On Aug. 2, Joe Castillo and Erika Villegas of RE/MAX Mi Casa secured ownership of Oak Park’s RE/MAX in the Village. Founded in 2000 by Marion Digre, Harry Walsh, and Jane McClelland, RE/MAX in the Village has been a mainstay in the near west suburbs from its center-of-town location at Oak Park Avenue and Pleasant Street.
Castillo, a River Forest resident, said he is excited about the opportunity to expand the reach of his real estate firm, and says the move furthers what has been almost a lifetime spent in the business of real estate.
“I’m a second-generation realtor,” Castillo said. “I essentially grew up with real estate at the kitchen table. I helped out my parents at their firm in the summers, and they were the type who always talked to me about the family business.”
After college, he worked for his parents briefly before joining the corporate world, which led him to a stint as a consultant for Accenture and then to business school at the University of Chicago.
While at the University of Chicago, he took an internship with a real estate investment firm, which helped him to fall back in love with the industry. In 2005, he joined forces with his parents again at their firm, and in 2008 purchased the business from them and branded the franchise RE/MAX Mi Casa.
While the real estate recession of 2008 might appear to be a less-than-ideal time for such a move, Castillo says taking over the business, which is based in the neighborhoods near Midway airport, was good timing for him.
“We survived the crash and thrived,” Castillo said. “In the last three years, we closed over 1,000 deals.”
Villegas says her story is typical of many involved in real estate. She got involved in the industry after watching family go through buying and selling homes. At first, she worked part time for the real estate firm down the block from her home, which suited her life with a new born.
She later transitioned to full-time work and her firm merged with Mi Casa, where she has worked side-by-side with Castillo.
After 11 years at the helm of Mi Casa, when he was ready to expand his business, Castillo didn’t have to look far. He and his wife had moved to River Forest in 2013 when their growing family pushed them to make the move from the city to the suburbs.
“When I decided I wanted to grow the business, this was one of the first places I looked,” Castillo said.
Coming in as an owner was a move Villegas says she was ready to make, and Oak Park was a natural fit.
“I started thinking about the next step for my career about two years ago,” Villegas said. “I began training new agents and helping others grow in their careers. I really loved the education side of the business.”
She says the successful agents in the Oak Park RE/MAX office made that a great place to focus those efforts.
Castillo agrees and says that the quality of RE/MAX in the Village sold him rather quickly.
“This office has been around since 2000 and is a mainstay in the village,” he said. “The name has a lot of value, and the agents are high-quality. We appreciate the opportunity to come in and work with them.”
Castillo said the local agents will stay on, as will the management team.
“Marion, Harry and Jane are still active. Everyone is staying here. What binds us all together is that we’re all RE/MAX,” Castillo said. “We’ll be the local experts with the biggest global brand behind us. Hopefully, this is something people will see value in.”
When asked about the state of the local market, Castillo says that in spite of some rough spots, the area has something special. But, Castillo said, property taxes in Oak Park, however, continue to be an issue.
“In Oak Park, the tax situation is shocking,” he said. “Even in comparison to River Forest, it’s high.”
He thinks the near-west suburbs will continue to draw young families as they have for generations.
“Not only do people come from the city but the growth of the West Loop has to be good for us,” Castillo said. “With Google and McDonald’s locating there, the only place to get a house nearby is Oak Park and River Forest.
“Once all those individuals grow out of their condos, similar to how I did, they will move here. People live in the city because it’s close to work. We have that here, but we have yards.”
He also says that the beauty of the neighborhood draws people in.
“It’s beautiful here. It’s not cookie-cutter,” he said. “That’s why local agents are so important. That’s why I’m bullish on Oak Park. If they were selling stock in Oak Park, I’d be buying.”