Activities help consulate liaison program keep growing

(l to r) Lithuanian Consul General Marijus Gudynas, Sharon Gorrell and REALTOR® Mikus Kins discussed mutual benefits of working together.

Earlier this month, members of the Illinois REALTORS® Consulate General Liaison Program met with their consulates and with each other for training and networking in Chicago.

For example, REALTOR® Mikus Kins, Consulate General Liaison to Lithuania, and Global Policy Advisor Sharon Gorrell met with Marijus Gudynas, Lithuanian Consul General and explained our liaison program. They discussed ways Gudynas and the REALTOR® community can work together to promote real estate in Illinois, in addition to fostering relationships with the real estate community in Lithuania.

“Cooperation with the Illinois REALTORS® could help establish mutually beneficial relationships between Lithuanian business representatives and the REALTOR® community in Illinois,” said Gudynas. “I hope that it encourages the sharing of best practices and knowledge that results in new business opportunities for Illinois and Lithuania.”

Kins and Gorrell also shared information on the NAR Global program and how it is expanding to more countries.

Also, the entire liaison team heard from representatives of the state of Illinois as well as global staff members from state and national associations. Topics included Consular corps in Chicago, assets of the state of Illinois and resources available for meetings and activities with the consulates.

The day ended with a series of “speed networking sessions” to help liaisons learn about each other. The training and networking is designed to help develop a strong network that grows into a true global asset for the Illinois REALTORS®.

Consulate Liaison – A new way for Silvano to speak to the needs of REALTORS®

Vicky Silvano

REALTORS® may be familiar with Vicky Silvano as a Century 21 agent, as an AREAA advocate for the “No Other” campaign or through the Chicago Association of REALTORS® Global Council.

But when she joined the Illinois REALTORS® Consulate General Liaison Program a few months ago, she added a new component to her association involvement. Born and raised in the Philippines, she graduated from the University of the Philippines with a degree in Economics. She speaks Tagalog, the official national language, also referred to as “Filipino.”

“In Chicago, most of the Philippines consular officers, from the consul general to the vice-consuls and trade officers, come from the same university where I came from – University of the Philippines,” says Silvano, a broker associate from Century 21 SGR, Chicago. “When there are community events or newly appointed consuls, we get engaged with them easily as we come from the same school. It’s an easy flow of association in fostering strong relationships.”

Silvano is one of a growing list of Illinois REALTORS® who serve as liaisons to countries with foreign consulates in Illinois. Consulates are established to help residents of foreign countries navigate the customs and laws of the United States as well as explore mutually beneficial business opportunities. Other countries involved are: Australia, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Germany, Greece, Honduras, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Poland, Rwanda, Serbia, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

The ability to lead and help others was never more evident than during her tenure as the national chair for the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA) in 2016. Last year, she led a delegation that included AREAA’s leaders and the Asian American Congressional Caucus, to convince the U.S. Census Bureau to gather separate information on behalf of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) instead of including their data under the collective heading of “Other.”  This change is impacting the census bureau’s quarterly homeownership reports.  A distinct AAPI category is a historic change not only for today but for years to come.

“The quarterly reports put a needed spotlight on Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) homeownership for government agencies and businesses,” said Silvano, “so that more AAPI’s can achieve the American dream of owning a home.” With the Asian model minority myth, this data collection of AAPI will allow government and private entities to focus on the challenges and needs that the AAPI community faces in the homeownership sector.

“What a great experience I had during my tenure as the 2016 national chair,” she says. “I am proud and honored to carry the different hats I have – Illinois REALTORS®, CAR, C21 member!”

As part of her role leading AREAA’s leadership team, Silvano was also appointed to the Multicultural Advisory Board to identify opportunities, address the challenges and recommend solutions to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) membership. She looks forward to working as the 2018 Global Business and Alliance Liaison to NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall.

History of wanting to understand more

Silvano began her real estate career in 1990. She began primarily as a residential agent, however she has expanded into the commercial and investment sectors as well.

“Learning is always forefront in my mind,” she says. “I always update myself with new information, tools and other marketing strategies on real estate. I have designations such as CIPS, CRS, ABR and took all courses in CCIM classes. I volunteer professionally and personally. I am involved in several non-profit organizations, including AREAA.

