PERFECT PLACES: Tommy Choi knows how rewarding becoming a first time homeowner can be; his family raised him to value homeownership and investing in not only in the community, but himself too.
Photo: Tricia Anderson


One of the biggest decisions a person can make in life is buying a home — a place to call their own and maybe start a family. And while purchasing a home can be an intimidating transaction, it is also one of the most rewarding.

Influential Chicago residential broker Tommy Choi built his career around helping first-time homebuyers, so he knows how important that achievement can be. From a young age, Choi’s family taught him the value of investing in the city and in himself.

“A big piece of the reason my grandfather came to the United States was opportunity,” Choi says. “A big chunk of his opportunity was tied to one day owning his own home. Not so much just have a roof over his head, but to be able to put a stake in the ground and say that this piece of Chicago — this piece of America — he had worked very hard to achieve.”

Making the sort of investment Choi’s grandfather did is a life-altering event for most people because a home is one of the largest purchases a person will ever make. Many families choose to refinance and renovate their homes throughout their lifetime. This option allows people to establish deep roots in a place and build equity. Should you decide to sell your home at some point, a remodel can hugely increase its value.

Starting a business

Choi launched a career in real estate when he was 25, after realizing the high-paying job he landed right out of college just didn’t feel right anymore. In 2007, he started a residential brokerage with a business partner as they sought to serve first-time homebuyers and give back to their community.

From his own friends who would come to him for help when they had questions, Choi knew how intimidating and confusing the home-buying process could be and how much customer service mattered on the agent side of the business.

“Focus your energy on being better than who you were from the day before.”

“So that was our big play into jumping into the residential market,” Choi says. “Literally just focusing on that white-glove service especially tailored to the first-time homebuyer.”

Choi attributes much of his own success over the years to his learning-based approach to the constantly changing industry. “I’m asking questions, I’m listening, and I’m adapting and learning,” he explains. “Those are the [kind of] agents that you’ll start to see really stand out as advisors to their clients. And they’ll continue to grow no matter what the circumstances or the surrounding background settings are.”

Looking at the market

In Choi’s home turf of Chicago, the real estate market is vibrant. With millennials moving en masse to the city, companies setting up headquarters in Downtown Chicago, and a substantial set of construction projects planned city-wide in the next few years, Choi calls it “the perfect storm” for buyers, sellers and real estate agents.

“Right now, it’s a great time for real estate agents, especially on the selling side,” he says. “On the buying side, it’s equally as busy and there’s opportunity because, right now, money is cheap and interest rates are still low.”

However, Choi encourages young or prospective real estate agents looking to join the industry to focus on their personal growth and happiness first. In a transparent industry, which can easily become competitive, it is critical to be able to see past the competition.

“Focus your energy on being better than who you were from the day before,” Choi says. “You’re going to be a way better person and a way better agent — and you’re going to build a bigger business.”