Jennifer Ames, one of the highest-performing residential brokers in the Chicago area, left Coldwell Banker to launch Chicago’s first outpost for German brokerage Engel & Volkers.
After spending most of her 25-year career with Coldwell Banker, Ames will oversee all Chicago operations for the Hamburg-based company, she said Monday. Her husband, entrepreneur and software developer Paul Lazarre, will join the office at 2401 North Clark Street as a licensed partner and oversee internal operations while she steers sales.
Ames has ranked among the Chicago area’s top 10 brokers by volume every year since 1997, according to Chicago Agent. In 2017 she ranked ninth in the region, with about $116 million in sales.
The move will take a significant chunk of business from Coldwell Banker, whose Chicago-area agents combined for about $9.7 billion in sales in 2017. @properties, the region’s second-highest selling brokerage, transacted about $9 billion that year.
Ames said Lazarre’s business track record and her team’s local experience will keep her office competitive with @properties and Compass, which have both been rapidly expanding in the region and investing heavily in new technology. Last year, the owners of @properties quietly sold a major stake of their company to Virginia-based private equity firm Quad-C, saying the move would fund the development of new technology they could market to other firms.
Coldwell Banker lost another star broker last year when Debora McKay, one of the top producers in the west-suburban Fox Valley region, jumped to @properties.
Engel & Volkers had been courting Ames for about two years before she made the move, she said. She accepted in part because she wanted a tight-knit work environment like luxury brokerage Kahn Realty, where she worked from 1997 until it was acquired by Coldwell Banker.
“Coldwell Banker has been incredibly supportive of me, but in a funny way, I felt lonely there,” Ames said. “I wanted to go back to a collaborative environment that’s more intimate, and that has better control over branding.”
The new Engel & Volkers office employs a team of 10 agents, including eight Ames brought from Coldwell Banker. She eventually hopes to bring up to 35 agents into the fold, she said.
The Lincoln Park office was designed to accommodate walk-in clients, with a wine bar and common area aiming to provide “white-glove service,” Ames said. It’s scheduled for a grand opening this spring.
The operation will begin by pursuing clients in Ames’ existing sales wheelhouse, with transactions averaging around $1 million on the city’s North Side and in Hyde Park. But as she continues to hire agents, she hopes to focus more on the South Loop and in the city’s northern suburbs, she said.
“Our goal is to expand thoughtfully, but our next step will probably be an office on the North Shore, and potentially in other parts of the city as well,” she said.