By VICTORIA HILES
Special to The Post and Courier
Barely a teenager and living in Hilton Head Island — not yet old enough to drive — this young girl had the sense to notice real estate was something that embodied the town.
Her parents, who had a summer home in Palmetto Dunes, knew this also but felt no need to sugarcoat their expectations for their daughter past college.
“My dad gave me $5 after graduating from the College of Charleston and told me not to come back until I had a job,” Laurie Thornhill says.
Thornhill landed a job at the Hilton Head Co., a real estate development company where she earned her first paycheck in real estate.
However, she credits her aunt for introducing her to real estate at 13 when she insisted Thornhill accompany her to Skidaway Island, Ga., to check out lots. After the Skidaway Island interaction, Thornhill knew she wanted to make real estate a career.
She worked in Hilton Head learning the real estate business from the developmental side, then moved to Charleston to pursue being a real estate agent.
Thornhill was hired by The I’On Group working with developer Vince Graham as an agent, which marked a turning point in her career as she made a contact here that she would later call on.
“I met Chris Anderson at I’On Group and we left in 2005 to start our own company, SC Places. We have 16 agents now — it’s a boutique-style real estate company focusing on clients and ‘special property,’” Thornhill says. By special property, she means waterfront, high-end real estate.
Looking earnest, Thornhill explains the story behind her largest real estate transaction to date. It is not only her personal highest-sold transaction, but also made real estate history for this particular area of Charleston. Thornhill represented the buyer in a Sullivan’s Island oceanfront property sale for $5 million in 2012. The transaction was the highest-ever on the island to date, she says.
She says the introduction to the buyer, and ultimately the sale, happened on account of Thornhill’s daughter and the buyer’s daughter being friends at Ashley Hall.
Practicing the “golden rule” — Do unto others as you would have them do unto you — and using her sharp negotiating skills is how she deals with any conflicts that arise with her career. It is also the reason for much of her accomplishments.
“It’s important to realize that you need to treat people the way you want to be treated: fair and equitable. The most successful sales are when the house is not on the market and everyone feels like they got what they wanted,” Thornhill says.
In order to give her clients what they want, Thornhill says she depends on her thoroughness when creating documents that represent her clients’ needs and requests. This is a skill she says can never be overdone.
“From the floor to the ceiling down to the garage door opener, contracts need to be clear between all parties because when things go wrong, it’s much easier to resolve them if they are,” Thornhill says.
With more than 20 years of experience, Thornhill is a veteran in her field although she says she has the benefits of a beginner’s mind in that she still learns something new from her work today. She also brings in her business partner Anderson if she has a question about her career or a certain transaction.
According to Thornhill, Anderson has been a member of the ethics board with the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors for 10 years, which might explain some of his practical advice. “He tells me, ‘Get it in writing.’ There’s no such thing as a verbal contract in real estate. You can’t enforce a verbal contract,” Thornhill says.
She agrees with Anderson, recognizing that creating written documents that represent her clients is one way to ensure she pleases them and will increase the likelihood they will become repeat customers.
This is her goal for every client and takes it as a compliment when she is referred by one of her own, she says. Her clients practice the golden rule with her as well, as 70 percent of her clients are repeat customers, she says. They return because they see Thornhill puts in the hard work before she even meets with clients for the first time. When preparing for a new client, she uses a pragmatic approach but taps into her intuition, too.
“I listen to what they want, what’s important to them, view what’s on the market, think about potential homes not on the market that might be a good fit and try to schedule a time when they’re not too overwhelmed — showing too many homes can shut them down,” Thornhill says.
Striking the balance between showing the right number of homes and finding properties in her client’s desired location is Thornhill’s specialty. Keeping the balance is often tougher than striking it. For Thornhill, she uses her experience, her listening and negotiating skills and searches for the ultimate selling point and something she calls “the cool factor” to stay balanced and successful.
Finding the coolness of a property is not identified by structural features even if it’s charming. Coolness comes from a feeling a client has when inside a home, Thornhill says.
She believes location is not always a deciding factor despite the popular belief that it is deal-breaker. In her experience, some people buy what they see as a better home in a less desirable neighborhood because a home has the cool factor they want, but the opposite is also true, she says.
No matter her client’s view on what makes a property feel like home to them, Thornhill is focused on serving her client. Part of her service is her belief that a sale does not happen overnight, but for her, that is part of the fun of working in real estate. It gives her time to get to know her clients.
“I’m much more patient with people — sometimes it takes two, three or four years to make a sale. If you have a relationship with a client, it’s more fulfilling. Be a good person, be kind and pay it forward. I’m relationship driven, not transaction driven,” Thornhill says.
Victoria Hiles is a freelance writer residing in the Charleston area.