SPOTTLIGHT — Is There Any Value to Upgrading My Home?

September 1, 2017

By Toni Spott

Toni Spott

So you’re thinking of maybe upgrading some rooms in your home and you’re wondering if there is any value to it. The simple answer is yes!

But first and foremost, do the upgrade for you! Live with it and enjoy it. What I see time and time again is people living for a long time with some aspect of their home that doesn’t thrill them. Then they do the remodel or upgrade right before they sell which means they’ve fixed it up for someone else.

Which home upgrades are good investments? Well, not all home improvements are good ones.

According to Remodeling Magazine (, you’re less likely to recoup your investment in a major kitchen or bathroom remodel than with basic home maintenance or upgrades such a such as new siding. Siding replacement recouped 92.8 percent of its cost, according to the study. Replacing roofs and windows was also high on the list, returning 80 percent or more when the home was sold.

The only home improvement likely to return more was a minor kitchen remodel that would cost, roughly $15,000. That, on average, returned 92.9 percent. Don’t let that discourage you from redoing the kitchen or bathroom, since buyers see those two rooms as those they want upgraded.

What Remodeling Magazine doesn’t state is that the most important thing you can do is take care of the basic home maintenance. Things that you need to do on a yearly basis are to have the furnace and hot water heater inspected, and if needed, repaired or replaced. Check your roof and gutters to make sure they are in good condition, and if not, replace. Make sure you do not have water in your basement and the foundation is in good condition. These are not the sexy things to do but they are essential to the upkeep of a home and should be done before any other upgrades!

Deciding what rooms to upgrade is important. If you are thinking about upgrading your kitchen perhaps but you only have one bathroom in the house, I would highly recommend that you try to add another bath, if possible, first. That investment returns an average of 86.4 percent.

Please don’t do the work yourself! Hire a licensed contractor to it. Get permits and lien waivers for the work done. Shop around for a good contractor, seek referrals, and do your own research after you’ve narrowed down the field to one or two that seem like the best choice.

Curb appeal is also important. This too can be an upgrade. New siding or paint or a new front porch can be a game changer.

As for color, most homeowners think it’s good to follow the current trends, but that’s not always a good thing. Today’s trends become yesterday’s not-so-cool thing in a hurry. Find something that has a timeless feel to it. As much as you may think that neutrals have a boring feel to them, they work for most people. When you have incorporated a neutral palette, it makes it easier for potential buyers to imagine their preferred color palette.

In the end, what you get back on your home after home improvements, really depends on the value of your home, the value of the homes in your neighborhood, and what’s going on with the housing market in the area you live in. Over-improving your home for the area you live in doesn’t make any sense nor will you get your money back.

To read the 2017 Cost/Value Report for Milwaukee: Note, you will have to register (free) before you are able to view the data.

Toni Spott Sustainable Agent,
Keller Williams Realty;

Facebook: Toni Spott’s Real Estate Resource;
Twitter: @ToniSpottsRealEstateResource

KK’s Glorious Flower Baskets

September 1, 2017

By Sheila Julson

This summer Kinnickinnic Avenue from Morgan Avenue to Becher Street was again beautified with bountiful hanging baskets. A project of the Kinnickinnic Avenue Business Improvement District (BID), the basket arrangements will be displayed through September or mid-October, weather permitting.

The more successful of the baskets that bedeck Kinnickinnic Avenue are planted with Supertunia Vista Bubblegum, a bright pink petunia, and Supertunia Vista Silverberry petunias, typically white with pink accents. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

This was the second year that Custom Grown Greenhouses (4507 S. Sixth St.) created the baskets for the KK BID.

“We’re really pleased with the beauty of the baskets,” said Mary Ellen O’Donnell, BID board member and chair of its streetscape committee. We continued the contract with them this year and didn’t go out to bid because we were so happy with them last year.”

O’Donnell said this year they deferred to Custom Grown owner Paul Budzisz and his team, allowing them to select the flowers, whereas, in previous years, she and other BID members helped select them. Each basket is a little different and is planted with varieties of petunias, dragon lady begonias, sweet potatoes, lantana, and Carlina, among others.

Custom Grown handled all aspects of the project. They selected the flowers, planted the baskets, placed them on the brackets, watered them, and will remove them at the end of the season. The baskets are saved for reuse by the BID, O’Donnell said.

The 2017 budget for the project was $9,000. “There were high watering costs last year, so what we did was up-the-budget a bit to accommodate that,” O’Donnell said. “But we’re on track to be a little under budget this year.” There are about 58 baskets, she noted.

Budzisz has owned Custom Grown Greenhouses since 1988. “This year, they (BID) let me do my own thing to see what works best and what doesn’t,” he said. “There are some combinations where maybe we can cut down on the watering, and we also want to see people’s reactions (to the plant choices and designs).”

The more successful baskets are planted with Supertunia Vista Bubblegum, a bright pink petunia, and Supertunia Vista Silverberry petunias, typically white with pink accents. Neither requires deadheading and both are drought resistant. “They perform the best and most baskets with those turned out very well,” Budzisz said.

Some of the other baskets include Dragon Wing begonias with yellow sweet potato vines, lantana, and pink begonias. Budzisz is particularly pleased with the results of the baskets near the Immaculate Conception church on the corner of Kinnickinnic and Russell avenues. Those baskets hold begonias, Carlina, a white cascading plant, purple petunias, and blue ivy. They have grown successfully and Budzisz has heard good feedback from passers-by when he watered the baskets.

