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Is 166-year-old Baird & Warner ahead of its time?

An interview with Stephen Baird of the Chicago brokerage, who has some pointed thoughts on how his brethren should enter mortgage

HW+ Baird & Warner
Baird & Warner President and CEO Stephen Baird

Baird & Warner lays claim to be the oldest U.S. brokerage still in operation, launching in 1855.

In the 1960s, its then-executive John Baird tussled with the National Association of Realtors (NAR) over that group’s enforcement of redlining as Baird wanted to sell homes to Black people in areas that lenders and agents marked as white only. The fight for Illinois legislation over the matter was part of what eventually lead to the 1967 federal Fair Housing Act. In 1991, John Baird’s son, Stephen Baird, took over as president and later CEO of the brokerage.

The business’s legacy was venerated at various point such as in 2005 when then Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley declared March 28 “Baird & Warner Day,” and a route alongside LaSalle Street was named “Baird & Warner Drive.”

But far from a relic of a bygone era, Baird & Warner is still going absent any mergers, acquisitions, or change in their Chicago focus. The company is the 26th largest brokerage in the country by sales volume, according to RealTrends 2020 figures, with $6.4 billion.

Also, Stephen Baird still runs Baird & Warner. Baird was generous with his time, showing HousingWire various artifacts from the company’s history — such as late 19th century property deeds, and 1950s Chicago Sun-Times articles — during a recent, atrociously hot Chicago afternoon. And he sat down for a lengthy on-the-record interview in the company’s 20th floor downtown headquarters. 

Some highlights: 

HousingWire: What does Baird & Warner do today?

Stephen Baird: We were in the commercial real estate business for a long time, but our current iteration is three major businesses, the brokerage business – which is what people know us for, but we also have a very substantial residential mortgage company, (called Key Mortgage) and a title company. People know us from the brokerage business. But we also have mortgage originators and title closers.

We’ve always believed in controlling our own destiny. We generally don’t like partnerships, because it just limits our ability to build our businesses out and do things the way we want to do them. So, we are pursuing a little bit of a different strategy than other people are. Everybody now is talking about all these other services. And they’re generally adding them by partnerships, right? But it’s something we’ve been doing for 20 years.

I’ve been surprised by how slowly it has evolved, and how slowly some of the major institutions have reacted to the marketplace. NAR, for example, has no affiliation that has mortgage or title in it… (Article continued on HousingWire.com.)

This article was originally published by HousingWire. The full article is available on HousingWire.com for HW+ Members.

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