Home sweet home
Thurston finds passion, real estate success after returning to Marshalltown
When Kelli Thurston and her husband Tommy graduated from Iowa State University in 2011, the couple, both of whom grew up in Marshalltown, moved to southern Indiana and quickly realized how much they missed Iowa as they were 11 hours away from friends and family.
When an opportunity arose for Tommy to come back to Cedar Rapids and take a new job as a landscape designer, they jumped at it, but even an hour down the road on Highway 30, it still didn’t feel like home.
“We were not happy. We did not like our jobs. I was doing the corporate cubicle thing,” Kelli said. “We were in our early 20s, and we were like ‘There’s no way this is what the rest of our lives is supposed to be like.'”
After about a year in Cedar Rapids, the prodigal couple returned home to Marshalltown late in 2012, and it’s still the best decision they’ve ever made. For Tommy, it meant launching his own landscaping company, and for Kelli, it provided an opportunity to completely change careers after studying graphic design in college. She obtained her realtor’s license in 2014.
“We felt that we had the strongest roots here and the most growth potential for both of our businesses here,” she said. “We could start over somewhere else, but we felt that we had the most connections and opportunities to really hit the ground running here. So it just made sense to move back to Marshalltown.”
Citing a desire to bring a fresh perspective on “ethics, advertising and the overall office culture,” Thurston got her broker’s license, and she had her heart set on making the building at 1901 S. Center St. the home base for her Legacy Real Estate office. In her own words, she contacted the previous owners “every day for 30 days” until they were ready to sell, acquired it and began the process of gutting and remodeling almost immediately.
The last few years in particular have been a whirlwind for realtors both experienced and relatively new to the business, but Thurston said relying on what she knows to be true and keeping a cool head through the chaos has helped her to get through it.
“The market is always going to be up, down and sideways, and so regardless of what’s going on out there, I just stay true to myself and how I conduct myself in business,” she said. “You have to budget for things to be slow and things like that.”
Although more men still hold real estate licenses than women nationally, Thurston feels that the Marshalltown area in particular has a strong community of female realtors, and she’s proud to be part of that movement. She even cited a “competitor,” Sherri Andrews, as an inspiration and one of the best mentors she has had in her career, going out of her way to offer advice and support.
“Real estate is, it’s very challenging. It’s very emotional. It’s very demanding, and there’s just kind of a sisterhood with it, a little bit, that you know that there’s other people that are going through those situations,” Thurston said.
Despite the inherently competitive nature of the business, Thurston believes there’s plenty of room for everyone, and what’s meant to be hers will ultimately be hers. Another one of her marquee mentors has been her colleague Fauna Nord, who she credits with shifting her perspective on the things that really matter in life, especially when Thurston’s father passed away in 2018 just before the birth of her and Tommy’s first child.
“It really opened my eyes in that when the chips are down and you’re having something difficult, having the right people in your corner that are gonna advocate for you and help you whether it’s to their benefit or not, that’s really what matters the most,” she said.
Nord can remember when she first met Thurston and brought her on as an office assistant all the way back in 2013, and their personal and professional relationship has blossomed since then.
“I knew immediately that I really liked her, and I had no idea it would work out so well,” Nord said.
With Nord’s help, Thurston learned the ins and outs of working with buyers and then sellers, becoming “yin and yang” in the process, according to Nord.
“She could do anything, and I could do anything. I was stronger in a lot of the areas being more seasoned in the business, and she was stronger in the technical part being young and growing up with computers. And we just made a great team,” Nord said. “We always looked out for each other. We always had each other’s back, and I just fed her all my leads that were buyers, and she just did a really good job with them and we just kept growing.”
Another interesting wrinkle is how the dynamic between the two has changed over the years. When they first met, Thurston was completely new to the business and worked for Nord, but the mentor now works for the mentee. Nord isn’t sure when she’ll officially retire, but she’ll always support her friend and now boss in any way she can.
“I always tell people that she worked for me for a lot of years and now I work for her, and it’s worked out good,” Nord said. “There’s no one I trust like her. My husband, you know, I would trust absolutely, and I would trust her absolutely. It’s almost like we’re in a marriage, in a sense, because in business, you’ve got to have that trust because there’s money involved. And we really try to work hard on share and (being) fair.”
Even within the Legacy office, Thurston has made a point of celebrating her other realtors’ wins and realizing that someone else’s candle burning bright doesn’t make hers any dimmer. And Thurston’s mission goes beyond simply making lots of money or being the biggest real estate office in town: she’s actively involved in the community through the Rotary Club, the United Way Power of the Purse, the city’s Board of Adjustments, Board of Appeals for dilapidated and dangerous buildings and the Low to Moderate Income Housing Board as part of a groundswell of new leaders taking the reins locally.
“I view it as two cogs coming together. We need the wisdom and past experience from the older generation leaders who have seen things that we haven’t had a chance to see yet, but we also have a unique perspective on new technology and communications and where we want to see the community go,” she said. “So I think kind of bridging the gap between the two is critical, so I like seeing younger people on city council and the school board and volunteering and being on boards and committees in this community because we are the future.”
With all of the pride she takes in her hometown, it’s no surprise Thurston has a great sales pitch when individuals who take jobs here are trying to decide between living in Marshalltown and commuting in from somewhere like Ankeny or Ames.
“My answer is always the same. I think we are the perfect middle-sized community. We’re not so small that we don’t have the restaurants and amenities and coffee shops and things that you want, but we’re not so big, like I felt like we were in Cedar Rapids, that’s a city around an interstate. It’s hard to form relationships and meet people there,” she said. “And I feel like Marshalltown has proved this over and over again, especially with the tornado and derecho. Even if you didn’t know your neighbors, you got to know them real quick after those two instances. And it was people just showing up and helping and providing resources because that’s what our community does, and we band together. For me, it’s always been the people.”
Contact Robert Maharry at (641) 753-6611 ext. 255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.