Custom Grown Greenhouses owner Paul Budzisz and employee Claire Raasch try to incorporate plants that don’t need much maintenance when designing their hanging baskets. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

Budzisz, along with employee Claire Raasch, who has been at Custom Grown for 25 years, tries to incorporate plants that don’t need much maintenance.

Challenges like inclement weather and vandalism have been minimal. “We might have to touch them up occasionally,” he said, “but the only thing that happened was last year, when a basket fell. The hanger broke and the basket was lying on the ground. We think it was because last year’s sweet potato vines grew to where they nearly touched the ground and they got caught on something or had been tugged. This year’s vines don’t grow that long.”

Custom Grown works with other municipalities including Whitefish Bay, Wauwatosa, and Germantown, providing and caring for flowers and other plants. While much of their business is retail, they also grow plants for the Wisconsin State Fair Park grounds and for the Milwaukee County Zoo.

More color on KK

In addition to the hanging baskets, the KK BID also maintains the Art Stop site north of the KK/Howell/Lincoln avenues intersection and about six concrete planters owned by the BID, located in the vicinity of KK and Lincoln. O’Donnell said they were purchased and installed by a former, now defunct Bay View business association.

“Not every business was (using) the planters in front of their businesses,” said O’Donnell. The BID let businesses that wanted to use its planters continue doing so. For those who did not, the BID took them over. The BID added an additional planter at the south end of KK in front of Rusty
Sprocket Antiques.

PHOTO Katherine Keller

Additionally, Custom Grown provided the plants at the base of the new gateway signs on KK at Morgan Avenue and at Bay Street. The Becher sign was installed on an existing landscaped mound that is maintained by the city, O’Donnell said.

The sign just south of Morgan Park was installed on a barren island. “We wanted to put some nice landscaping around that sign, so we purchased planting materials from Custom Grown for both locations, as well as for Art Stop,” O’Donnell said. The BID contracted Curative Care, a nonprofit that hires people with disabilities. “They have a landscaping team as one of the services they provide. We were really excited about working with the organization. They planted at the two sign locations, as well as on the bare areas of the Art Stop. Custom Grown is doing the watering until the plants are established. Curative Care is handling the weeding and cleaning.”

Budzisz credits projects like KK BID baskets for promoting gardening and encouraging people to add more beauty and color to their properties. He said he hopes the trend continues to catch on with individuals and businesses.

SPOTTLIGHT — Do You Know What Style Your Home Is?

August 1, 2017

By Toni Spott

Toni Spott

What exactly is home style in real estate terms? Home style refers to architectural style. There are more than 38 different styles and 26 of those are more popular than the rest.

The top 15 styles in order of popularity are, according to an article published by American Home Shield: Modern, New American, Contemporary Cottage, Texas, Colonial, Victorian, Italianate, Mediterranean, Ranch/Rambler, Bungalow, Beach, Cape Cod, Craftsman, Florida, and Georgian.

Craftsman homes are one of the most popular styles in Midwest but Traditional is more popular in the Northeast and Mountain regions, though it is also popular in the Midwest. The Ranch/Rambler is one of the more popular in the Southwest. Geographical area plays a large role in the style of home and how it holds up in specific climates.

Ever wonder if the style of your home is the style that was original to its construction? A lot of homes have morphed into a completely different style over time due to renovation and remodeling.

If a home has been significantly altered, the original style is usually discovered during a remodeling project. Taking down walls and finding secret areas you never knew about are sometimes discovered. Sometimes original detailing is uncovered and revealed.

Whether you are thinking of remodeling, adding on, or just improving curb appeal, it’s always good to know the style of your home before you begin. There is nothing worse than a home with no continuity of design after a remodel or addition.

Worse yet is an interior with choppy flow from room to room when dramatically altering the original style.


My home, for example, was an original Center Hall Colonial built in 1945. Originally it had two bedrooms, one and a half baths, a galley kitchen, living room, and a dining room. My husband and I have done two remodeling projects. We added one full bath on the second floor and two more bedrooms. On the main floor, we removed walls to open up the kitchen and incorporate a three-season room. We completely transformed the first floor to an open concept. It is no longer a Center Hall Colonial but our Malibu Beach home. Just call me Barbie!

Our new design incorporates continuous flow from room to room and successfully melded the old architectural style with the new. Our project illustrates that you don’t have to stay true to the original style. You can incorporate your own and tastefully integrate the old with the new.

Review the list of architectural styles from, so next time you are driving down the road, test your style skills and see how many you can get right.

Here’s to lots more sunny days and great home style!

Toni Spott Sustainable Agent, Keller Williams Realty;

Facebook: TheToniSpottTeam

Bay View Run Series goes the distance for the community

June 30, 2017

By Sheila Julson

Wild Workouts & Wellness is sponsoring the Bay View Run Series, four benefit runs that take place between July and November.

Wild Workouts is a personal training and fitness business in Bay View formed by owner Amber Budahn in 2011.

The individual events are Run for the Parks, Dash to the Bash, The Great Pumpkin Chase, and Turkey Trot. Registration fees are donated to different Bay View charities, and the runs represent Budahn’s dual mission not only to help change the lives of her clients, but also to promote community health by supporting local organizations.

Originally, each of the four runs began as a discrete event until Budahn decided to combine them this year as a series.

“I figured that now that we’re doing all these runs, let’s just make it a series,” Budahn said. “These events can work together on a common good, which is supporting community organizations and promoting community fitness. The more runners we have at each event, the more donation dollars we can give. By having a series, each run supports and promotes the others.”