“Right now, my passion is with AREAA. I think my involvement with AREAA has opened my eyes to the challenges Asian Americans face today regarding homeownership opportunities. I would like to be a strong advocate and this is really how I want to give back to the community – the community that propelled my real estate business that I love.”

Previous stories about the Consulate General Liaison Program include:

Position allows Collins-Mroz to blend passions of travel and real estate

Marsha Collins-Mroz

A slight language barrier didn’t stop Marsha Collins-Mroz from helping a Chinese-speaking family find a home in the Chicago area six years ago, and the skillful way she handled the process paved the way for other successes, including her appointment to the Illinois REALTORS® Consulate General Liaison Program a few months ago.

In getting to know more about the members of this particular Chinese-speaking family, Collins-Mroz discovered their interest in developing, and eventually sold them a commercial property in North Ft. Myers, Fla. Word of mouth led the family’s friends to buy more properties through Collins-Mroz.  The migration from Illinois to Florida came naturally to her as she had already been helping other multicultural clients find real estate in the Sunshine State.

Along the way she met a client who wanted to sell his beachfront home and move to Greece. Despite not speaking Greek fluently, Collins-Mroz travelled to Greece and helped him navigate the paperwork and successfully sell his home. Her success in that situation helped her make professional contacts who would work with her to help other clients buy and sell properties in Greece.

Collins says she isn’t intimidated by the prospects of helping international clients. The process combines her love of travel with her love of real estate.

She has served on her local association’s (Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS®) global committee, even serving as chair one year. She has visited Mexico and spearheaded an inbound trade mission with Mexico’s national real estate organization, “AMPI,” as part of those responsibilities.  Her presence was quickly noticed in NAR’s global community after a fateful visit to the “Mothership” as Collins affectionately calls NAR’s Chicago headquarters.  Upon overhearing her request for REALTOR® information to take to China, Collins was approached by Jeff Hornberger, then head of the Global division for the national association, and was asked to speak about her international experiences at NAR’s Conference & Expo in Orlando in 2011.  Since then, many miles have been logged in her international pursuit of connecting with “like minded” colleagues to create global partners as well as in her role as consultant and advisor for her global clients.

Most recently; she received an appointment to serve as the NAR President’s Liaison to Greece, and is the 2017 president-elect of The World Federation of Real Estate U.S.A. Chicago Chapter (FIABCI).  Through her personal efforts and connections with national leadership of Asociacion Mexicana de Profesiónales Inmobiliarios, A.C. (AMPI) she is honored to once again attend, by invitation, the upcoming installation of AMPI’s national President-Elect in Mexico City at the famed Museo Soumaya. By happy coincidence, Collins will also be able to attend FIABCI’s installation of her friend and valued partner, Silvia Elias, as President of FIABCI Mexico during this same trip.

On the state level, she was named to the Consulate General Liaison Program, which is a sub-group of the association’s Global Business Council. She is the liaison to Greece.

“I love the culture, I love the food and it’s a perfect pairing because I have a lot of Greek friends and there’s always room for more,” she says.


Collins-Mroz, who now works for Homesmart Connect LLC in Arlington Heights, started her real estate career in 1985. “Thirty-one years ago, I literally fell into the business of real estate,” she said. “I was preparing to go to law school when I fell and damaged ligaments in my leg. While I was recovering, I answered phones in a broker’s office and I fell in love with real estate. I was eating, drinking and sleeping real estate, and before long I got my license.”

For several years, she was content to work as a real estate agent, not realizing what joining an association could do for her professional growth. But once she joined, she became involved on the local, state and national levels and has never looked back. And now that she’s found a niche in global real estate, she really likes where she is.

“I’m having fun, and at the end of the day, I realize that you can’t take it all with you. I want to have the experiences, continue to make the lifelong connections and be filled with amazing memories.”

Previous stories about the Consulate General Liaison Program include:


Illinois REALTORS® meet with Ecuadorian Consulate General

Another successful meeting made possible by the Illinois REALTORS® Consulate General Liaison program!

The meeting with Carlos Lenin Housse Dávalos, Consulate General of the Republic of Ecuador was led by the Illinois REALTORS® liaison, Betty Milam, broker with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services/Koenig Rubloff Realty. Milam is originally from Ecuador and has been very involved in international real estate.

