Local builders, big brokerages: New construction partnerships in Chicagoland

by Jason Porterfield


Agents who can sell new construction, and sell it well, are worth their weight in gold for area developers.

Developer Keith Jacobs was recently presented with a dilemma that fell outside of his experience at Deerfield-based Jacobs Companies, where he currently helms the storied luxury builder. Though the builder has a stellar reputation for quality and more than 80 years in the business, the company’s projects were not attracting the foot traffic they needed, despite vigorous production of brochures and other marketing materials. At one open house held in fall 2016, only one broker decided put in an appearance.

Even established developers with long histories in the business are unlikely to have vast referral networks on the scale that a large brokerage could reach.

Brokerages also have marketing expertise and knowledge that can help builders reach their target market more quickly and easily than if they had to handle everything on their own. For smaller, more locally focused developers, harnessing the power of a brokerage’s resources could be a game changer.

Agents also have a great deal to gain from forming partnerships with developers – they can make new inroads in their respective markets and access new potential buyers. The duties of a new construction sales agent can bring with them a pipeline of new construction properties that they might otherwise never have the chance to market.

Getting one of these partnerships started often happens in the usual way: it’s all about who you know. Developers need agents they can trust to make sales happen, but finding and engaging the right people can be a challenge. So it often becomes a matter of personal vetting along the grapevine.

The sole broker who turned up for Jacobs’ open house in 2016 was Karen Skurie of Baird & Warner in Highland Park. As it turned out, she was the solution to their problem.

Jacobs had been considering transitioning to a new marketing model: they’d work with a broker who could handle their sales and marketing efforts for them. Skurie, who had more than 25 years of experience selling properties throughout the North Shore, was a perfect fit. Jacobs already knew her as a connected member of the local real estate community, but was blown away by the services she brought to the table through her brokerage.

“She was the catalyst that brought us to Baird & Warner,” Jacobs says. As soon as he met with Steven Baird and caught sight of their operations and the resources at their disposal, Jacobs says, “I decided immediately that we would make this change.”

What began with a few listings snowballed into a partnership: Baird & Warner now handles all of Jacobs Companies’ listings.

“We decided together to start out slow,” Skurie says. “They immediately listed a couple of properties with me and were very excited about the immediate increased traffic. A sale happened right away that was generated from this increased traffic. We were all very comfortable with each other and excited to work together.”

The shift put the internal marketing operation of a major real estate brand at Jacobs Companies’ disposal, as well as the potential assistance of more than 2,200 agents. The developer progressed from struggling to launch an effective marketing campaign in Chicago to working with a large network of agents connected to countless potential homebuyers.

“They have a very sophisticated network within themselves that lets every one of their brokers know what we’re doing every step of the way,” Jacobs says. “That gives me 2,200 salespeople talking about it. Some of the brokerage firms aren’t in the North Shore, but there are still people out there who might come to the North Shore. They know we have product now. We were never able to reach those people before.”

And on the North Shore, they have Skurie’s team handling developments in Highland Park, Northbrook and Deerfield. Her office is building out its space to create a Jacobs room where her agents train on the properties and bring prospective buyers.

“Each project that they have is run differently,” Skurie says. “We’re working to train other Baird & Warner agents within my office, as well as Baird & Warner agents in other offices, and I think the more information we have will benefit the consumers because they’ll have a lot of information coming from other agents rather than from the builder.”

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