All are 5K run/walks. Participation fees for the four runs are about $20 each. There are no fees for the Turkey Trot except for a donation of nonperishable food, which is given to the Bay View Community Center’s food pantry. Runners and walkers are not required to secure sponsors.

Run for the Parks
takes place July 25 at 6:30pm at Humboldt Park. The run is in its eighth year and helps support The Park People with its efforts as citizen stewards of Milwaukee County Parks. Through a partnership with Bay View Neighborhood Association, some of the funds are used to make improvements in Humboldt Park. “At Run for the Parks, runners start at the band shell on a Chill on the Hill concert night, and there’s a nice little get-together after,” Budahn said.

Wild Workouts & Wellness helped with last year’s Run for the Parks and will be more involved this year by volunteering on the course with tasks such as directing runners.

The impetus for Dash to the Bash was born when Budahn, a longtime Bay View Bash participant, struck up conversations with Sue Loomis, one of the Bash organizers. They talked about ways to get people to the Bash earlier in the day and came up with the run. The first one was held last year.

This year’s Dash to the Bash takes place Sept. 16 at 10:30am. Runners take off near Sven’s on Kinnickinnic Avenue and wind through Humboldt Park. Proceeds go to the Bay View Community Fund (BVCF), which in turn gives funding to local organizations including Canine Cupids and Kompost Kids. Budahn said last year’s inaugural Dash to the Bash had about 100 participants and that $150 in proceeds were donated to BVCF.

Last year, Tom Held, a personal trainer at Wild Workouts & Wellness, coordinated with the BVNA to create The Great Pumpkin Chase, a run that benefits BVNA and that is part of its annual Pumpkin Pavilion event. Racers are encouraged to wear costumes, so creativity and panache win this run rather than speed and endurance. The Pumpkin Chase features a quarter-mile kids’ run around the lagoon.

“We’re going to build that up a little this year by having people in costumes around the course, with parents and other volunteers,” Held said.

The Pumpkin Chase premiered last year and drew about 30 participants, Held said. Costumes included a shark, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and even the Bay View fox. The event raised $135 for BVNA.

The Turkey Trot was the first run Budahn established. She started it 13 years ago, when she first began working as a personal trainer
— before she formed Wild Workouts & Wellness. “I just wanted to get people together on Thanksgiving morning for a light run, and we never stopped doing it,” Budahn said.

Bay View Community Center’s president and CEO Linda Nieft said the 2016 Turkey Trot generated 11 large boxes and 13 bags of nonperishable food for the pantry, equal to about $1,000 in value. She said that food donations typically increase around Thanksgiving, but the Turkey Trot donations are especially helpful to meet the needs of families using the food pantry at that time of the year. Nieft said the center’s teen leadership and emergency preparedness group, the Ready Kids has volunteered at Turkey Trot in the past and may do so again this year.

Giving Back

Wild Workouts & Wellness has grown to 370 clients since opening in 2011, Budahn said. She opened her second site in February 2016, a 3,600-square-foot-space at Delaware and Rusk avenues in the former Threadworks (and briefly, Bay View Area Redcats) building. Hintz grocery store occupied the space in an earlier era. The second location focuses on boot-camp-style workouts, while the location on Delaware just north of Oklahoma Avenue is dedicated to one-on-one and small group workouts.

The business has expanded its wellness offerings, including a nutrition program and a free weekly summer run on Wednesday evenings. As a newer mom — her son Frank turns 2 years old this month — Budahn plans to offer mom and baby workouts, for which she said she’s received many requests.

“Bay View is a special place. I live here and I work here, and it’s great to be an addition to it,” she said.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and contributor to the Bay View Compass.

Outpost Natural Foods Co-op Wins Sustainability Star Award 

June 1, 2017

Outpost Natural Foods Co-op has been named a Sustainability Star by National Co+op Grocers (NCG) for excellence in sustainability efforts. The award recognizes food co-ops that demonstrate outstanding leadership by making a positive impact on social, environmental, and local economic issues.
At its annual meeting in April, NCG honored Outpost for engaging staff in sustainability through the store’s green teams and through an online employee engagement game called Cool Choices, where the co-op recognized over $60,000 and 632,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (C02) in savings!
Sustainability Star award winners participate in Co+efficient, NCG’s sustainability program that helps co-op grocery stores measure their impact, drive improvements, and share the story of their important work with community members and other co-ops. This marks the second year that NCG has highlighted leading co-ops with Sustainability Star awards. Outpost is one of 10 co-ops nationwide honored for its 2016 performance.
In 2012 Outpost deepened its commitment by tracking metrics in 11 key areas throughout the business and recently published a “highlight report” noting their key impacts since this reporting began. 
Cooperative sector businesses are known for being innovators in sustainability. Earning Sustainability Star recognition shows that a co-op is leading the way, not only by excelling in sustainability pursuits, but by sharing the details and results of their efforts for the benefit of co-ops and communities around the country.
View Outpost’s Sustainability Report:

South Shore Farmers Market Opens June 17

June 1, 2017

The long-awaited 2017 debut of the South Shore Farmers Market is Saturday, June 17 from 8am to noon. Musicians Nickel & Rose will perform at 10am. The Squeezettes perform the following week, June 17, at 10am.

SPOTTLIGHT — Preparing to put your home up for sale

June 1, 2017

By Toni Spott

Toni Spott

Putting your home up for sale can be an extremely stressful time. There are ways to avoid much of the stress by being proactive and getting things ready prior to that day.

