The REsource Newsletter
In This Issue
The Accidental REALTOR®
Craig Della Penna is something of an accidental real estate practitioner.
After spending his early career in the rail freight industry, he eventually landed at the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) as a political lobbyist and organizer. There, he developed an expertise in community organizing and bringing rails-to-trails conversions to fruition.
He routinely entered the fray when there were community disputes about rail-to-trails conversions and Della Penna GREEN, CRS, GRI, EcoBroker, Associate Broker at The Murphys REALTORS® in Northampton, Mass., and a 2017 EverGreen winner, has helped to build 1,000 miles of rail trails in communities across the Northeast.
But when his local RTC office closed, Della Penna was out of a job. He and his wife had been renovating an 1865 house—something of a blight in the community that local kids called a haunted house--and converting it to their home and a bed and breakfast inn. The Sugar Maple Trailside Inn, in Florence, Mass., a village of Northampton, is situated just eight feet from a rail trail, and Della Penna discovered that lots of his B&B guests came to town for biking trips.
Prospecting over bagels
He spotted an opportunity: Della Penna got his real estate license in 2004 and decided to specialize in marketing and selling historic houses and those located near rail trails.
It’s turned out to be the perfect niche. It lets him pursue all the things he’s passionate about--preservation, rail trails, and biking. And making a living.
To find new clients, he found that he didn’t need to look far. He was sharing a roof with some of them at the inn.
Every year, five to seven of his guests turn into clients. “Through the B&B, I’m building an inventory of future buyers,” he says.
Della Penna frequently capitalizes on that biking passion and tours clients around town on bikes and to showings.
It gives them lay of the land and it’s a subtle way for Della Penna to illustrate just how walkable and bikeable the community is. “People can get a feel for traffic, the connections to the trail, and they see how safely their kids could bike to school or to the library,” he says. And for some, the local trail could be a route to work a couple towns over.
Even as his real estate business grew, Della Penna stayed involved in the rails-to-trails movement. He’s an expert on the topic and remains an in-demand speaker.
He helps communities create “Friends-of-the-Trail” groups and advises its members on building community support, working with public agencies and officials, plowing through the bureaucratic morass, and figuring out how to ferry a project from inception to completion.
Staring down adversity
He says that getting a trails project built can be complex, messy, difficult, long, and contentious.
For one, there’s always vocal opposition. Residents often fear an influx of traffic, think that trails are a magnet for criminals, and worry that a trail will destroy the privacy of their yards and their property values.
Thus, he’s gotten adept at facing down angry crowds, remaining calm, and delivering persuasive pro-trail arguments.
“As REALTORS, our job is to keep clients off the roller coaster, keep them in the game, and avoid having them melt down,” Della Penna comments. That’s especially true in multiple-offer situations. Years of making his case for rail trails during pressure-packed public meetings has delivered an inner calm to Della Penna that helps him when a real estate transaction turns tense.
He also taps his rails-to-trail knowledge—he’s also written several books and delivered 1,200 lectures on the topic—for speaking gigs and continuing education classes for REALTORS®.
He relies on case studies, thousands of photos, and a slew of data to illustrate the value of trails to naysayers. And he’s able to draw direct connections between rail trails and topics like smart growth, land preservation, and desirable communities. His own research shows that homes that tout their proximity to the rail trail sell more quickly and a higher percentage of list price than the rest of the inventory in the market.
One of his most compelling arguments is how trails can help to draw Millennials to a community.
“They don’t want what they grew up with—suburban track housing with cul de sacs,” comments Della Penna. He sees Millennials wanting communities with sidewalks, porches, village centers, and historic building that have been converted to offices and housing. And the ability to hop on a trail to easily get from home to work and to play? Golden.
“The neighborhoods of the past are the neighborhoods of the future,” he says. “And that’s my specialty.”
A magical thing
And he deeply believes that these rail trails benefit every community and that they can bring value and quality of life to a place.
