I like to consider myself a super cheerleader for this city. Friends have called me “the Ambassador” as I stop to help lost tourists on the streets of Philadelphia. Whenever I drive up the Parkway with the art museum framed in the background, it never fails to take my breath away. But I may have a rival in this week’s Portrait, Chris DiBiase. DiBiase is a real estate agent here in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. He tells his clients that what makes Philadelphia special are the diverse neighborhoods, the diverse culture, and the action, but what makes people fall in love with this city is also the attitude, authenticity and the pride.
As much as I love this city, I’m originally from North Jersey. Where do you come from?
I’m from Philadelphia, born and bred. I moved around a little and now I’m back and living in South Philly.
And the family?
I come from a small Italian family. Just my parents, a brother and me. My parents are both gone. My dad died when I was in my 20’s. He was a salesman of some sort. I think he sold paper.
Ha. Did he work for Dunder-Mifflin?
Like on the show “The Office?” No, that would be funny though. My mother was in sales too. She sold carpeting and hardwood floors.
Well, that knowledge must be handy for a real estate guy.
Definitely, I know a good floor when I see it. I can tell you the difference between bamboo or eucalyptus, oak or pine, you name it.
What were you like back in the day, Were you a sporty kid? Nerdy?
I think I was a little bit of everything, maybe one-fourth sporty, one-fourth nerdy, one-fourth loud and one-fourth quiet.
What’s a fun family memory?
There are so many fun ones with my brother that I can’t put in print! I would say going down to the shore, me, my mother and father, my brother and some extended family. Each year we rented the same house in Sea Isle City for two weeks. It was nice to be with just the family.
Did you play any team sports?
I played baseball and soccer. I never really liked either of them, but I continued playing them anyway. When I got a little older I really got into tennis.
Do you still play?
Every once and awhile I’ll hit a ball around for fun, but not competitively. At this point, if it goes over the net and falls into the serving box, I’m happy.
My secret weapon was that I had a really bad serve, it was so slow that it would throw good players off their game!
Your trick shot!
Yup! Did you go to college or did you take another path?
I went to college at East Stroudsburg University. And when I got out, I graduated college on a Saturday, moved to New York on Sunday, and started working at an advertising agency on Monday. I didn’t skip a beat.
What did you do?
I was a graphic designer.
Is that what you studied at Stroudsburg?
Well, I was never a good student. I got into state school by the skin of my teeth. I’m more street smart than book smart. I’d taken as many classes as I could take without declaring a major, and the school put a foot down. So I became a communications and media major. I took a course on computer graphic design and I really liked it. It kept me focused and was very therapeutic. I liked the creative aspect of it and was able to get a job in advertising.
How was life in the big apple?
It was great. I moved there because I wanted a place where I could start to come out and start my slow progression towards the gay life.
What was the first gay club you went in?
It was in NY. No wait, Philly. No, NY. No, I’m wrong. It was neither. When I was in college I went to New Hope to go to The Cartwheel. That was the first club. It was the one closest to the school.
How did you start to grasp that you were part of the community?
Like a lot of people, I always knew. It was a classic — I was born this way and knew early on — it was just a matter of when I was going to explore it. For me, it was mostly when I went to NY because I could take time to get out and about and make friends and become part of the community.
What were the hot clubs when you were there?
My staple and the place where I had the best times was Splash. The Gansevoort Hotel had the best tea dances on Sundays. The best. And then of course after that you would go to Hero which was this sexier, darker party.
From nice to naughty.
Exactly, [laughs] though it was more like nice to nude! From polo shirts in the afternoon to your birthday suit after dark.
Now that’s a full day! So you were working in advertising and marketing in New York…
Yes, I did a lot of different jobs in New York, including some time in the publishing industry, which was a little rough because it was right at the time where people were discovering books online and the publishing companies were panicking and trying to restructure. So I was with a few companies during my time in New York.
What was your most unusual job?
I was a ball catcher at the US Open.
Okay, I’m bowing to you. I love tennis and I’m fascinated by the ball boys and girls. What a fun thing to do, how did you get the gig?
A friend of mine was a player, not a pro but high enough in the ranks to get us on the grounds. He asked if I wanted to become a ball boy with him and I did. I watched a short orientation tape and was assigned to a match with Steffi Graf. I don’t remember who the other player was. But it was great, I got to see an amazing player at the top of her game.
That’s got to be really scary for a kid, to be expected to grab and throw the balls and not miss.
