain their properties.

Throughout this time, Marty provided real leadership within the organization, helping people navigate the difficulties of the economy and the byzantine rules and regulations of operating properties in Chicago. Marty did more than anyone to get us through what was a historically difficult period, setting the organization up for success once we got to the other side.

Of course, while Rogers Park and RPBG are in much better shape today than they were 10 to 15 years ago, we have our own challenges in the present moment. First among these is the continued and growing adversity our industry faces from many public officials, particularly on the far-left of the political spectrum. Marty says “everything is harder and more complicated” for housing providers who face high tenant expectations and many challenges from lenders, insurance providers, the housing courts, city building inspectors, etc.

Marty is also concerned about where the city is going, and what it means for housing in Rogers Park and across the city. Marty worries that the costs of owning and operating housing continue to increase faster than rents, making it harder to profitably own and operate rental units. Much of this is due to publicly-imposed mandates and red tape.

Marty cites real estate taxes and water as two glaring examples of the City’s money madness. How ironic that Chicago sits right next to the world’s largest supply of fresh water while owners of real estate have to pay some of the highest water and sewer fees in the country. As for real estate taxes, they keep escalating at rates far beyond inflation with no end in sight.

Marty has long railed against housing inspectors and the housing court system that seem designed primarily to extract money from housing providers and only secondarily to ensure good building maintenance or the enforcement of reasonable building codes.

Tenant protection laws, in Marty’s view, have tilted much too strongly in favor of tenants and against housing providers. This allows tenants with bad intentions an easy time gaming the system and living rent-free during lengthy and cumbersome eviction procedures. The toll on housing providers is high and rising. Money lost in these procedures can never be recouped.

Despite all these challenges, Marty still tells new housing providers to remember a few simple things. Tenants deserve a clean and safe place to live and should be treated with the same respect and dignity as anyone else. Marty says “make sure you can sleep at night knowing that you have tried to do the right thing.”

Marty is proud of the fact that he was one of the people who first conceived of the Neighborhood Building Owner’s Alliance (NBOA) and helped get it off the ground. Marty gives current RPBG President Michael Glasser a big thumbs up for the incredible work he has done in recent years to head this important organization and use it to advocate on behalf of housing providers and other neighborhood housing groups around the city.

The need for organizations like RPBG and the NBOA has never been greater as housing providers in Chicago continue to be besieged with unfriendly legislation from the City, County and State. Marty worries that this assault in not finished, and that rent control and other ill-conceived measures could yet become law in Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois. It’s a constant uphill battle – and Marty has always been one of the people leading the charge.

Of course, everything in Marty’s life does not revolve around real estate. Marty is a big family man and loves nothing more than spending time with his wife and kids and grandkids, particularly at his lake house in Southern Wisconsin. Marty is also a loyal friend. Consider the fact that Marty has gotten together with six college buddies for dinner every Wednesday night – FOR THE PAST 44 YEARS!

Oh, and did I mention? Marty is a bit of a Cubs fan…

OK, Marty is the ULTIMATE CUBS FAN – a lifelong devotee and season ticket holder for decades. Marty is not one to cry, but happily admitted to me that one of the few times he broke down was when the Cubs won the World Series, fulfilling a life-long dream that many Cubs fans despaired of ever seeing in their lifetimes.

But not Marty – he always knew they’d come through. And, just a few minutes after midnight on November 3, 2016 in the 10th inning of the 7th game against the Cleveland Indians, they did!

One more thing Marty is proud of and insisted I include in this article. He says he gets full credit for appointing me Newsletter-Writer-In-Chief. I may be Marty’s biggest fan, but he says he’s a fan of mine as well for doing this job for the past 12 years.

Marty will continue to be our biggest housing advocate, an invaluable source of knowledge and experience, and the person always guaranteed to have the funniest, most unbelievable and sometimes hair-curling stories about the trials and tribulations of being a housing provider in Chicago. Let’s just say, no good deed goes unpunished. Ask Marty sometime. I’m sure he will regale you with stories that, if you didn’t know they were true, you would probably never believe!




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