“Sustainability is not just insulation. It’s also about living sustainably and being close to recreation and your place of work,” says Della Penna. “So these trails are both recreational and utilitarian.”
His commitment is so strong that Della Penna doesn’t charge a speaking fee and will bring his knowledge anywhere--to any Rotary Club meeting, REALTOR® association event, or real estate company staff meeting if someone will spring for his airfare and house and feed him when he’s on the road.
“This is a magical thing that has happened in my life,” comments Della Penna. “Someone once described me as a Johnny Appleseed. Planting the seed and building these rail trail projects is my passion. And I’m having so much fun.”
“The neighborhoods of the past are the neighhoods of the future."
--Craig Della Penna GREEN, CRS, GRI, EcoBroker, associate broker, The Murphys REALTORS® and 2017 EverGreen Winner
REALTORS® Conference & Expo, Green-friendly Chicago
If you’ve never been to Chicago, you don’t know how lucky you are to get to experience it for the first time during the 2017 REALTORS® Conference & Expo NAR Expo & Convention (November 3-6) at Chicago’s McCormick Place.
It’s NAR’s hometown and we’re pretty proud of it.
And since the city has taken steps toward sustainability—from instituting a sustainability plan and adding bike lanes, to installing a green roof on city hall and providing energy efficiency services and products to homeowners—you’re landing in a place that embraces your green values.
Here’s just some of what’s to love and do during your free time.
Architectural greats, including Daniel Burnham, Frank Gehry, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright, have plied their trade in this city and left their mark. Discover some of their buildings on a Chicago Architecture Foundation walking tour.
Nature and parks
Thanks to architect Daniel Burnham views--“The Lakefront by right belongs to the people”—and his 1909 plan for Chicago, the lakefront and its vast parks have been kept for the enjoyment of all.
Spots worth visiting include the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond and the adjacent Lincoln Park Zoo and Lincoln Park Conservatory.
Birders shouldn’t miss the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, also known as the Magic Hedge. You also can connect with a birding pal while you’re here. Head toward the lake for a stellar view of downtown.
Getting around by bike is a cinch and the city has made huge strides in making Chicago more bike-friendly. An 18-mile biking and walking path along Lake Michigan is entirely free of cars, and the 606, an elevated trail, cuts through several north side neighborhoods. Bobby’s Bike Hike and Bike and Roll are options for bike rentals or guided tours. Divvy is a good choice for short rides.
Chicago has always been known for its 77 neighborhoods, each with distinct cultural and ethnic roots. You’d be missing out if you stuck just to the Loop and Michigan Avenue. Pick a neighborhood -- Chinatown, Hyde Park, or Pilsen, for example—and do some exploring.
Food and drink
Chicago has its share of sustainable dining options also.
The NAR will be providing solid education and networking events and opportunities for fun and relaxation.
Keep an eye out for full coverage of convention events and education sessions—including green MLS fields bringing value to your business, solar innovations, and market research and trends—in the October newsletter.
In the meantime, mark your calendar and save time for a Green Drinks mixer on Saturday evening. It’s a chance to have some meaningful conversations with fellow GREEN Designees and it’ll feature beer made with hops grown on the roof of McCormick Place. You’ll be getting an e-mail invitation.
Back to Bascis: Be Prepared Before Disaster Strikes
This Month's Tips: Launch a Rails-to-Trails Project
If you’re interested in getting a rails-to-trails project started in your community, you first need to build community support.
Find information, toolkits, and other resources at the Rails-to-trails Conservancy to help you get started.
1. Create a “Friends-of-the-Trail” group of committed people and organizations, and draft a mission statement and your objectives and timeline.
2. Identify high-profile champions like a mayors or city council reps who can support your cause and lend visibility and legitimacy to the project.
3. Organize events that get people out on the trail to see its potential and help you find more supporters.
The Imact of Home Staging
To stage or not to stage? The National Association of REALTORS’® 2017 Profile of Home Staging has some answers.
All articles written by Elyse Umlauf-Garneau unless otherwise noted