It’s definitely scary, to have to scoop the ball up while scooting down and not overrun it and have to go back to get it. Fortunately it was an early match and we were on a far outside court. Because we were the worst ballboys! We were tripping over the court, dropping balls, and at first people were accepting but after a while we could see the player serving was like “Ugh!”. We were the clumsiest ballboys in the history of the game!
In your party days, what was your worst party outfit?
Well, what is the worst now was the best back then! Probably my Cavaricci pants with my red Michael Jackson jacket.
Ha! I had a black MJ jacket and I used it to get into a star studded party after Live AID. Someone told them I was LaToya Jackson!
Oh my God, that’s funny. Did you have to keep it up all night?
No, thankfully, once I got in the door I was fine. I don’t even look like LaToya other than the clothes that I was wearing! I guess the security guy didn’t want to admit he didn’t know what she looked like. But back to you, what took you to Fort Lauderdale?
I got laid off of one too many publishing jobs. I got a nice package with the last one and decided to follow a friend who was moving to Florida. I got a job there working for the Hair Club for Men.
Wait. What? The Sy Sperling Hair Club?
Yes, and I was on the marketing team so yes I worked on those cheesy “I’m not only the HairClub president, I’m also a client” commercials that you saw at 2 a.m. We had guest stars like former Superman Dean Cain, Christopher Knight from the Brady Bunch, and a bunch of B-list stars.
Okay, does it work and if so how? Not that I need it, my hair is almost down to my thigh.
Oh wow. There are several different options. It takes a lot of maintenance but does work. It’s not magic. There’s surgery where they transplant hair or they have a method where they affix the hair to your head and you can wash, swim do most everything with it.
When you say affix, you mean glue the hair onto your head?
Pretty much and every month they peel it off and you get a new one. They cut it and style it and you’re good to go.
How did you get into real estate?
After three years in Florida, it was pretty, but I’m definitely a Northerner. It’s nice to visit the South but it’s not where I want to live. Too slow-paced and too hot. That was also around the time when my mother was dying, so I wanted to be here for her. I’d done some real estate work in NY and when I got back to Philly, I was inspired to get back into it. I was able to use my marketing skills to reach clients and help get them into the perfect homes. In my first year I won “Top-Producer Award.”
I bet it also helps when you enjoy the city as much as we do.
For sure, my love for the city is what prompted me to get back into real estate. I think Philadelphia is the most underrated city in the world. It’s a diamond in the rough.
A diamond that’s slowly getting polished each day. What’s exciting about helping someone buy a new house?
Finding people who are a little reluctant or scared to buy, especially in the LGBTQ community, and helping them take the steps to make it happen. Usually when we go through the process at the end they’re like, “Why didn’t we do this sooner!” Because a house is so much more than just shelter and we help you live your dreams.
Speaking of homes, what’s the conversation piece I’d find in yours?
My velvet purple chaise lounge!
Who is the person who supports you the most?
My mother, even though she’s not here anymore, I still feel her support.
What’s something you’d like to learn?
I’ve always wanted to learn to play the drums. And I’d love to learn Latin ballroom dancing like salsa.
Would you rather swim in a pool or the ocean?
I’d rather swim in a pool and look at the ocean.
Did you have a piggy bank as a kid?
I did! The first thing I bought with my savings was an Atari game set. I saved $100 for it.
Ever been bitten or attacked by an animal?
Yes, I was bitten on the head by a Doberman Pincher when I was 12. I was bending down playing with a rabbit and I went to pet the dog and he bit my head. It was pretty bad; I had to get a bunch of stitches and I still have the scar to show for it.
Yikes! Ever been really lost?
Yes, when I was a kid at Disney World. I swore my parents were gone because I couldn’t find them anywhere. I was screaming, “My family left without me!” and then I heard my father yell from the back, “What is wrong with you Chris? We’re right here!”
Music that makes you either happy or sad?
Happy: anything freestyle from the ‘80s. Sad: classic country.
What kind of extracurricular things do you do?
I do a lot of community work through our company, Keller Williams Realty. I like to do things that will benefit children because they’re the ones that will be running things soon! One of my favorite causes is the American Lung Cancer Association. My mother passed away from lung cancer even though she never smoked. So that’s one that needs extra research. My father died of a heart attack but the heart association has enough money!
Where and what would be your dream home?
Somewhere on a cliff. Actually, it would be a Tuscan villa-style house but placed somewhere in Ancient Egypt. I’m fascinated by Egyptian mythology.
Do you have a motto?
I have a business motto: “Your friend in Philly homes.” Because, as I said, my mother was in sales, and she taught me to really respect and lookout for your clients. So I don’t try to give anyone the hard sell. I’m really there to be your friend, to nurture you and help you find a home that will make you happy.