Darien Attorneys Help Close the Deal
A second generation continues building the practice
As a child, Bob Claes traveled all over the country. His dad worked in public relations, and getting a better job often meant moving to another town.
In the 1960s, communities began forming park districts, and Claes’ father was hired as the first director of the Elk Grove Park District. He kept that job for 30 years.
Claes was a sophomore in high school when his family set down roots. There, he took a class in constitutional law and found his calling as an attorney.
Today, he has his own practice in Darien – Law Offices of Robert M. Claes, Ltd.
Claes has always been interested in the social sciences. But he chose to major in English literature at Quincy College.
“You have to have a good command of the written word to be a good lawyer,” he said.
After earning his JD from Loyola University Law School, Claes practiced for three years at law firms in Chicago and Des Plaines. He established his own practice on Plainfield Road in Darien in 1979, focused primarily on residential real estate transactions. While some of his clients are investors or builders, about 80 percent are individuals buying and selling homes. His practice also includes other services, such as probate and estate planning.
In 1992, Claes put up two buildings at 1306/1310 Plainfield Road and moved in. When his tenant and office neighbor, DuPage Pediatrics, needed to expand, Claes again moved west on Plainfield to his current location.
Claes sees his own experience in real estate as a benefit to his clients.
“I think (it’s) very important (to) have a perspective on what it takes to accomplish something from beginning to end,” he said. “I have done some small development work. I assembled property and sold it to a developer. I think that helps when you understand the burden of the client in the transaction.”
Claes is no longer alone in his practice. His son, Matt, graduated from John Marshall Law in May 2011. Matt passed the bar exam and now works for his dad.
“(Dad) always exposed me to what he did, spending time at his office, helping him organize files,” the younger Claes said. “He engendered an interest in real estate.”
Matt Claes has explored that interest himself. As a student, he spent summers working as a construction laborer for Gallagher & Henry Builders. At Indiana University, he studied public finance. He knew he wanted to do something related to construction, but wasn’t sure what that might be. A college internship gave him a start.
“I found (an internship) with Red Seal Homes, based in Northbrook, (and it) led to a full-time job,” he explained. “I worked for them for about 2 years after college and saw the decline of the new-construction real estate market, almost at its worst free-fall. So I decided that I would go to law school and remain involved in real estate one way or another, but it wouldn’t be in new construction.”
While at John Marshall, Matt worked for the city of Chicago for a year, prosecuting building-code violations in court.
“There’s a special license called a ‘711 license’ that allows you to practice in a courtroom as a student, as long as you’re working for a public or not-for-profit institution,” he explained.
A building collapse that claimed the lives of some firefighters underscored the importance of that work. The city refocused on buildings abandoned during foreclosures, not just because of the impact on city workers such as firefighters, but also for the tenants of shoddy landlords.
"It was a bit of a reality check," Matt Claes said. "You would read the complaints and hear the conditions in which people were living, probably because they didn’t have any alternative. It shaped my appreciation of growing up in this area and being fortunate enough not to have to encounter that.”
Even in this area, the Claes’ have seen the toll taken by the economic recession.
“Conventional deals are a lot different now than they were just a few years ago,” the elder Claes noted. “We’re doing a lot more short-sale work, people selling for less than their debt.”
Bob Claes works with Attorneys Title Guarantee Fund for real estate closings. As part of this group, he volunteered to help Neighborhood Housing Services in Chicago with walk-in clinics for people who had mortgage problems and needed loan modifications.
“The first one was at the City of Chicago Police Academy at Racine and Jackson,” he related. “About a thousand people showed up. They had it well organized, but it was just a mass of humanity.”
The changing economy continues to change real estate habits.
“We’ve seen younger people buying more modest homes, like in the $200,000-$300,000 range,” observed Claes. “They’re able to qualify based on their income, with the lower interest rates. There are lots of disagreements over value; contracts are harder to negotiate. Condition is supreme; buyers want almost perfect properties.”
Bob Claes has laid a solid foundation for his practice, one that his son plans to build on.
“I’ve been in Darien since 1979,” Claes said. ”A lot of people know me and can verify that we do good work. Better than 60 percent of the work I have is repeat (business).”
Matt added, “A large portion of work comes from return clients, people who bought their homes 15-20 years ago. They come back when they’re looking to sell their homes or prepare their wills, or when their children come in.”
The Law Offices of Robert M. Claes, Ltd, are located at 2626 83rd Street in Darien. For more information, call 630-985-5100, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com , or go to www.robertclaes.com .