Living Legends Mogul Monopoly

I wanted to test my skill in real estate’s ultimate board game against four of the biggest Realtors in town. I got squashed.

WHEN EBBY HALLIDAY, ELLEN TERRY. JUDY PITTMAN, AND Eleanor Mowery-Sheets, the reigning divas of Dal las residential real estate, agreed to play me in a game of Monopoly. I called home. “Honey,” my wife needled me, “you better start practicing with one eye closed, or better yet, wearing an eye patch.” She thinks 1 get nervous around clever women – a notion I’ve been trying to dispel ever since my right eye inexplicably swelled shut an hour before our wedding. My wife still believes that the puffy eye was a result of the jitters. 1 think it was a spider bite or carpet fumes. Anyway, Dave Perry-Miller had also agreed to join our competition, so at least there would be another man.

Ebby ultimately had to drop out due to an 1lth-hour conflict, but not before her assistant called me, giggling. She and Ebby were training on a novelty version of Monopoly that included a piece of property named Ebby Halliday Realtors. “Ebby just landed on herself and bought it,” the assistant cheerfully reported. “She wants to know if she can bring her own board.”

Ellen and Dave were the first players to arrive at our comer room at the Crescent Club, one claiming she had never played Monopoly in her life and the other- Dave- claiming he hadn’t played in years, not since the discovery of plastic.

In the lull before the start, our sponsors, Murdock Richard of Park Cities Mortgage and Angela Reynolds of Chicago Title, took their places. (If you want to convince the five most successful real estate agents in town to waste an afternoon playing Monopoly, you have to do it for a charity -in this case, Notre Dame School-and to do that, you need sponsors.) Murdock counted out the familiar, white, pink, yellow, and blue bills into $1,500 piles, each player’s starting stake, while Angela organized the properties into neat rows. Gamemaster Sherry Merfish brushed up on the rules. Sherry’s the reigning Texas Monopoly champion, so we flew her up for the match. In her very first tournament. Sherry racked up the highest Monopoly score in the state in the preceding four years.

When Judy and Eleanor arrived, we decided on a timed game. Whoever had the most money and property at the end of two hours would be crowned the winner and could dash to the printer with something new to put on their business cards: “Monopoly Champ Among Dallas’ Leading Realtors.”

The game got serious. Quick. A few rolls in. Eleanor leaned hard on the table and lasered her cobalt eyes on me. Her husband, Nicky Sheets, the second half of Team Eleanor, sat behind her studying the play. Propped on her elbows, Eleanor arched to full seated height. She loomed over Virginia Avenue like her billboard image looms over the Tollway. She wanted the B&O Railroad. She already had the Pennsylvania. She bought it at auction for $260 in a bidding war with Dave after I witlessly turned it down.

“What do you want for it?” she pressed.

“St, James Place and $50 bucks.”

Eleanor closed the deal so fast it made my ears bum. Everyone at the table, including me, knew that I had made my second irrevocable error; selling the B&O for a pitiful $30 profit. My first mistake was thinking I could match wits with the sharpest real estate players in town. In retrospect, my overconfidence was attributable to a marathon weekend practice session with my children, the oldest of whom is 12. The thoroughness of my victory was perhaps muted by the kids’ casual attitude toward insolvency. “I don’t care if 1 go bankrupt,” the 5-year-old chirped repeatedly,”I’ll just get more money from Dad.”

No sooner had Eleanor snapped up half of the railroads than she paused and addressed the table. “Can 1 have a substitute for 30 minutes while I go make a phone call?” She motioned to Nicky.

The request was met with aggrieved silence. “Well, let’s think about this,” Ellen Terry countered, her own cellular phone poised nearby. (Phones rang incessantly all afternoon, sometimes two at once, a symphony of personalized ringers,) “1 think we could arrange it fora price. How about I take your money? Dave and Judy can have your property.”

Nicky took Eleanor’s seat and various strategies emerged. Judy began assembling the red properties: Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois avenues. 1 bought and traded my way to a monopoly of the green properties: Pacific, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania avenues. Sherry later confirmed what my dwindling money pile made plain -mine was the most expensive and least traveled side of the board because it gets skipped over whenever a player is summoned to jail. Ellen seemed to focus more on cash than property, while Nicky reluctantly added to Eleanor’s railroads.

Dave aggressively acquired the light blue trio: Oriental, Vermont, and Connecticut avenues, which, next to Baltic and Mediterranean. are the cheapest on the board.

