Growing up, 2023 Chicago Association of REALTORS® president Sarah Ware and her family would gather on Sunday mornings to read the Chicago Tribune. She was always drawn to and intrigued by the real estate section. Her family celebrated owning real estate, and she wanted to understand it better.
Many years later, she can point to that ritual as where the seeds for her career began.
While the path hasn’t always been easy, it has been made more clear by a single fact: Sarah never sits around waiting for anything; she just dives in and gets started.
She forwent a college degree and jumped into the real estate market as a landlord, buying multifamily and single-family properties across the city. As an investor and a landlord, she learned a valuable lesson: buy a property because you like it, in case you end up living in it, which is something she found out through experience. She obtained her real estate license in order to represent herself and her properties. And from there, Ware continued to grow. She learned how to start a brokerage, launched a business, learned about partnerships and then launched her own brokerage, Ware Realty Group. The brokerage now works on both the residential and commercial side, partially due to its certification as a minority and women-owned business by the city of Chicago, which provides it with exclusive commercial projects throughout the city.
Her journey into REALTOR® leadership is a familiar one: past president Zeke Morris invited her to an Inaugural Gala. “I did not quite know what was going on. I even remember asking him, ‘What are all you guys doing here?’ I got there, looked around and thought, ‘What are all these people doing here in tuxes and gowns, and how did I not know about this?’ That made me realize I needed to understand why I didn’t know about this, since, in my head, I’m a person who’s in the know,” she said during her induction speech at our 139th Annual Inaugural Gala.
After that, Ware started showing up at other events. Eventually, she began to volunteer on committees, like our Professional Standards, Finance and Public Policy Committees, and put her name in the hat for the board of directors. “I wanted to get into leadership because if there aren’t people who look like you, you might not understand all the benefits for you and your career,” she said. “I wanted to be a bridge for that, for those REALTORS® who looked like me.”
Many years of board service later, Ware was preparing for the next chapter in her career. “I had no interest in leading the Chicago Association of REALTORS®. I was ready for someone else to take my place,” she said. “I was done. And then George Floyd happened.”
She saw what REALTORS® across the country were posting on social media — some good, yes, but many others who were negative and racist — and her fire rekindled. “I realized then that it was important for people to see me run, as a Black woman,” she said. “I wanted to be the one in the room leading, and I hope that by me being here, I can inspire at least one other person to step up and get involved.”
Getting involved is a big passion for her. Her entryway to involvement came through advocacy and lobbying. Advocacy is also her avenue to tackling an issue close to her heart: homeownership and the wealth gap. “We have to understand that laws will be made with or without us,” she said. “It’s part of our business – we have a duty to our clients, past, present and future, to step up and take an active role in the legislation that directly impacts their investment.”
Last spring, she was inducted into the REALTORS® Political Action Committee (RPAC) Hall of Fame. It’s another way she is leading the way and setting an example for those who follow.
“You cannot be what you cannot see,” she said. “Sometimes, we get a little comfortable here in Chicago, because we’re diverse, because we have leaders who represent every neighborhood in our city and from all kinds of backgrounds. But that is not the norm throughout our country. We need more leaders who look like me, and who look like you, to step up and get more involved and represent at a high level.”
And it’s not just leadership — mentorship ranks highly as well. “To be a leader, you also need to be a mentor,” she said. It’s a calling that’s close to her heart; so close, in fact, that she also runs a consulting business, called Ware Consulting, where she provides education, coaching, mentorship and workshops. Her mentees benefit from much of the same advice doled out here; show up, dive in, work hard, be visible and resolve to figure it out.
“Come as you are,” she said. “Just because you don’t know something, doesn’t mean you don’t show up. If it’s something that interests you, get your toes wet. I’ll meet you where you are, and we’ll figure it out together.” That’s her challenge to all Chicago REALTORS® this year, and her rallying call: Come As You R.
“Bring your stories and experiences, open doors for one another and ensure we continue to strengthen our industry and this association. It takes all of us, working towards this unified goal, to find success and I know we can get there,” she added.
Her other goals for the year derive from that. Dive in and use the resources you’re already paying for as a member. These benefits are a great place to get started, whether it’s education through RRES, networking at an event or taking advantage of any of our member perks for discounted prices on tools that can help your business. And, if you don’t understand a benefit, just ask! There’s always someone who would be willing to walk you through them.
Also, she stresses the importance of respect for our industry and for our peers. “Our industry has a huge role to play, so it’s important that we do what we can to keep the integrity and professionalism of our industry,” she said.
And most importantly, answer the call to show up. “If we all commit to showing up, just as we are, we can work together towards a stronger industry for ourselves, our city and everyone within it,” she said. “I didn’t get here by accident — I’ve had help and support along the way. And I’m offering the same support to you today.”
Oh — and about that college degree. She’ll be graduating from Governors State University with a bachelor’s degree in spring 2023. Just another way she continues to raise the bar and prove what’s possible.
Watch Sarah’s presidential speech from the 139th Inaugural Gala.