How political nerdiness can translate to more business

by Meg White

You don’t have to run for office or serve on your association’s government affairs committee to be a politically involved real estate professional. All it really takes is being a bit of a wonk.

At least that’s the approach Sophie Morrison takes. The Downtown Apartment Company agent attends Chicago City Council zoning board hearings, regular updates from Chicago Association of Realtors government affairs directors, neighborhood development meetings and any other local gathering that might help her learn about what’s around the bend for Chicago’s real estate market. “I’m like water. I get in all the cracks,” Morrison said of her strategy for staying informed. “I am a really big nerd.”

How does she find the time? Well, Morrison said that by being involved in local politics, prospecting isn’t as important to her business. In fact, her knowledge and presence in the field have made that sort of work completely unnecessary. “I spend absolutely zero time working on sales strategies,” she said. “If you can be the most knowledgeable and accurate resource for your clients, understanding their wants and needs, that’s all you need to do.”

Her knowledge of new developments and proposed zoning changes allows her to “be a good matchmaker” for her clients, she said, adding that “it’s great to get a pulse on the neighborhoods.”

It’s not just clients and association GADs who have noticed Morrison’s grasp of the local political issues impacting the real estate industry. Back in March, she had a one-on-one meeting with Lori Lightfoot and one of her senior advisors to discuss real estate policy suggestions. Understanding that there were two key initiatives for the incoming mayor that might be combined, Morrison sprang into action with a proposal of her own.

“Attracting and retaining tech talent and supplying housing that is affordable are both priorities to the city,” Morrison noted. “When I met with Mayor Lightfoot and her advisor during the campaign, I proposed a creative solution that would help high-rise developers hit their [Affordable Requirements Ordinance] requirements and give entry-level tech talent apartments they can afford in close proximity to work.”

Regardless of what happens with Morrison’s proposal, she sees this moment as an exciting one for political watchers such as herself. With a relatively new batch of leaders in the governor’s, mayor’s and Cook County assessor’s offices, everything is still very much in wait-and-see mode, particularly when it comes to the influence of city hall.

“I think everyone is kind of waiting to see how things shake out in terms of aldermanic prerogative,” she said, referencing the control aldermen have over zoning changes and development projects, something the new mayor proposed reining in. A few other coming developments that interest Morrison are what’s happening with tax reassessments, amending existing zoning rules, modernizing the building code, minimizing bureaucracy and spreading the concentration of new real estate development beyond downtown. “It sounds like [Lightfoot is] trying to bring more socio-economic development into all neighborhoods to make the city more consistent.”

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