Nicholas Gouletas had an idea and the passion and personality to pursue it. During his five-decade career, he expanded the concept of homeownership for many Americans, especially for customers in Chicago.
When he set out to make his mark in 1969, few people knew what a “condo” was. Mr. Gouletas worked hard to change that, selling apartment dwellers on the benefits of condominium ownership, allowing them to build equity and personal responsibility for the space they occupied. “Homeownership today empowers individuals financially and psychologically, as it benefits the economy and surrounding community,” Mr. Gouletas said in a family remembrance.
He led condo conversions at more than 140 properties, according to his son Steven. It was a body of work concentrated in Chicago, where his conversions included Lake Point Tower, River City and 111 East Chestnut Street.
Mr. Gouletas died Jan. 8 at age 82, Steven Gouletas said. He said his father, who had been in assisted living, had congestive heart failure and sepsis. He said Mr. Gouletas had tested positive for COVID-19 but recovered after having only mild symptoms and had received a vaccine.
“He just loved doing deals,” Steven Gouletas said. “He would rather do deals than take a vacation.”
Mr. Gouletas “really was the major condo converter back in the ’70s,” said Gail Lissner, managing director at Integra Realty Resources, who worked with him over the years. “He was a kind and generous gentleman and just a super salesman.”
Some of those traits may have been honed at an early age. Mr. Gouletas arrived in the United States from Greece at age 8, his family having fled the prospect of Communist rule after World War II.
His father had been a builder in Athens. “Building is in our blood,” Mr. Gouletas once said. “The first thing my parents did when we came over from Greece was save a few bucks and purchase our initial home — a $7,000 two-flat in Chicago.”
Mr. Gouletas went to work as a boy selling ice cream from a pushcart at Lakeview and Fullerton avenues. He used to say he found a four-leaf clover there.
Years later, he did one of his signature condo conversions at that corner, by that time home to the 2400 N. Lakeview high-rise designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Other deals would come, but that one was always special, Steven Gouletas said.
Before getting into real estate, Mr. Gouletas sold Collier’s encyclopedias.
His deal for the landmark Lake Point Tower also was a career milestone. In 1989, he proudly recounted the sales figure to the Sun-Times, “We have $87,966,648. That’s $87,966,648 CIF.” What’s CIF, he was asked. “Cash in Fist.”
Mr. Gouletas’ devotion to the condo market led to wealth but also to difficult times. Condo bubbles popped, first because of oversupply and high interest rates, and then in 2008 with stress in the debt markets and plummeting values. Some attempts at development from the ground up didn’t work, including a plan for a high-rise near Lake Shore Drive and Addison Street, and Gouletas failed to get financing for a reported $950 million bid to acquire a national portfolio of apartments.
In 2016, Mr. Gouletas filed for personal bankruptcy. His former firm, American Invsco, a name once seen everywhere in the Chicago market, no longer operates, according to state corporate records.
“From my perspective, he wasn’t suited for being in business the last few years. But he loved it, and he didn’t want to give it up,” Steven Gouletas said.
He said his father loved his large Greek family and always showed deep respect for individuals. Steven Gouletas recalled his father getting pushback from a project manager on a condo conversion in the Atlanta area when a Black friend from his encyclopedia sales days wanted to move in. Told others would move out, Mr. Gouletas said, “Then empty the building.”
That friend, Steven Gouletas said, was Maynard Jackson, who became the first Black mayor of Atlanta.
Mr. Gouletas, who attended Wright College, supported the Center for Excellence in Education, where he created an endowment and served on its board. He was elected to the Chicago Association of Realtors Hall of Fame in 1996.
His professional affiliations included Lambda Alpha International, an honorary organization within the Urban Land Institute. He was a board member and supporter of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Survivors include his second wife, Natel Matschulat Gouletas. His first wife, Eunice, died in 2017. His survivors also include five children and 12 grandchildren.
A virtual church service on his behalf is scheduled to be livestreamed on Facebook at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, by St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Chicago.