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Desperate measure for desperate suburban home seller
By Kimberly Pohl | Daily Herald Staff

Pamela Olander of Palatine bought a digital billboard ad to try to sell a speculative house in an auction today.


Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Pamela Olander of Palatine bought a digital billboard ad to try to sell a speculative house in an auction today.


Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

The owners of this Palatine home will try to sell it in a noon auction today.


Daniel White | Staff Photographer

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Published: 8/2/2008 12:04 AM

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The French doors, custom windows and hardwood floors in Pamela Olander's home are beautiful.

They're also bleeding her dry.

Unable to unload the Palatine house Olander and her husband built as an investment, they've turned to guerrilla marketing tactics.

Thousands of drivers can find a pajama-clad Olander plastered on a digital billboard along Route 53, advertising an open auction that takes place at the home at noon today.

"The idea is I'm not going to sleep until I sell this property," Olander said, who lives elsewhere in Palatine.

Unfortunately for her, the ad isn't fictional. She said she's developed migraines and insomnia knowing the project has wiped out her savings.

The original April listing price for the four-bedroom, three-bathroom house at 411 S. Hart St. was $799,000. Today's minimum bid is $500,000, though she's not obligated to accept an offer.

"This has been very taxing emotionally and financially," Olander said. "I doubt we'll break even, so this is going to be a very costly learning experience."

Olander and her husband Joshua Kalfus, who owns a roof repair company, have bought and sold a dozen or so fixer-uppers. They've done a lot of the work themselves. But this was the teardown-and-rebuild for them.

The other difference, of course, was the collapse of the housing market since they bought the property in spring 2006.

"I didn't have the crystal ball to see the downturn in real estate," she said.

The conventional broker route proved fruitless, so Olander has blitzed the market with news of her auction through newspaper ads, Craigslist, a Web site and the billboard, which together have cost thousands of dollars.

The digital billboard is a relatively new medium but growing in popularity since the content can be posted quickly and easily changed. Clear Channel Outdoor operates 10 digital billboards in the Chicago area, including the one off Route 53. The company says Olander's ad is the first of its kind. Two versions of her ad rotate between three unrelated ads every 90 seconds.

"We think we're on the cutting edge of this and could be on to something," she said. "Desperate times call for desperate measures."

Auctions are common in rural towns, but today more and more urban single-family homes are sold through auctions - and because of foreclosure, said Steven Good, chairman and CEO of Chicago-based Sheldon Good and Co. Auctions.

"The trend has increased greatly," Good said. "Our pipeline of single-family residential is up 30 percent this year."

Two or three years ago, the international firm mostly handled highly desired trophy homes and properties with quirks like unusual floor plans. Today, the inventory often includes properties burdened with carrying costs that can reach 2 percent of the market value each month.

"People are seeing falling prices and an investment that won't be recouped," Good said. "The longer they hold it, the worse off they are."

Licensed Illinois auctioneer James Drury, who's served as a consultant to Olander, likes her chances today.

"I think she has a very good chance of selling ... even in this market," he said. "Once the public is more educated, you're going to see more of this."

As for Olander, she realizes she took a gamble and lost.

"It will be a long time to build back what we lost," she said. "It's been a mountain of headaches, but I'm in the same boat as a lot of people."

Doors open at 10 a.m. and the auction begins at noon. Go to for details.