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Elizabeth Ballis, Deborah Ballis Hirt, and Nicole Niermeyer

Getting into real estate was pure serendipity for Chicago broker Elizabeth Ballis, leader of the Ballis Group at Compass and who, for more than 40 years, has ranked among the Windy City’s top producers.

“Way back in 1980, I helped link up a friend who wanted to sell her home with another friend who was an agent,” Ballis said. “I watched the process unfold, and I was hooked.”

Working at the time in her family’s insurance business, Ballis made the switch in record time, getting her real estate license and going to work for a small company in mid-city Chicago before the year was out.

She did well enough to launch her own company barely a year later, and the firm garnered enough notice to merge several times over the years with larger and larger firms, settling for a time under the Coldwell Banker banner before Ballis made the move to Compass Realty early in 2019.

“Compass is an innovative brand providing really smart tools to help agents and consumers navigate the buy-sell process,” said Ballis—a prime reason, she noted, why her mother-daughter-plus-one team will finish the year with $30 million dollars in volume without feeling the need for administrative help.

Married for 52 years to her real estate developer husband, Ballis remains an avid fan of city life.

“We lived in Chicago when Deborah was born,” she said, “and we’ve never been tempted to live elsewhere.”

So, daughter Deborah Ballis Hirt, growing up with real estate as the topic of many dinner table conversations, went to work for the city of Chicago after college, serving in several capacities before turning her talents to real estate.

“I started on the development side, then thought about commercial,” she said. “But even as real estate was going through the 2008 downturn, I felt ready to tackle residential.”

Licensed in mid-2010, Ballis Hirt transitioned easily into her mother’s company. The Ballis Group now comprises Elizabeth Ballis, Deborah Ballis Hirt and Nicole Niermeyer.

Barbara Pronin: Elizabeth, given the capricious nature of mother-daughter relationships, what’s it been like to team with your daughter?

Elizabeth Ballis: Believe it or not, it was smooth from the beginning! Deborah was smart and a fast learner, and I tried hard not to look at it as a child-parent thing. It’s been an awesome to really see who she is as a person, to recognize that she has talents and skills that are different from mine, but that can help take our business to another level. She’s so much better with technology than I am, for example, and that’s such a bonus for me.

From L to R: Deborah Ballis Hirt, Nicole Niermeyer and Elizabeth Ballis

BP: So, when and why did you decide to add someone else to your team?

EB: From the moment Nicole Niermeyer came into Coldwell Banker as a newbie, we could see she was something special. She sold her first property in her first weekend at the firm, and she never looked back. After six months, we knew she was a great fit for our business model in terms of her work ethic, her character and her commitment. She joined our team as a third partner in the fall of 2015, and we feel fortunate to have her.

From L to R: Nicole Niermeyer, Elizabeth Ballis and Deborah Ballis Hirt

BP: What’s your greatest strength as a team?

EB: Positivity, a wealth of experience, and our commitment to excellent service. Plus, while I’ve been in the business forever, we have a Gen X and a millennial in our partnership. Between us, we can pretty much understand the mindsets of every customer we serve—how they think, what they want, how they like to communicate. That can be a huge advantage. Lastly, I think, we have great regard for each other. Kindness and respect matter. Those are qualities that carry over to our clients.

BP: How do the three of you split your duties?

EB: Apart from the fact that Deborah and Nicole take care of the tech and admin tasks, for which I am eternally grateful, we are all equally on board. We want each of our clients to feel very comfortable, knowing they have a lead agent—the primary contact who will be there for them throughout their buy/sell experience—but also to know there is a knowledgeable back-up who’s ready and able to consult, and who’s perfectly capable of running the show if one of us takes some time off.

BP: What does your work day look like?

EB: We typically have a short meeting first thing, to be sure we’re all on the same page about new business, ongoing projects and all the transactions in progress. Then each of us is off to do whatever needs to be done.

BP: How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your business?

EB: We’ve been extraordinarily busy this year, with so many people wanting more space, more privacy, more amenities—and we have the luxury of my 40 years in the business, so we have lots of referrals and repeat business. We still have daily meetings, although sometimes via Zoom or telephone, and we’re well prepared to manage things virtually and safely with our clients. We’ve made all the necessary transitions, and, in some ways, we are stronger than ever.

BP: And most of your business comes from within the city?
EB: Absolutely. We know and love Chicago from the inside out, and our clients appreciate that. They even get involved in our efforts to give back. We had a coat drive recently, collecting coats for the underserved, that was a huge success—and we are very involved in raising funds for the Chicago Furniture Bank. That’s a nonprofit that collects donations of gently used furniture and household goods and gets them to people who have nothing when they transition into supportive housing.

BP: What’s your plan for 2021?
EB: If business ever settles down, we’ll work on updating our CRM. We have thousands of contacts by now—and we want to grow our social media platform. And working together has been the best thing ever, but we’d love to have some time just to spend more time with each other. Deborah tells me I work 24/7. That’s a habit I’d like to break. But I love what I do, that’s the simple truth. And I love that our clients love us back.

Barbara Pronin is a contributing editor to RISMedia.

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