“Historically, an election year at a time of national economic growth leads to increased consumer confidence, which has a positive impact on the market,” says the Baird & Warner executive.

Jennifer Alter Warden is the Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President at Baird & Warner.

Are you optimistic about 2016?

Yes, there are a number of factors that can contribute to making 2016 a strong year. Historically, an election year at a time of national economic growth leads to increased consumer confidence, which has a positive impact on the market.

On the flip side, the tenuous state of the global economy will keep the Fed from increasing interest rates to a level that can have a negative impact on consumer spending.

Are you optimistic about the housing market?

Yes, I believe that we can expect another year of steady housing recovery. Demand will remain strong, and inventory should start to catch up during the spring season as seller confidence grows.

The influx of millennials purchasing their first homes and baby boomers who want to downsize will continue to drive increased activity in markets across the country. Furthermore, lenders are continuing to loosen previously conservative standards to create a positive lending environment, greatly benefitting first-time homebuyers and developers, and encouraging sellers to list their homes.

What makes your market unique?

The city of Chicago offers a world-class, highly livable metropolitan environment with unparalleled art, entertainment and cultural amenities, as well as the benefits of a wonderful park system located along one of our country’s largest freshwater lakes.

There are many housing options — from urban condos to the traditional Chicago-style bungalow. Extending beyond Chicago, there are numerous towns and villages — ranging from higher-end communities along the North Shore to more accessible towns for first-time buyers with growing families — offering exceptional suburban living with easy access to downtown.

All of these unique benefits have led to an increase in Fortune 500 companies moving to our city.

Are you optimistic about your success?

Now in our 160th year, Baird & Warner is continuing to strengthen our position as the leading independent real estate services company in Chicagoland. Our unique culture — a blend of experience, innovation and integrity — is attracting more quality talent to our brokerage, mortgage and title divisions than ever before.

Our people, in turn, are empowered with the tools, systems and support they receive to thrive both professionally and personally. Happily, we were once again named the No. 1 Top Workplace by the Chicago Tribune in 2015.

What are you worried about?

I worry about accessibility to quality education and the effects of gun violence.

How much do you fret about global events?

I believe that climate change and terrorism can impact quality of life on a global scale.

Will mortgage rates go up or down next year?

Based on current conditions and economic trends, I don’t think we’ll see too much movement in mortgage rates in 2016. I would expect somewhere between a 0.25 and 0.5 percent.

Will home prices appreciate next year?

Yes, I think home prices will mirror and likely improve upon 2015 increases. The Midwest tends to be a bit more conservative than most of the rest of the country — typically slower to react to dramatic swings — so I expect to see a price appreciation of about 2.5 percent in 2016.

Will agents be more productive next year? Why or why not?

Those brokers who are tracking with the consumer, embracing new technology and working toward improved relationships and customer service skills, will no doubt be more productive in 2016.

In direct support of those efforts, at Baird & Warner we are introducing Ascend, a comprehensive coaching and development program specifically designed for our top broker associates to help them take their business to the next level. Our non-competing managing brokers and professional development staff are working closely with these brokers on aggressive 2016 business plans to enable them to achieve breakthrough goals.

Additionally, we will have hired nearly 500 new and experienced brokers in 2015. With the support of a strong onboarding program, these new broker associates can combine their business savvy and digital sophistication with our tools and coaching to reach new levels of productivity.

Will the portals play a bigger role in real estate next year?

The portals, or some version of them, are here to stay. We need to learn how to make the most of what they offer to help our broker associates leverage them as an additional resource to further build their business and deliver a better consumer experience.

What will be the biggest source of real estate leads next year?

Our biggest source for real estate leads will continue to be BairdWarner.com, which is now completely responsive and provides a stellar mobile experience. As a matter of fact, it was recently named the No. 1 real estate website by Chicagoland Realtors for the fourth consecutive year. Furthermore, we are running several pilot programs to develop best practices in lead incubation and conversion.

Are you making plans to expand, contract or maintain your business this year?

We plan to expand our business in 2016 in order to better serve the homebuyers and sellers of Chicagoland. All three of our companies — brokerage, mortgage and title — have significant growth plans.

What is the biggest challenge for the industry in the coming year?

To me, the biggest challenge remains keeping up with the consumer — meeting and exceeding their expectations wherever they are.

One example is how it is so important for us to really understand the growth and prevalence of immediate access to the most up-to-date data. This is why we have invested in a suite of mobile tools, including our fully responsive website and exclusive mobile app, as well as real-time HomeFinder Alerts and an upgraded proximity search.

We also need to continue to make the transaction experience easier and more transparent for consumers, as well as easier on our broker associates, who are working incredibly hard to secure and close deals.

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