Family-run business grows into Austin real estate power


It has been 40 years since Michele Turnquist launched her residential real estate career with her first deal, but she easily remembers the day.

“It was 7 a.m. My client held (my daughter Kathryn) while I wrote an offer on the hood of the car,” Turnquist recalls.

That was in 1976. Today, Turnquist and her daughter, Kathryn Scarborough, rank among the top luxury residential real estate agents in the Austin area on numerous lists, working under a franchise that is expanding both with new offices — and additional family members.

Michele Turnquist and her husband, Steve, both lifelong Austin residents, formed Turnquist Partners Realtors Inc. in 1995, and Turnquist quickly became a recognized brand in Central Texas real estate.

In March 2015, the Turnquists pushed their brand to the next level when they purchased the Engel & Völkers franchise for an area that spans about a 100-mile radius of Austin and San Antonio. Their territory stretches from Georgetown to San Antonio and also includes Killeen, Marble Falls, Dripping Springs, Corpus Christi and Port Aransas, among other places.

“Our partnership with Engel & Völkers provides the leverage necessary to continue thriving in today’s global marketplace, while maintaining our core philosophies as a family-run business,” Michele Turnquist said in announcing the purchase.

Engel & Völkers, privately held and based in Germany, has more than 750 offices in 37 countries, making it one of the world’s largest companies specializing in selling and leasing luxury residential and commercial properties. The firm has been growing its footprint in Texas, where it also has offices in Houston and Dallas.

The Turnquists said the Engel & Völkers affiliation has allowed their company to continue to offer clients the service of a luxury boutique firm, while also providing access to a worldwide network of potential buyers, property listings, real estate agents and market data. They also gain the marketing reach of a global company, including multiple platforms for mobile, social and web.

“They are truly international, and the fastest-growing real estate brand in North America,” said Michele Turnquist, who is among Engel & Völkers’ 51 top-producing agents worldwide.

Adding offices

Since the purchase, the firm has continued on a growth trajectory that has spurred the opening of new offices, in addition to their main office at 3700 Bee Cave Road.

When the Turnquists founded their realty firm, they started with 16 agents. It had 75 agents when they bought the Engel & Völkers Austin-area franchise, and since has grown to 102 agents.

Since the purchase, the Turnquists’ agency has increased its sales by more than $100 million, Michelle Turnquist said.

Though their agents sell homes in all price ranges, the average residential sale is between $600,000 to $700,000, the Turnquists said.

This past week, the company opened an office in the Oaks at Lakeway shopping center. Lakeway is one of three areas, along with Westlake Hills and Northwest Hills, where Turnquist Partners has had a presence since its founding.

The Lakeway office will have 20 agents to start, with eventual capacity for 35. It will serve the Lake Travis area, including Lakeway, Spicewood, Steiner Ranch and Bee Cave.

In mid December, the Turnquists plan to open an office in the new Rock Rose section of the Domain Northside. It will have 10 to 12 agents initially, with room for 45 over time, and will serve North and Central Austin.

The Turnquists’ son, Colton, will manage the Domain office. Colton, a professional golfer who has toured on the Canadian golf circuit, joined his parents in the business in 2014, after launching his real estate career with Douglas Elliman, the largest residential real estate brokerage in the New York area.

In addition to those locations, the Turnquists recently opened an office in San Antonio, and a Cedar Park location could be on the horizon for late 2017.

“We are where our clients are,” Michele Turnquist said. “We are strategically placing locations.”

As a section of the Domain project that was developed for locally owned tenants, the Rock Rose location has a special significance for the Turnquists.

Their franchise is the only real estate tenant in the shopping and entertainment district, Michele Turnquist said.

It was her family’s deep local roots that helped the firm gain entry, she said.

Her great great grandfather was John McDonald, an Austin mayor in the 1890s. McDonald oversaw the construction of the Colorado River’s first dam. McDonald had lobbied for the dam and spearheaded a successful campaign to pay for the project. The dam created the reservoir that was first named after him, Lake McDonald — now Lake Austin — and spurred Austin’s original development boom.

“Her family brought electricity to Austin,” Steve Turnquist said. “They (Rock Rose developers) understood we were truly local.”

All in the family

Steve and Michele Turnquist met at the horse races in Ruidoso, N.M., in 1981 and married in 1983.

Steve Turnquist, originally from Kansas, was living in Abilene at the time and working on the publishing side of Limousin Journal, a cattle magazine.

Steve Turnquist said he cut his teeth in real estate buying rental properties in Denver in the 1980s during the savings and loan crisis.

With more than 35 years in residential and commercial sales, subdivision development and new-home construction, Steve Turnquist is the broker of record and chief financial officer for Engel & Völkers Austin. He oversees franchise listings, financial planning and brokerage activities.

Michele Turnquist got her real estate license in Fresno, Calif., in 1976 and went on to work for Century 21 in Fresno and later a small firm in the area. She moved back to Austin in 1981, where she worked for worked Amelia Bullock, another well known name in Austin real estate, and later, Bill Easter’s realty firm, before she and Steve formed Turnquist Partners.

As a fourth generation Austintine, Michele Turnquist has carried on her great-great grandfather ties to Lake Austin, having marketed and sold Lake Austin waterfront property since the mid-1980s, including lots in Rockcliff Estates, the Island at Mount Bonnell Shores and the Island on Westlake Drive.

Today the children all have a stake in the family business.

In addition to Colton joining the firm in 2014, the Turnquists’ daughter, Traci Wilson, came on board in January of that year. Wilson oversees marketing efforts for the company. She studied business with a focus on marketing at Baylor University and worked in telecommunications in Dallas before joining the family business.

Kathryn Scarborough, Michele’s oldest daughter, is president of the Austin franchise. After graduating from St. Edward’s University, she worked in software sales, but found herself unemployed at age 23 when the tech bust hit. She went to work for Turnquist Partners in 2001, where she said she “wanted to make sure I wasn’t treated any differently than anybody else.”

“I didn’t want to be Michele’s daughter. I wanted to make my own name, to be ‘self-made,’” Scarborough said.

Before long, Scarborough was one of the firm’s top-selling agents, was named “Rookie of the Year” by a local publication and has gone on to receive numerous other professional accolades, including being named one of Austin’s “Elite 25” agents.

Market forecast

Asked for her outlook Central Texas’ roaring housing market that has favored sellers for several years running, Michele Turnquist said she began to notice a shift several months ago.

“I think it will slow down and become more equal between a buyer’s and seller’s market,” she said.

But even if the market levels off, Michele Turnquist said, “that’s not a bad thing,” noting that the sharp price appreciation the region has experienced is unsustainable.

And as she tells her agents: “You can still do well in a down market. You have to know how to sell to where they are your clients forever. The key to doing that is knowing the market, understanding the trends and being able to convey that to your buyers and sellers to keep them for a lifetime.”


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