Joseph Scharnak recently joined Levenfeld Pearlstein as a partner in the firm’s community association practice group. He has extensive experience representing condominium and homeowners’ associations, real estate investors and developers and financial institutions in diverse legal matters.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up, where did you go to school?
I grew up in the Southwest suburbs of Chicago and finished all of my education in Chicago. I went to the University of Illinois at Chicago for college and double majored in political science and criminal justice. I went to college on a scholarship for springboard diving and competed all four years. I finished college in 2004 and went straight to law school at DePaul University College of Law and finished my JD in 2007. Then, while working as an associate at the law firm of Brown Udell Pomerantz and Delrahim, I took LL.M. courses at The John Marshall Law School and earned an LL.M. in real estate law in 2009.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be?
I was always interested in real estate and building things. I didn’t know what a real estate developer was at the time but I liked the idea of building new houses.
How did you get your start in the industry?
When I was in law school I knew that I wanted nothing to do with litigation or being in a courtroom. I took a liking to the real estate courses and I was in school when condominium development was taking over Chicago. I watched the rundown neighborhoods surrounding UIC become what is now University Village in a matter of a few years. My first job as a clerk was at Brown Udell Pomerantz and Delrahim, which is known for representing many of the city’s premier condominium developers. That is where I began learning about condominium law.
A few years later when I was at John Marshall I had the opportunity to take a course specifically on condominium law. At that point, I knew that was the industry I wanted to continue in. Of course, I didn’t foresee the real estate market coming to a grinding halt just as I was finishing my education and getting started. I started with the intent to be a developer’s attorney and ended up representing condominium associations who are often at odds with the developers.
Did you have a mentor who helped you get on your feet, or is there someone you turn to now for support?
David Sugar of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr was my primary mentor and really helped me come of age and get my name started in the industry. I started working with him as an associate, handling routine collection matters for the condominium association clients he represents. Based on my background, skillset and willingness to learn, I believe he took a liking to me and helped me really learn the business.
He took me along to speaking engagements, helped me secure the opportunity to publish articles in industry publications and taught me how to properly court the people that can refer business. I learned how he ran his business and modeled most of what I do after him. When I was learning, he used to play Socratic Method with me nearly every single day. His favorite line was “Sugar gets hit by a bus, now what do you do?”
What does a day in the life of Joseph Scharnak look like?
I am in the office downtown most days between 9 and 5. Much of my day is spent answering phone calls and emails from property managers regarding general condominium governance issues and emergency situations which pop up. When the phones aren’t ringing, I am working on reviewing and negotiating service contract and amending condominium declarations. Nearly all condominium meetings take place at night, often starting at 7pm. I attend a handful of evening meetings each month. I have a five-year-old son that I pick up from school and spend time with two to three times a week.
What do you like most about your job?
Learning how to address new situations as they arise. When dealing with high-rise condominium buildings on a daily basis, the same situations occur over and over again; however, there are always nuances and each situation tends to be a little different which can change the way it is approached. Every now and again something comes up that I haven’t seen before. I enjoy trying to wrap my head around new issues and figure out a solution.
Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve/work on that you haven’t already?
I started with the intent to work on developer deals and the real estate market really stalled as my career was getting started. So, I haven’t had the chance to work on new development projects from the ground up yet. I’m starting to see more and more cranes around the city again and I hope to get involved in development deals in the future.
How do you spend your time away from the office?
I have a house on Diamond Lake in Southwest Michigan. During the summer months, I am on the lake nearly every weekend. In the winter I go out west to snowboard once or twice a year. I started teaching my son to snowboard this year. I have recently started traveling outside of the country more often.
What is your favorite place that you have traveled to? Where do you hope to go next?
I was in Amsterdam for the first time over Thanksgiving last year. I loved it there and could see myself living in that city. I have plans to travel to Bali in May.