Pay for a Home Inspection
The biggest hiccup in the whole home sale affair is the inspection. So before you even think about doing anything, have your property inspected first. You will know in advance everything that is wrong with your home before it goes on the market.

If you find that your home has major defects, the advantage is you can address them on your budget.

That means you can research the cost of the repairs so you won’t be at the mercy of a buyer telling you, for example, that it would cost $10,000 for a particular repair, instead of the $2,000 it would actually cost you.

Also, it gives you the gift of time. Time to really find out what those costs are before crunch time, when you may only be given a day to respond, or the deal goes south.

Additionally, by conducting a pre-listing inspection and being cognizant of any and all defects, you can disclose those to the buyer.

The buyer will then write an offer knowing your home’s condition. They cannot come back after their inspection, if they choose to have one, and say they want those defects fixed.

There is language in the WB-11 Offer To Purchase that protects the seller who chooses to have an inspection and who discloses aspects of a home that need repair or improvement: “Defects do not include structural, mechanical or other conditions the nature and extent of which Buyer had actual knowledge or written notice before signing this Offer.”

Don’t Wait to Discard or Pack
The day after you decide to sell, act as though you are moving out in two weeks. Get rid of all that junk that’s been accumulating and those things you no longer use.

Use three sorting categories — boxes for the garbage, boxes for charity, and boxes for the stuff you want to keep. This way when you have an accepted offer, you are will not be stressing out about how to get out of the house in 30 days but with 30 years of stuff to dispose of, or worse, move.

Eliminating everything you really don’t need and prepacking frees you up in those final crucial days right before you move, so you have time for more important things like focusing on your new residence and what it holds for you.

Once you’ve gotten all of the technical stuff out of the way, clean your home. Wash the walls, doors, windows, cabinets, countertops, etc. Remove personal photos, jewelry, medicines, and everything that has value.

Decluttering is the name of the game. Go with the less is more theory. When a buyer walks through your home, you want them to remember what the home itself looked like, not your decorating.

Paint the interior if it hasn’t been painted in the past several years.

Then bring in a real estate agent who can advise you about what else you need, or do not need to do to make your home more saleable.

Happy selling!

Toni Spott Sustainable Agent,
Keller Williams Realty;
Facebook: Toni Spott’s Real Estate
Resource; @ToniSpottsRealEstateResource

Beloved tailor sews up long career

June 1, 2017

By Katherine Keller

Hans Billerbeck wrapped up his 46-year-old tailoring business in May. He sold the building, 3118 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., in March. PHOTO Katherine Keller

Hans Billerbeck was 21 years old in 1959 when he left his home in Detmold, Germany, a small city about 60 miles southwest of Hanover.

The son of Marie and Karl Billerbeck, he trained as a tailor, following in his father’s footsteps.

But Hans did not learn the trade from his father. “I’ll be too easy on you,” Karl Billerbeck told his son. Instead he secured an apprenticeship for Hans with master tailor Christian Ritterman.

Hans trained with Ritterman four arduous years, beginning when he was still in high school. In 1958 his “brother-in-law’s brother,” a man who was employed as a barber at St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield, Wis., traveled back to Germany and visited Hans.

As he learned about his friend’s life in the U.S. and his employment at the military academy, Hans asked, “Is there a job there for me?”

“I’ll find out,” he told him. There was. Hans, with only rudimentary English, moved to Delafield and became a member of a staff of four tailors. By 1961 he had been promoted to manager. He continued at St. John’s until 1972, when he bought a tailor’s shop on Kinnickinnic.

He and his wife Sharon operated the Hans Billerbeck tailor shop for 45 years, until he locked the doors one last time May 25, shuttering one of the last old-school mom and pop shops in Bay View.

When Billerbeck established his business, he purchased his building, 3118 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., and its contents from Alois Bucher, also a tailor. He was an immigrant from Yugoslavia and had grown up near the Austrian border.

For a time after he bought the business, Billerbeck retained two part-time tailors who had worked for Bucher when Hans created handmade men’s suits.

“But then I got so busy with the other things, the uniforms and alterations, that I was better off doing (only) the alterations. To make a good suit takes 40 hours. And I had a couple of tailors working here in the beginning. It didn’t work out (financially). I said to myself, that’s enough.” He foresaw that in the long run he would be better off working by himself.

A military uniform specialist, Billerbeck said the tailors at St. John’s altered but didn’t make uniforms for its students, except when they needed to make a custom size for a student “who was a little overweight, very skinny, or small and short.”

He secured contracts with Midwest Express Airlines and the Wisconsin National Guard’s 128th Refueling Wing. He also provided tailoring services to Bay View High School Junior Army ROTC (Reserved Officers’ Training Corp), the Bradley Tech Junior Navy ROTC, and Marquette Army ROTC. “I was very busy with uniforms and doing the regular alterations for my customers,” he said. “I worked hard. I worked 60 hours a week many times.”

Sharon Billerbeck worked with her husband during the first 20 years in Bay View. “My wife came in with the kids. She helped with the paperwork. Took care of the customers. We worked hard,” Billerbeck said.

Sharon and Hans Billerbeck PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

Their Story Began on a Dance Floor 

“We both liked to dance,” Hans said. “I went to the Eagles Ballroom, which is now The Rave. They had ballroom dancing and all the Big Bands, like Guy Lombardo, came there. Sharon also liked to dance and that’s where we met. She was at Ripon College at the time. She had some of the most beautiful legs I’d ever seen on a woman. And she was a great dancer.”

“And he was a great dancer,” Sharon said. “You just fell into his arms and he led you all around and twirled you all around. You could do the whole ballroom.”

“It was fun,” Hans said.

“It was incredible,” Sharon said, allowing that she liked him as soon as she met him.

Five years later, in 1965, the couple married. They lived on campus in Delafield until 1972 when Hans left the academy’s tailor shop. They bought a home in Cudahy where they raised two children, a daughter, Brenda (Billerbeck) Bauske, and a son, Hans Billerbeck.

Sharon grew up on the south side. She lived in South Milwaukee until age seven, when her family moved to Cudahy. She graduated from Cudahy High School and attended Ripon College. Her father owned and operated a business that supplied paper and cleaning supplies to restaurants, bars, and other businesses.

After college Sharon taught in the Elm Grove school system until the couple’s children were born. In the mid 90’s, the skyrocketing cost of health insurance for small business owners forced the couple to change course.

“We got to the point where the insurance was so high we couldn’t stand it anymore. We were paying $1,600 a month for health insurance. $1,600 with a $2,000 deductible — and that was 20 years ago,” Sharon said. “It was terrible because we weren’t with a (big) group. We were with a small group…the number of people in our family. The family was your group. I missed teaching so I said, ‘I could go and sub a couple of days a week.’ And then I found out that if you do so many hours over a school year, you can get (health) insurance the next year. So then I started doing that. I subbed in Milwaukee for 14 and a half years. At Fernwood and Trowbridge…at Trowbridge a lot. I loved it.”

Hans Billerbeck at work in his shop in 1976, four years after he set up business on Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View.


Hans operated his business Monday through Friday and half days on Saturday, often working long hours.

“My husband was very committed and sometimes he’d get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and say, I’ve got to go turn the press machine on so I’ll come back for a little breakfast. He’d come back for breakfast and he was gone. And he’d come back as six at night for dinner and go back sometimes, depending on what he had to get done.

“It was the commitment. He had to do it. He had to have things ready. People would bring things in and say, I need it in a week and (asked if) he could do it. He’d do it right away. I’d say, ‘You’ve got all this time.’ And he’d say, “No, you never know what’s going to happen. It’s better to do it right away and get it done.’ It was always his commitment,” Sharon said.

Even so, the couple took time off for family vacations.

Those were great years, Hans said. “When our kids were young, we had a Volkswagen camper. We did a lot of traveling. We went all over the country for sometimes a week and a half. The kids enjoyed it. They still talk about it, Wyoming and Yellowstone Park and Devil’s Tower, Williamsburg, Washington D.C., Ocean City, New York, Atlantic City.”

Sharon said they never took off for more than a week and a half because Hans didn’t want to inconvenience his loyal customers.

“Last year when I started to close Mondays, I felt guilty,” Hans said ruefully. “My wife said, ‘Are you out of your mind? You’ve been doing this for 50 years. Why do you feel guilty?’

“I said I can’t help it. I’m an expert tailor and if I do a job it’s gotta be perfect. I treated my customers with respect and if you do those two things, you’re going to be busy all the time, which I was.”

Hans modified his business over the past five decades as he watched trends and adjusted to change.

For three of those five decades, they carried a clothing line.

“We had a clothing line here. We were selling trousers, sport coats, ties. Leisure suits — polyester. But at the end I couldn’t compete. Those big stores like Men’s Wearhouse where they have 40, 50 suits for one size. I sometimes had three or four in one size but that wasn’t enough. People want to see more. I couldn’t compete so eventually I just sold trousers. I gave up suits and sports coats.

“We also sold ladies slacks. But we couldn’t compete,” Hans said. “That was part of the problem. They’d come in and say, ‘You don’t have very many to select from or many different sizes.’ Well, we couldn’t afford to put all that out, plus we didn’t have a lot of space. So that didn’t work out. But we did okay. I can’t complain.”

The Billerbecks’ clientele included many professionals. “But the whole clothing thing has changed,” Hans said. “There are still a lot of lawyers. But they only dress up when they see a client. When they go to the office, they go in casual clothes. They ask me, ‘Where am I going to go?’ I say I have no idea where you’re going to go. All the tailors I knew, now are all dead.”

Billerbeck also tried selling custom-made suits for his customers that were made out of state. He’d take a customer’s measurements and mail them to tailors in the eastern United States. “Sometimes that didn’t work out too well,” he said.

The work was inconsistent and on occasion, an order would arrive with the wrong color thread on the buttonholes.

When he closed his business, Hans Billerbeck put all the contents of his tailor shop up for sale, everything except his sewing machine. PHOTO Katherine Keller

A trend that Hans bucked was digital technology. Until the day he closed his shop, he worked with analog equipment. He used the German-made Pfaff sewing machine that came with the shop in 1972. “That machine only zigzags and straight stitches. No plastic inside, all metal. Still perfect,” he said.

Hans wanted to sell his sewing machine but his son told him he must not because he wanted his dad to continue altering his clothing, when necessary.

He reluctantly agreed. “I thought I was done sewing,” Hans said resignedly.

Hans also worked with a blind stitch machine for hems and a high-pressure-steam garment press that required a 45-minute head start in order to build up sufficient steam pressure to operate properly.

The Billerbecks have had a front row seat to the neighborhood’s changes.

When he bought his building there was a gas station on the opposite side of Kinnickinnic. It closed and an Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips shop took its place. When that business closed, the building was razed to make way for Walgreens.

“Now there are restaurants, bars — it’s booming,” Hans said.

