Andreas Holder was in his native Switzerland early this year when he read that Jennifer Ames, one of Chicago’s top brokers, was opening the city’s first Engel & Volkers brokerage.
As a broker in Chicago and a frequent traveler in Europe and beyond, Andreas said he was excited about the brand coming to his adopted hometown. He and his wife and business partner, Marisela, snapped a picture in front of an Engel & Volkers location in Switzerland and sent it to Ames, with a message of congratulations.
Now Andreas and Marisela have left Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices KoenigRubloff Realty Group and are part of the growing Engel & Volkers team in Chicago, where the first local outpost of the German brokerage will open in Lincoln Park next week.
Andreas and Marisela, who is from the Dominican Republic, are just a few of the Chicago brokers with international ties that reached out after Ames announced the opening of an Engel & Volkers outpost, she said. That gave her the idea to build a multicultural team to serve a diverse clientele.
“We knew there was interest in a boutique brokerage,” Ames said. “What we didn’t expect was getting calls from such a diverse group.”
Ames has been part of the Engel & Volkers brand since early January, working with her existing clients and building a staff for the new brokerage, which she owns in a franchise deal.
The team will open its Chicago office at 2401 North Clark Street on Thursday. For the office, Ames said she drew on Engel & Volkers’ European roots, making the space more like a cafe than a business office.
On a highly visible, heavily foot trafficked Lincoln Park corner, the “shop” — as Engel & Volkers calls its brokerages — will have lounge space and community events space, Ames said.
The Engel & Volkers team so far has 18 brokers, or “advisers,” as it calls its agents, Ames said. Brokers on the team have immigrated to the United States from across the globe, including Argentina, Canada, Germany, Switzerland and Cuba, among others.
Rather than just concentrate on specific neighborhoods or areas of the city, many of the brokers specialize in working with the immigrant communities they come from. The goal is to help first- and second-generation families while also using the brand’s international footprint to expand the brokers’ business, Ames said.
Broker Lorenzo Sanchez left Cuba as a child and settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where a Dutch Reformed Church was helping to resettle Cuban exiles. He came to Chicago to go to law school in 1985, and has worked as a broker here since 1999.
Like his coworker Andreas Holder, Sanchez was lured to Engel & Volkers because of its international status. Having such a diverse office is a plus, Sanchez said. Growing up as a Cuban exile in Michigan, “I was the diversity” a majority of the time, Sanchez said with a laugh.
“In Chicago, it’s still somewhat segregated,” Sanchez said. “As a result, you have offices that are one thing or another. It’s nice to have an office where you interact with all types of people.”
With Engel and Volkers having offices all over the world, the new Chicago location will allow its local agents to work in their native country, which is a dream come true for some, they said.
Andreas and Marisela, who work as a husband-and-wife team, travel to Switzerland multiple times a year. Chicago and Lucerne, Switzerland, are sister cities, and Andreas is on the sister cities’ committee, he said.
That has led him to make business connections that will come in handy at Engel & Volkers. Andreas said he also knows of Chicago businessmen who are looking to Switzerland for tax purposes. He hopes to service these populations in his new role at Engel & Volkers, he said.
“If you can set up a service that helps with housing on both sides, that’s something that doesn’t exist,” Andreas said. “That’s definitely an incentive for working here.”
Sanchez was working this week from an Engel & Volkers office in Madrid, where he is with his wife, a corporate attorney for an insurance company who travels the world for business.
His new job will allow Sanchez to work even while accompanying his wife on her travels, and maybe even expand his international client base. Sanchez already works with Chicago’s Latin community as they seek to retire in their native countries, especially in his wife’s native Puerto Rico. Making further connections in those countries and others can only help, he said.
It is Sanchez’s dream to be able to work both in Chicago and his native Cuba. Geopolitics makes that an impossibility today, but if laws are loosened up, Sanchez said his post at Engel & Volkers could help him achieve that goal.
“That would be the crown jewel,” he said.