Five Questions with Essex Principal Kate Varde
September 25, 2020

Welcome to “Five Questions,” a monthly series where Essex Realty Group, Inc. brokers share their observations and experiences gained while working in Chicago’s real estate world. This month we are getting to know Essex Principal Kate Varde.

Introduction: Kate joined Essex Realty Group, Inc. in 2007 and focuses on the sale of multi-family and mixed-use investment real estate throughout Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Kate has been involved in the sale of over $400 million of investment property, including approximately 5,000 apartment units. In addition to brokerage, Kate Co-Chairs Essex’ Charitable Giving Committee and also led the redevelopment of Essex’ new branding and website.

Kate has been recognized by the Chicago Association of Realtors as Chicago’s top investment real estate broker and selected by Real Estate Forum as one of Commercial Real Estate’s Women to Watch in 2018 and a Woman of Influence in 2019. In addition, she was recently recognized as one of Crain's 2019 Notable Women in Commercial Real Estate. Plus, as a Board Member of the Edgewater Uptown Builder’s Association Board she helped to raise over $70,000 for local CPS elementary schools in need.

Kate has also acquired more than $50 million of apartment properties and is a Partner in Back Nine Apartment Investments which provides investment solutions for 1031 exchanges.

Prior to joining Essex, Kate was a Foreign Exchange Trader, responsible for analyzing and interpreting market conditions. She also played professional softball for the Chicago Bandits. Kate graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Psychology and was inducted into the Cornell University Sports Hall of Fame.

Q: Why were you interested in starting a career in Real Estate?

Kate: My grandfather made a big impact on me both personally and professionally. He had a successful career as a small-town pharmacist and invested well in the stock market, but the greatest wealth he built was through real estate. When he reflected on his real estate investments, he often echoed a sentiment I have heard from local, seasoned, real estate owners - every purchase seems expensive at the time, it is only with the benefit of hindsight that it seems easy or obvious.

In my 13 years in real estate, I have seen this play out as well. In 2010, it felt like we were still deep in the recession and many investors thought the troubled economy would extend for years. Sales prices had come down significantly and apartment owners still faced many challenges including increased vacancy, decreasing rents, and limited options for new debt. As a result, many buyers stood on the sidelines to avoid the risk of further fallout. However, in hindsight, EVERY investor wishes they bought more and wonder why they didn’t. The truth is no matter the market circumstances real estate rarely seems like a screaming deal, but if you hold on for a few cycles it can be a great vehicle to build wealth.

My other ‘lightbulb” moment occurred in college when I rented a five-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment (yes you read that correctly!) with four friends. It was a total dump and we paid a fortune for it despite the apartment only having a small living room and eat-in kitchen. At the time there were very few options for off-campus housing and even fewer that were near campus. In this one experience I realized two important lessons. The first lesson was the powerful force behind supply and demand. The second taught me the most important characteristic of real estate is LOCATION. These lessons were simple and obvious but resonated with me and led me towards a career in multi-family real estate.

Q: How have you seen the real estate industry grow since your first day 13 years ago?

Kate: I learned early on that differences are not disadvantages. Before joining Essex, I worked at a proprietary trading firm that sought out traders with unique perspectives to exploit opportunities in the market. In my case, they targeted female athletes. The idea was that we would bring a unique viewpoint as women and be able to perform under high pressure situations due to our success in athletics. I didn’t end up having much success as a trader, but the experience taught me a valuable lesson that I brought with me to Essex - differences can be advantages.

When I started at Essex, I was the only woman in a non-administrative role and there was only one other woman in the City focused on brokerage. Standing out is paramount to securing business in brokerage and I knew I had a built-in advantage.

I’m glad to say a lot has changed in the those thirteen years. At Essex, we now have five women providing their own diverse perspectives to the market and many of our competitors have followed suit. Despite the huge strides we have made as an industry, we still have a long way to go to create a more inclusive workforce for all. I hope that Essex continues to lead the way.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do when you are not doing brokerage?

Kate: Well, we are in the middle of a pandemic and I have six-month-old baby, so I think it goes without saying my favorite hobby is sleeping!

Q: If you could teach someone starting as a broker tomorrow just one thing, what would it be?

Kate: Ask lots of questions and practice great listening skills.

I consider myself a seeker - another thing I learned from my grandfather- to always hold a curious stance and work to constantly deepen my understanding. As a result, I ask A LOT of questions, and it has served me very well. I owe so much of my real estate knowledge to clients who were willing to share their incredible wisdom with me over the years.

However, it is not enough to just ask good questions you must truly listen to the answer. You must try to hear not just what the speaker is saying, but what also he or she is trying to say and sometimes even what he or she is not saying. In brokerage, so much of what we do is to triangulate positions and solve problems. In order to be effective at those things we must really understand the situation and the easiest path to understanding is often asking questions and then listening closely.

Q: Describe one effect on the industry you see stem from the reaction to COVID-19?

Kate: My hope for us in a post-COVID world is that we all walk away from this collective trauma with more compassion for one another. Each of us has responded to the pandemic differently and there is no ‘one size fits all’ because we each have our own individual circumstances. For the most part, I have seen people show tremendous respect, understanding, and compassion for those differences. It is one of the beautiful things that has come from these very difficult times. I hope this enlightened understanding for one another sticks around – we would all be better for it.

I am proud to say our company reflects the same values. We have implemented changes to give everyone flexibility to work wherever they feel most comfortable. In addition, we recently invested in virtual tour technology that allows our brokers to capture 720° panoramic images in an effort to offer a solution to those investors who want to remain active but also don’t feel comfortable touring properties in person at this time.


Since 1990, Essex Realty Group, Inc. has served Chicago's investment real estate market as a top multifamily brokerage firm. Contact us today to learn more about our recent multifamily and mixed-use property sales.

Tagged in this post: Kate Varde