Reflecting on nearly a half century of business, Sharon said, “It’s been fine. I think we both enjoy people a lot, so being able to serve people is absolutely super. The people have always been very, very nice. We’ve worked with some great companies, with the military groups. They’ve been really good, as well as the general public.”

“I liked being my own boss,” Hans said. “No one could tell me what to do. Except Sharon but she didn’t do that too often.” The couple shared a good–natured chuckle.

“It was worth it because I could do my own thing,” Hans continued. “Some of those who were the first customers in 1972 — they were young — are still customers. Meeting great people and good customers, friendly people… And when I found they were satisfied with my work, that made it worthwhile. I’m just thankful for my customers for all my years. A lot of steady customers.”

What will retirement hold for the Billerbecks?

Hans Billerbeck sits in the back room of his tailor shop where he altered thousands of garments over the past half century. He said his customers were the part of his business he loved most. PHOTO Katherine Keller

They plan to spend a couple of months each winter in Texas where their daughter teaches German at a community college and in a high school. Their son, a headhunter, lives in Cudahy.

What does Hans plan to do with his free time?

“That’s a good question,” he said. “In the summer I could play golf. I can stay busy in the summer. Winter? I don’t know. We’ll see. I’ve got to find a hobby. I can’t stay home all day, I’ll go crazy,” he said.

Hans said he doesn’t want to upset Sharon with his restlessness. “We’ve been married 51 years. It worked out to this point. Let’s not spoil it.”

Billerbeck sold his building in March and said he doesn’t know what the new owners’ plans are for the building or the site.

Jeweler hopes to forge community gem

June 1, 2017

By Sheila Julson 

Last month, Robert Devoe Peter opened The Jewelers Guild, LLC, at 2408 E. St. Francis Ave. The ground level 5,000-square-foot space features a showroom, classroom, and workshop. In addition to jewelry sales and service, the workshop — equipped with benches and tools, can be leased by the day, month, or year. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

In the not too distant past, the neighborhood jeweler was as common a presence in communities as tailors, milliners, bakers, and butchers. Most of those locally-owned jewelry shops faded away during the past five decades, sending people seeking to purchase jewelry or needing repair and appraisal services to chain store jewelers, often located in sprawling malls.

Bucking the trend, Robert Devoe Peter has established a neighborhood jewelry shop and studio. Last month, he opened his new business, The Jewelers Guild, LLC,  at 2408 E. St. Francis Ave. The ground level 5,000-square-foot space features a showroom, classroom, and workshop. In addition to jewelry sales and service, the workshop — equipped with benches and tools, can be leased by the day, month, or year.

Devoe Peter hopes to teach a new generation the art of making jewelry.

Devoe Peter has been designing and making jewelry for more than 30 years. He’s self-taught and originally began by tinkering with copper, which led to making jewelry that he gave to friends. “Then I found that if I made them better, I could sell them to my friends,” he laughed.

He’s owned six jewelry stores in the Milwaukee and Mequon/Cedarburg areas, including Robert Devoe Peter, formerly located in downtown Milwaukee on Jefferson Street near Cathedral Square. He has also lived in Colorado, but like many, he was affected by the 2008-09 recession. The cost of silver and gold skyrocketed around that time, so he returned to Wisconsin to try to regroup and figure out how to live in a new economy but still make jewelry, a commodity that’s not a necessity.

He said he’s been thinking about his business model for a few years.

With a keen eye for trends, Devoe Peter noted that people in today’s economy lean more toward artistic and simple jewelry pieces versus extravagant diamonds and gemstones that have to be purchased on credit. He has adapted to today’s tastes and is eager to teach others to do the same.

“I had the opportunity to make a living doing this,” he said, “so I want other people to be able to carry on the art and craft of making a living with this. There’s plenty of room for more jewelers,” he said.

Not many people are pursuing jewelry-making, he observed, mostly because it’s a tedious process. It requires costly tools and materials, which can deter beginners. There’s also a lack of resources for people interested in learning the art of jewelry making. He said colleges, Alverno, for example, used to have amazing jewelry departments, but now they’re gone. It’s difficult to learn the craft on the job at jewelry stores where employees more commonly are tasked with polishing pieces and are not taught to cast and set stones.

Robert Devoe Peter PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

Devoe Peter also said the St. Francis location was ideal for jewelry sales and service. With the recent closing of Donn Powers Jewelers in South Milwaukee, jewelers are scarce on the South Side.

“There’s no jewelry store around here for about eight miles, so if you want something fixed or appraised, or even if you need a watch battery, you have to go a long way,” Devoe Peter said. “I think there’s a real need for it, and we have lots of free parking.”

An Idea Made Real

The Jewelers Guild is located in the former Schramka-Rembowski Funeral Home building. Devoe Peter said it was empty for three years before he purchased it and began a nine-month cleaning and renovation process.

When he began searching for a space, he initially planned to lease, but he had difficulty finding space that was affordable in a good location with free parking. Then he happened to drive past the closed funeral home and noticed it was for sale.

The renovation entailed new walls, new lighting, five jewelry cases in the showroom, a stone fountain, and a workshop designed specifically with jewelers’ needs in mind. “Some workshops are dark and dingy, so I wanted this space clean and bright,” he said. The workshop has design elements that incorporate vastu shastra — similar to the Eastern concept of feng shui — with paintings representing water, fire, and earth, the essential elements of jewelry making.

Windows in the walls that separate the showroom from the work area allow people to watch jewelers craft their pieces.

