Two weeks earlier.
Sally Benson was sipping champagne in the first class section of a Swissair 747 enroute from New York to Switzerland. She had always enjoyed first class privileges. Spacious seats, fine wine and attentive stewards made her feel special from people crammed behind her eating sub par food with plastic utensils. And this flight was even more enjoyable because it was free.
She had received a telephone call from a Mr. Welty who identified himself as a senior vice-president of Union Suisse in Zurich. Welty said he was inviting her to Switzerland to discuss a real estate venture on behalf of a client. His client held a confidential numbered account with the bank so he was not at liberty to disclose his name. He could assure her though that the account was sizeable. The money was to be invested in real estate through her agency Benson & Stanley of which she was the majority owner.
Sally of course immediately had a number of questions. Among them, “just how sizeable was the account?” To which Welty had replied, “sizeable enough for you to come to Switzerland and discuss it.”
She had talked the offer over with her partner Beth Stanley who had urged her to go. Business was not exactly booming in the Greenwich/Darien, Connecticut market they served; down from last year at this time by twenty percent. They had nothing to lose by her going.
Two days later she was picked up by a chauffeur driven limo and whisked off to Kennedy Airport. She would arrive in Zurich the following day for a noon meeting with Welte.
Now she walked down Zurich’s fashionable Bahnhofstrasse past the elegant shops that lined both sides of the wide street. She had all she could do to avoid going into places like Gucci, Faberge, Tiffany, and Dansk whose windows tempted her along the way. A mannequin in a De la Renta boutique dressed in a chic business suit almost drew her inside, but the suit was priced at nine hundred dollars. Besides it wouldn’t look good on her fifty-seven year old body that was at least fifteen pounds overweight. There wasn’t time to try it on anyway.
A few minutes later she entered the main lobby of Union Suisse, the largest bank in Europe based on total assets. She was right on time for her appointment. The Swiss were known for their punctuality. She would offer them the same courtesy.
An efficient looking secretary at the information desk glanced at her business card and informed her that Rolf Welty, the bank manager was awaiting her arrival. Mr. Welty would see her immediately in his third floor conference room. A bank assistant escorted her upstairs.
She found Welty, an impeccably dressed man of about fifty, standing behind a highly polished mahogany desk. He took her hand, and with a slight bow kissed it.
“Welcome to Zurich, Ms Benson. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said politely.
“And you also,” Sally replied. How nice to be in Switzerland she thought, where men were still kissing women’s hands.
“I’m very sorry we asked you to come here on such short notice, but I’m afraid it was unavoidable. My client is very anxious to move forward,” Welty said pulling back a chair for her to sit in. “May I have my secretary get you something to drink? Tea? Coffee?”
Sally declined, anxious to find out what she had traveled four thousand miles for.
Welte sat down across the desk from her and took papers from a leather bound folder.
He again explained that his client wanted to invest in real estate through a numbered account, but this time added that her agency would have an exclusive on all transactions.
Sally took note of the word exclusive, which was magic in the real estate business and then asked, “Could you be specific as to exactly what type of properties he’s interested in?”
“Why yes, I can be very specific,” Welty said smiling. “His interest is in residential waterfront properties on Arrowhead Lake in Marbury, Connecticut in the million dollar range. We understand you have sold homes on Arrowhead in the past.”
“Yes, we have,” Sally replied slightly confused. Arrowhead Lake, she thought. Nice homes, but not that many come on the market at one time. “How much is your client prepared to spend?” she asked.
Welte shuffled through the papers and said, “My client’s account is currently funded at twenty million dollars. He’s prepared to add more if necessary.”
Sally tried to hide the surprised expression she knew was on her face by reaching into her purse to take out a notebook. She had to stop herself from doing the multiplication in her head as to what her and Beth’s commission would be on twenty million. “And he’s only interested in the Arrowhead Lake area…..nothing else?” she added.
“That’s correct Ms. Benson.”
“May I ask why?”
“Certainly,” Welty replied. “My client believes that real estate on the lake will continue to rise. And now that U.S. interest rates are very low, the properties will be more affordable to potential buyers. He believes he can get a very high return on his investment, although long term, if he moves now.”
