KANKAKE — Sitting behind her brand new desk in her downtown Kankakee RE/MAX Prestige Homes real estate office, Monica Pizano was asked if she considers herself a trailblazer in the world of Kankakee County home sales.
She thinks about the question for about 10 seconds.
“I would call myself that. Yes,” she said. “I don’t wait for things to happen. I want to make things happen. If I don’t do these things, who will?
For what is believed to be the first Hispanic-owned real estate company in Kankakee County, the 40-year-old now finds herself at the forefront in many areas. Such is the life of a pioneer – even one who has never thought much about this concept.
A nearly 19-year-old realtor in the area, who had recently been a member of Speckman Realty for 13 years — now known as Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Speckman Realty — the St. Anne resident is now on her own and has set a course for set up his own business.
There is a lot of work to do. His office at 297 S. Schuyler Ave. has another agent in Elizabeth Barbosa, of Kankakee, a real estate agent for eight months, and Pizano’s sister, Linda Chagoya, also of St. Anne, who serves as the office’s transactions coordinator – meaning she does the paperwork for pending sales.
It is hoped that the staff will not be so small for a long time. The 1999 St. Anne Community High School graduate notes since coming out on her own in late 2021, she’s had many requests to be part of her team. There are now 10 real estate hopefuls working through the licensing process with hopes of joining the company in the near future.
Unsurprisingly, of the 10, seven are Hispanic. Ms. Pizano, a school board member at St. Anne Community High School, is quick to note that her office isn’t aimed at serving just one segment of the population. She will serve all groups, but there is no doubt that her business will have a significant number of Hispanic homebuyer hopefuls.
And it’s a large and growing population base, especially in the city of Kankakee.
According to 2020 U.S. Census data, 23% of Kankakee’s population is Hispanic. Some officials believe that due to the undercount associated with the 2020 census, the city likely has a Hispanic population in the range of 30%.
Consider Pizano the one who thinks the city’s Hispanic population is far greater than has been listed.
A former employee of the insurance office, Pizano worked in real estate part-time. She’s had a real estate license since 2003. She wanted more from her professional life, and she finally found the courage to dive into the bottom of the pool.
She discovered in 2017 that she could swim. She informed her husband, Richardo, that the time had come for her to pursue what she believed to be her calling.
“There was nobody here for the Spanish-speaking population,” Pizano said. “There was no one here. No one knowing the area. Now I’m where I’m supposed to be.
She made another tough decision and left Speckman’s office because she felt the time was right to strike out on her own.
Kankakee Mayor Chris Curtis couldn’t be happier with how far Pizano has come.
He said she has already proven herself to be a successful real estate agent and now that she has added management broker and landlord to her title, the sky is the limit.
“She’s just a natural fit. I’m very excited about this. I believe it will be a huge success,” he said. “We definitely want more home ownership here, and I think it will help us move in that direction.”
Like Kankakee 5th Ward Alderman Victor Nevarez, who was elected in 2021 as the city’s first Hispanic council member, Curtis said Pizano’s involvement in organizations would be sought.
Home sales continue to grow rapidly. Pizano set a goal of making $10 million in sales in 2022. She noted that in 2021, she made $8.1 million in sales.
“My goal is to do better than the year before,” she said. “That’s always my goal.”
For the mother of two – Jose Angel, 19, and Sofia, 14 – there may not be enough hours in a week to accomplish all the things she has planned. If she doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of effort.
She notes that she is “overwhelmed” with work.
She also knew from an early age that working in what most would consider “traditional” work for Hispanics – agricultural work, the food industry – was not for her.
She noted that a distant relative was a real estate professional. He often traveled to the Sainte-Anne area to help Hispanics buy homes. She gravitated towards him and often helped him translate documents when she was in her early teens.
She knew at the time that one day real estate would be her profession. She just didn’t know when.
“I want to start a legacy here. It means the world to me. I feel empowered and ready to empower others,” she said.
And she knows that Hispanics are eager to buy property and want to call this area home.
“We’ve come so far and I want to help this community get home ownership,” she said. “I also want people to know we’re here to stay.”