The store’s inventory will include Devoe Peter’s pieces and jewelry crafted by Jewelers Guild members. Prices will be affordable, he said, beginning with some pieces around $20.

“We can make anything. If you can imagine it, we can make it,” Devoe Peter said. He displayed two Milwaukee-themed silver rings he created, one with “MKE” and the other with “414” incorporated in the design. There were also heavy bracelets he created that resemble a large nail. A man who lived in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, gave him the nail and said it was an original bronze spike from the plank of a sunken Spanish galleon.

Devoe Peter said he hopes to offer about 30 different jewelry-making classes for adults and children. Both Jewelers Guild members and nonmembers who wish to teach may rent a classroom that will accommodate 10 people.

Devoe Peter said he has already leased eight workbenches and that eight spots are still available. The daily rate is $65 per day and includes use of tools and equipment. Monthly members pay $455 and receive unlimited use of the space, 24/7 access, and use of all tools and equipment, plus a display case in the store and a page on The Jewelers Guild website.

Robert Devoe Peter created rings based on the design of a bracelet he created using a nail recovered from the plank of a sunken Spanish galleon. PHOTO Jennifer Kresse

“It’s a good deal, since you don’t need insurance, you don’t need to buy your own equipment, and you don’t need to rent a store,” Devoe Peter said. “You can just walk in and start working with big equipment like polishers and grinders (that are) already available.”

Members also have access to a lower level office, bathroom, and break room.

As observed in the old proverb, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Necessity has spawned many gadgets used in all types of industry. Over the past 15 years, Devoe Peter has created tools that make jewelers’ work safer and more efficient. But he’s also created tools for woodworkers, dental technicians, and others that he markets and sells through his other business called Bench Guru.

Three years ago, using a 3D printer, he created the prototype for the Precious Metal Recovery System he invented. The meticulous process of grinding metals not only creates dust particles that can be inhaled by jewelers, but it also wastes precious silver and gold. The Precious Metal Recovery System incorporates a mounted clear-panel shield that provides a barrier between the dust and the jeweler’s nose and mouth. There are LED lights and there’s a vacuum that collects the gold or silver dust so it can be recycled. Devoe Peter still uses the prototype he made on a 3D printer. The Bench Guru tools and equipment are made in the United States and sourced and manufactured as much as possible, he said, in Milwaukee.

Devoe Peter hopes to create a different kind of jewelry experience through The Jewelers Guild. “I’m really excited about doing this and the response so far has been really great,” he said. “I was actually able to make this happen.”

SPOTTLIGHT — Who will provide the most accurate home valuation — Zillow or a local agent?

May 1, 2017

By Toni Spott

Toni Spott

Estimates are estimates and price opinions are price opinions.

There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what the price of a property should be these days. Lately the topic has heated up with the emergence of websites like Zillow and others.

Zillow is an online real estate database company that sells its information to real estate agents and produces a forecast of a home’s value known as a Zestimate. (Trulia, a site similar to Zillow, recently purchased Zillow.)

Zillow’s data, according the company’s chief analytics officer Stan Humphries, is drawn from a number of sources including the U.S. Census, county records of sales, tax assessments, FEMA flood zone maps, Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Cost Index, the Federal Housing Finance Agency Home Price Index, and more. But those sources don’t include information about the current condition of the home or recent upgrades.

Sellers who are thinking of putting their home on the market need advice about establishing the best asking price for their home. Often, as they contemplate price, they think about a price point that will provide what they need or want. They get advice from their friends and family, and of course, everyone feels it’s worth a whole lot!

Then they go online and up pops Zillow! Woo! It’s a big showy site with lots of numbers, statistics, maps, and photos of real estate agents, etc. They type in their address and up pops the Zestimate — this is what your house should sell for! But most of the time that price is over- or undervalued; it’s rarely spot on.

So that is where is where the confusion comes in. Most people accept the Zestimate as expert advice and run with it. Here is the issue with that — Zillow “only knows” numbers. Its database can’t see the smoke stains on the ceiling or hear the cars on the freeway. It can’t smell pet odors. It can’t see the updates or the paint and other finishes. It doesn’t know if there is a big fenced-in backyard or if there is an apartment building right next door.

Zillow and Trulia have never been in your home to see what shape it’s in or what you’ve done to it, be it good or bad. These content portals share basic data but they can’t give you insight and local knowledge like a real estate agent can. A real estate agent can provide information about the immediate neighborhood and actual street where your home is.

A local agent will provide you with accurate and timely information that will include current home sales in your direct neighborhood. They know how the local market is going and where it’s going next. They live and breathe home sales versus the online guestimates of the value of your home. A real estate agent has their finger on the pulse of the market because they tour homes on a weekly basis and know what’s going on locally. They know about that new shopping mall going in a mile away, they know about the factory is slated to be built down the street in the coming months — they know what’s going on in the here and now.

Ultimately, the market sets the price, not a website.

The best example of a good use of the Zestimate program is the CEO of Zillow. He put his home on the market for sale and received 60 percent of the Zestimate value. It clearly wasn’t worth what Zillow and the Zestimate said it was. He sold it at market value. Rather ironic.*

All agents use the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) to gain the latest statistics on the market, and then when listing a home, they meet with the owner and tour the home to note any improvements or defects that affect the value of the property, as well as the surrounding area.

The same system used to establish the value of a home is also used by buyers, if they are working with a buyer’s agent. Like the selling agent, they need to know the actual value of the home they are placing an offer on. However, they tend to use the online sites to get an idea of the supposed home value, which doesn’t work in their favor.