“I agree,” Sally said, “but the amount of lakeshore homes coming on the market is limited. Typically the Spring is the busiest time and so far we only have about three that fit your client’s price range.”
“Well I can assure you Ms Benson that if they fit these specifications, my client is prepared to buy all three.” Welty said. The smile on his face was one Sally had seen before. It was a smile the wealthy wore when their unlimited funds could buy anything they wanted. Welty slid a single piece of paper across the desk.
Sally scanned the specifications which were minimal. Outside of liens on a property, all this client was interested in was that it was lakeshore, in relatively good condition, not overly taxed and had adequate septic (which was important with new EPA guidelines in effect for lakeshore homes.) All of the details usually included were missing. This guy simply wanted million dollar properties on Arrowhead without asking a lot of questions.
“The properties I now have available certainly meet these requirements,” Sally said handing back the paper, “but is your client willing to buy them sight unseen?”
“My client is leaving the decision to purchase in your good hands, Ms Benson,” Welty said crossing his arms across his chest. Sally thought the statement was either a gesture of faith or complete optimism as to what the properties would be worth in the future.
“Well I’m certainly grateful for his confidence and will do my best to serve him,” Sally said.
“I’m certain you will.”
There was a pause in the conversation as both waited for the other to continue. Finally Welte said. “Our bank will make all the purchases on behalf of our client by wire to your agency. We ask that you also provide legal counsel which of course you will bill us for; as well as all incidentals. Also we’re aware that you’re providing services beyond the normal real estate arrangement and for that we will compensate you with an additional five percent bringing your commission to a total of twelve percent.”
“That’s very generous,” Sally said. Generous was an understatement. Welty was providing her with a buyer willing to purchase everything she could bring him. Normally it took months of expensive advertising and countless showings to sell a million dollar home. Also, she often had to share commissions with listing agents. With this agreement she had an exclusive. The whole commission was her’s and Beth’s. “I of course am very curious who this generous client is,” she added.
While Welty had been smiling at her reaction to what her compensation would be, he now took on the posture of a typical Swiss banker.
“We are under obligation to keep any information about a numbered account strictly confidential,” he said firmly. “No one, neither the Swiss government, nor any other government can obtain information about the account. A Swiss examining judge has the right to conduct a search of the bank within the context of a criminal case, but in all other instances, the holder of the account is to remain secret.”
Welty of course had discreetly looked into the client’s background as a matter of routine. His client was chairman of an American conglomerate and personally worth several hundred million dollars. His request of the bank to directly purchase property on behalf of his account was unusual, but not a first. For a hefty fee, the bank was happy to do it. Why this property was to be purchased in a limited area and why the buyer’s identity was to remain secret, was none of their business, Nor did they want it to be.
“I trust you will agree to my client’s anonymity,” Welty concluded.
“Certainly,” Sally responded. Are you kidding? For this kind of money she didn’t care if he was Jack the Ripper.
The meeting went on for another hour to go over details of the arrangement. It was agreed that Sally’s agency would present offers on all three houses now available. If the responses were agreeable to the client, they would be purchased as soon as possible.
Benson & Stanley would remain diligent as to new listings in the area that fit the criteria and would immediately move to purchase pending client approval. Welty provided a contract to which Sally made minimal changes and the deal was sealed with a handshake. The amended contract would be sent within a few days for Beth Stanley’s signature.
Sally left the bank in a hurry to get back to her hotel. She was just bursting to tell Beth the good news. But she had one stop to make first.
Minutes later she was in the Oscar De la Renta boutique trying on the nine hundred dollar suit she had seen in the window. If a woman is going to sell real estate worth millions she has to be dressed properly. The suit had to be let out in a few places and tucked in others. And then she saw a great evening dress. Her daughter had urged her to start dating again after her husband died four years ago. She had been reluctant, but now all sorts of possibilities seemed to be opening up. Nine hundred for the suit, six hundred for the dress? No problem.
Other ebooks by Bob Neidhardt: Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com.