“It reminds me,” he admitted early, raking in a measly 56 rent payment, “of those properties I used to own on Belmont and Palo Pinto. Some days I was lucky to get $6,” After repeated teasing about his Monopoly slumlord status, Dave bristled, “Hey, listen,” he scolded us, “I have a place in Arizona and a house in Nantucket because 1 bought a bunch of cheap stuff years ago.”

With that he whipped out $600 to put four houses on each. I watched with amazement as. not one hour into the game, he erected a wall of green. Instantly, Dave’s rent exploded from $6 to $400. Every pass of Go now meant catastrophe for whomever landed on the baby blues.

Nicky didn’t know that he was sitting on a gold mine with the railroads until he got the fourth. For much of the game, he tried to get Dave to swap him Boardwalk for the rails. Nicky already owned Park Place. “I don’t know why,” Dave said over and over, “but I’ve never really liked Boardwalk and Park Place.” Whether he wanted Boardwalk or not, Dave understands realty’s golden rule: Never insult a buyer waiving a fistful of cash. “1 tell you what,” he quietly suggested,”Why don’t you give me the three railroads, $100, and two rent-free lands.”

Nicky was puzzled. “Do you mean free rent?”

“In official Monopoly,” Sherry politely chided Dave, “there is no such thing as ’free rent.”’

“Listen,” Dave shot back, referring to the real world, where Eleanor was out in the hallway making calls, “we have free rent. In fact. I’ve paid people to get out of my places.”

The rules were enforced. Negotiations stalled. Nicky dropped the Boardwalk trade and focused his attention on acquiring the Short Line. Judy had it but wasn’t interested in completing Team Eleanor’s monopoly. She was right to be wary. In spite of the fact that you can’t put houses or hotels on railroads or increase rent beyond the maximum of $200, the fact that there are four of them, one on every side of the board, makes them cash cows. In this year’s national Monopoly championship, a 20-year-old kid from Vermont road the rails to a payday in Vegas.

Nicky got nowhere in his efforts to convince Judy to sell to him.Then she landed on Dave’s Oriental Avenue. Bang. $400. Judy was property rich and cash poor. Dave tried to make a deal which sounded like a sweetheart to me: the last railroad and cash totaling $300 in lieu of $400. But Judy knew how valuable that final railroad was. If Dave got it. the game was basically over. So Judy gritted her teeth and sold it herself to Nicky for $500.

From that point on, it was a race between Nicky and Dave to see who could collect the most rent and wipe out the rest of us.

I had been in a trance ever since I had to sell my houses back to the bank to pay Dave’s rent. I was gradually reduced to spacing out my one dollar bills just to have something to spread out in front of me. Even the stale champ broke her neutrality to mock me. “Jeff.” she announced to great laughter when I sighed loudly upon receiving $150 out of the Community Chest, then had to pay it back after landing on Income Tax. “you’re living from paycheck to paycheck.”

Dave attempted to soften my growing desperation while he upgraded his houses to I hotels. New rent: $600. One unlucky land and I was out. Broke.

Time was running out. With only two minutes to go, Ellen landed on Dave’s Connecticut Avenue. Rent: $600. Ellen didn’t have the cash. In fact, Ellen had somehow coasted along for the entire game with a grab-bag portfolio that she referred to only by color. While the rest of us craned our necks to get the street names right, Ellen had pared the game to primary colors.

“If you’re going to trade.” Dave circled, “you ’d be better off trading with me because I can be more lenient.”

Ellen was having none of Dave’s “leniency.” She’s been around the real estate game for a while. In fact, some credit Ellen Terry with single-handedly raising home prices in the Park Cities in the 1980s. “You sound like several sellers I’ve talked to,” she shot back before launching into an impersonation of a slippery client. ’”You ought to skip your commission to get this deal done.”’ she mimicked.

“I’ve heard that one. too,” Dave laughed. “We must talk to the same people from time to time.”

After she mortgaged and scraped. Ellen was left with a total of $530. Then, finally, the clock ran out. The game was over. I had survived, and my eye hadn’t swollen shut.

As if on cue. Eleanor burst back in the room just as we were calculating our net worths. She wore a full-commission smile. Nicky and Dave painstakingly calculated and recalculated, but Dave was still counting when Nicky finished. Dave Perry-Miller was the big winner. He had piled up $5,100 in property and cash: Team Eleanor, S4.077. Judy ended with $1,136, while I had somehow managed to hold on to $916.

When we handed Dave his first-prize gift, a spa package from the Crescent, he said he was hoping thai il would be three weeks oui of town .Away fromhis competitors. Eleanor, feeling playful, threw up her hands. “That’s great, Dave. We’ll take your properties and your clients.”

I’m no real estate mogul. 1 proved that. Bui I don’t think she was talking about Vermont Avenue.

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