So like the seller, it is in a buyer’s best interest to contact a real estate agent.

Happy Spring selling and buying!


Toni Spott, Sustainable Agent,
Keller Williams Realty;
Facebook: Toni Spott’s Real Estate Resource;

REAL ESTATE SPOTLIGHT 53207 — If you love a low-interest mortgage rate, act now

February 1, 2017

Toni Spott

Toni Spott

It’s the love month—and don’t you just love your home! Oh wait, you don’t own your own home?

Wouldn’t you just love to have a home that’s all yours?

Well it may be better to look for one earlier rather than later in the year. The two factors that would affect your monthly mortgage payment. Home prices and interest rates are both predicted to increase as the year evolves. Interest rates may increase significantly.

According to the National Association of Realtors, interest rates are expected to be at the lowest, 4.5 percent and at the highest 5 percent. The current rate is 4.125%. Interest rates can make a dramatic difference in your monthly mortgage payment and what you pay long term. It’s important to lock in a rate as soon as possible to avoid a higher mortgage payment. I believe having a fixed rate versus a variable rate in this current climate is a safer decision. The fluctuation of the markets and economic uncertainty associated with a new federal administration make locking into the current rate a wise decision. If you can lock in the current rate, it is guaranteed not to go up during the life of the loan. If you decide on a variable rate, that rate will fluctuate with the market and it’s been predicted that it will be raised a few times before the end of the year.

And for those of you who do own a home and have loved living in your home and are thinking of selling, now is the best time to do that. There is no more “spring” market.

What exactly is a “spring market?” It was always thought that one should wait until the spring market in order to get the best deal on a home whether buying or selling. Now, not so much. Now that buyers are online 24/7, 365 days a year, any type of seasonal market has been eliminated, with one exception.

As soon as the first of January arrived, buyers were out fast and furious this year looking for a new home. There is always that hope of a rebirth at the beginning of the new year, a renewal of goals and aspirations. Home buying is no different. With the elimination of the seasonal market, the minute the New Year arrives, buyers are on the look out hoping to find “their home” before anyone else gets their hands on it.

So if you list your home sooner in the year you will have much less competition. Because so many sellers feel they need to wait for the spring market, they all list their homes at the same time and become each other’s competition, making it difficult to get the best price for their home. It’s a buyer’s dream!

Consider adding a personal touch. If you are a seller getting ready to go on the market, write a letter to your future buyers on why you loved your home so much. What made you buy the home? What do you love about your neighborhood, the street you live on and your neighbors? Buying a home is an emotional time for everyone, buyers and sellers alike, so the more you can appeal to what the other is looking for, the happier everyone will be.

Demand for Bay View remain strong and it is competitive. I’m finding that buyers are still in love with the idea of finding a home in Bay View! They can’t get enough of our great community! Buyers are aware of all the great things that Bay View has to offer that other communities don’t have.

Bay View Real Estate by the Numbers

136: Homes sold in the past four months

$118.37: The average selling price per square foot

51: Average days on the market

93: Homes on the market

23: Homes on the market with accepted offers

Toni Spott Sustainable Agent,
Keller Williams Realty; 414-788-4255;
Facebook: Toni Spott’s Real Estate Resource;@ToniSpottsRealEstateResource

REAL ESTATE SPOTTLIGHT 53207 — Price it right

December 1, 2016

By Toni Spott

Toni Spott

Toni Spott

Thank you for joining me for my inaugural real estate column. This monthly column will be all about real estate and how it applies to Bay View. The real estate market can be a fickle thing. It goes up; it goes down. It’s usually up when you are trying to buy and it will go down when you are trying to sell. Murphy’s Law, right?

Currently, we are in a seller’s market phase in Bay View because there is such a shortage of homes for sale. There are also a lot of frustrated buyers. As soon when a home comes on the market, the seller receives an offer the first day. But, of course, not your offer.

Listings seem to vanish within days in Bay View. That is, if the home is priced right.

Let’s take a look at that.

If a home has been on the market for an extended period of time and it’s a great home with new updates, etc., but isn’t selling, it’s because the price isn’t right.

If it’s in need of a total makeover, and there is no interest, again, it’s the wrong price. A home will not sell until it is priced right. So what should you do to be smart and ready in a tight market like this?

Make sure you have a lender who has pre-approved you, then find a good agent to represent you. You want to find someone who will educate you about the home buying process and what you need to do to purchase a home.

They should also inform you about the market itself. What is listed in your price range, in the area you are looking, and what are those homes selling for? Remember, a listing price is only the asking price. The seller may indeed sell it for that listed price or for over or under it.

Again, the market sets the price when it comes to a home sale, not the seller, not their friends or family, and not what they paid for it. It is the price the buyer pays for a home that determines the final price.

If you, as a buyer, have done your homework, you should be able to make smart decisions that work in your best interest. Be cognizant of the current market in the area where you want to buy. Know what homes are selling for.

As a seller, you should make sure you are working with a knowledgeable, honest, proactive agent who knows the market in the area where the home is listed. Make sure the agent does more than just put a sign in the yard. Even in this seller’s market, your home needs stellar marketing.

Also, never assume it will sell right away. A good agent should actively market and promote your home until it is sold or until all the contingencies are exhausted.

Email me anytime with any questions you may have.

Happy Holidays!

Toni Spott, Sustainable Agent, Keller Williams Realty; 414-788-4255;
Facebook: Toni Spott’s Real Estate Resource; @ToniSpottsRealEstateResource

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