The meeting was also attended by Sharon Gorrell, the Illinois REALTOR® working group staff liaison, and by Vicky Silvano of Century 21 SGR in Chicago. Silvano was recently appointed as the Chair of the Consulate Liaison Working Group.

The group discussed differences in the Illinois real estate market and industry practices in Ecuador. Milam will be formulating a housing seminar with the Consulate’s trade office for first-time home buyers within the Chicago area Ecuadorian community in the near future.

Illinois REALTORS® expands Consulate General Liaison roster

national flags of countries all over the world

Bigstock images

A shared curiosity about countries and cultures outside the United States has drawn Plainfield/Aurora REALTOR® Vicky Sampah and Naperville REALTOR® Andy Velkme into the Illinois REALTORS® Consulate General Liaison Program.

The program, which is still accepting applications, serves as an important way for REALTORS® to work with foreign nationals interested in living and investing in Illinois.


Vicky Sampah (center) and Jim Kinney (right) welcomed a visitor from Ghana (left).

The countries they’re matched with are in two continents about 4,000 miles apart. Sampah, managing broker and CEO of L’Abri Realty & Management in Aurora, is matched with Rwanda, a country in East Africa, bordered by Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi. Velkme, a broker for Caton Commercial Real Estate, is matched with Latvia, a European country bordered by the Baltic Sea, Estonia, Russia and Lithuania.

Sampah, who became a REALTOR® in 2003, says, “I’ve always had an interest in Africa and its real estate industry development.  After looking into Rwanda and its resources, I became intrigued and my interest in the country grew vastly. I believe that Costco and Starbucks have set the foundations for us to build relationships with Rwanda and this is going to be an exciting journey.

Rwandan national official flag. African patriotic symbol banner element background. Flag of Rwanda waving in the wind with detailed fabric texture, illustration

Rwanda flag (Bigstock Images)

“I am originally from Ghana, West Africa with 15 years of combined real estate experience,” she says. “I worked with the government of Ghana in public service and gained policymaking and legislative experience. I always had passion for global real estate and institutional development, especially for the African Continent where real estate regulation is almost absent. My experience with real estate practice in Illinois, coupled with great opportunities to engage in Capitol Conferences with Illinois REALTORS® has made my vision even clearer.

“Since 2011, I have supported the Ghana Real Estate Professionals Association (GREPA) with its formation and development as well as consulting Ghana’s government in developing the Ghanaian Real Estate Bill.  I felt the African continent was disconnected as far as real estate and saw the need to connect.”


Andy Velkme holds Latvian flag and stands with his family in Chicago’s Daley Plaza in a celebration of the Baltic Way in 2014.

Velkme says joining the Consulate General Liaison Program is the “perfect way to blend his professional and social life together.” Velkme and his wife (Indra) take their children to K-12 Latvian school on Saturdays to learn about geography, literature, language and more. He says Chicago boasts the most active Latvian community outside of Latvia itself.

“Through the Consulate General Liaison Program, I hope to promote real estate opportunities in Illinois to Latvian citizens and to show that real estate here is a safe investment,” says Velkme, “an even better value than real estate on the east or west coast.”

Sampah echoes Velkme’s sentiment, saying, “I have learned how coffee has helped forge relationships between Rwanda and American corporations such as Costco and Starbucks, and I foresee a great opportunity for expansion of real estate business between both countries. As a Consulate Liaison, I can educate Americans about Rwanda and eliminate preconceived ideas they have about each other, thus opening more opportunities for business.”

Latvia flag ,original and simple Latvia flag

Latvia flag (Bigstock)

Background of liaison program

Earlier this year, Illinois REALTORS® launched the Consulate General Liaison Program, matching REALTORS® with international real estate interests and/or connections to countries represented in the diplomatic community in Illinois.

Originally, Illinois REALTORS® forged ties with eight countries, modeling the program after the NAR Federal Political Coordinator program and the Illinois REALTORS® State Legislative Contact Program. But since May, the size of the program has more than doubled.

More REALTORS® are welcome to apply so the program can continue to grow. See the list of current liaisons here.

Previous stories about the Consulate General Liaison Program include: