The Baird & Warner real estate logo next to a map highlighting the state of Florida.
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

Baird & Warner 'snowbird' agents can follow buyers to Florida 

Jeff and Joanne Collis, originally based in Illinois, have been building a business in Naples, Florida while also working on deals in the Chicago suburbs.

April 22, 2023
4 minutes

Key points:

  • Illinois brokerage Baird & Warner opened an office in Naples, Florida late last year.
  • Agents Jeff and Joanne Collis have taken advantage of the expansion to work on deals in both states.
  • Baird & Warner is now in six Florida MLSs and has 23 agents covering the Florida market.

Late last year, Illinois brokerage Baird & Warner announced that it was opening an office in Naples, Florida, the first time in the company's 167-year history that it expanded outside of the Chicago area. 

The brokerage, which in 2021 had more than 2,500 agents and closed $7.74 billion in sales volume, made a strategic decision to not only follow buyers to Florida, but also to set up shop where some of their agents were planning to move. 

Being able to do business in both Illinois and Florida gives Baird & Warner a competitive advantage, and it allows their agents to essentially become working snowbirds. 

Husband-and-wife team Joanne and Jeff Collis are two agents who quickly took advantage of the ability to work with clients in both territories. Having already established themselves in the upscale suburb of Barrington, Illinois, they found that many of their clients were moving to Florida, and it made sense to follow them. 

Jeff and Joanne Collis, Baird & Warner Real Estate.
Jeff and Joanne Collis, Baird & Warner Real Estate.

"Last year, we had about 20 listings, and out of those 20 clients, seven of them left the state — and a lot of them were going to Florida," Jeff told Real Estate News. "The pipeline of people moving from Chicago to Florida, or people or getting a second home in Florida, was just a tremendous opportunity for Baird & Warner — and for us."

Licensing reciprocity helps agents work both states

Planting roots in Florida was made easier due to the fact that Illinois and Florida have a license reciprocity agreement that streamlines the process for agents in one state to get their license in the other. Illinois agents can skip the classroom and coursework; they just need to pass the 40-question state-specific portion to become licensed in Florida. 

Working both states not only allows the Collises to win commissions on both the buy and sell sides of a transaction when someone is relocating from the Chicago area to Florida, but it also gives them the reassurance that their client needs are being met.

"For previous clients who left the state, a lot of times you may have referred them to somebody you've never met," said Joanne. "But now if agents in Illinois who personally know us have a client referral, they know they're sending it to someone they know will take care of them."

It also helps Jeff and Joanne live the snowbird agent lifestyle because they are working as a team together on the same deals. Last year, the couple said they spent 90% of their time in the Chicago area and about 10% — mostly in the winter — in Florida, but this year, they're doing the opposite. 

"We bundle up our appointments and if we can push them out every couple of weeks, then on the next trip to Chicago we can do four or five appointments and make it worthwhile," said Jeff.

From Naples to statewide expansion

While the Collises cover the Fort Myers-Naples region of Florida, Baird & Warner has quickly established itself in other regions of the state, said Bill Coduto, VP and managing broker of both the Barrington, Illinois and Naples, Florida offices.

"We're in six different Florida MLSs, so we now have coverage over almost the entire state," he told Real Estate News. 

And they hope to have statewide coverage soon. Currently, Baird & Warner has 23 agents in Florida, but that number could double in the coming months, Coduto said. 

The Collises are seeing their numbers grow as well, particularly as they take on more deals in Florida. Last year, the pair did $12 million in deals, Jeff said, but the bulk of their closings were in Illinois. This year, they're hoping to do the same volume — or more — but close two-thirds of their transactions in Florida and the remainder in Illinois.

"We're averaging about a million dollars a month between the two markets," said Jeff. "It's roughly 50-50 right now with sales volume."

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