By Susan Doran

After years of trying, German-based luxury real estate brand Engel & Völkers has finally won over salesperson Maggi Thornhill – just in time for the expanding company’s launch in Whistler, B.C. this fall.

The company regards this as a major coup. Thornhill, who is believed to have sold more houses than any other agent in Whistler’s history as well as the most homes over $5 million, has been at the leading edge of the area’s sales reps for over a decade. Despite being in a small market, her sales reached close to $325 million last year.

“She’s a legend here,” says her son, Max Thornhill, co-owner of their brokerage. He credits his mother’s success to “hard work and an English accent.”

That’s not said tongue-in-cheek. After over three decades in Canada, Maggi has not lost her refined British accent, and it is Max’s belief that it makes her memorable and adds to her charm.

“When you are dealing with billionaires you have to have a level of sophistication in your business,” he says. “She stands out.”

Despite her initial reluctance, his mother says she is excited about the transition to joining Engel & Völkers Whistler.

“Thornhill Real Estate Group was already a well-respected brand. You know that Engel & Völkers had to be amazing for me to give up what we had. It’s a perfect fit for my brand,” she says. “I was blown away. An independent can’t possibly provide the far-reaching presence and phenomenal international marketing they have. So many tools. It’s hard for others to compete.”

While this might sound like a gracious way of saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” locals may view it as yet another sign of the changing times in Whistler.

Known globally as a premier world-class, year-round resort town that hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic snow events and offers everything from skiing and snowboarding to golf, mountain biking and hiking, Whistler is visited by more than two million people yearly.

A couple of years back, Whistler-Blackcomb was purchased by U.S.-based resort giant Vail Resorts in the biggest deal in the history of the ski resort industry.

Widening the resort’s appeal to the Asia-Pacific market and targeting high-net customers are among Vail Resort’s goals. This does not always sit well with locals and others who are leery of creeping urbanization and rampant gentrification. There is some concern that the “corporate machine” may be destroying Whistler’s spirit.

Various issues are cropping up due to the resort’s growth, not the least of which are long line-ups and high prices, pretty much everywhere. Notably, there is also what has been dubbed “housing angst” over rising living costs and shortages of affordable housing and resort employee accommodation. Property prices are out of reach for many people, with a single-family home averaging over $2.8 million.

Maggi confirms that the resort has “exploded” in the past few years. She and her son are as passionate as ever about living there and selling the Whistler dream, and they’re pleased to see more big-city amenities.

“With any transition there are changes that some don’t like and some embrace. We are blessed – clean air and beautiful vistas that you can feast your eyes on,” she says. “I am really a city girl, not a country girl. For me to have lived here for 30 years is a testament to how amazing Whistler is. We have everything, including world-class restaurants and the stimulus of people coming here from all over the world, making our lives very rich… And everything is 10 minutes away, which is compatible to my lifestyle.”

An enviable lifestyle it does seem to be, although unlike many in the community, Maggi is not much of a skier. (“I don’t like the cold or all that schlepping uphill.”)

She’d rather work. Not surprisingly, she considers herself a natural salesperson.

“I can talk comfortably to everybody. I have an ease with people,” she says.

As for her secrets to success, she believes that there is “no real magic” to doing well. “I work harder than anyone else,” she says, adding that “integrity is the most important aspect of the business.”

Due to the resort community lifestyle, she still has plenty of time for family, which she deems of prime importance.

“A first-class experience” from start to finish is what she strives to give her clients, many of whom are hugely wealthy buyers from Vancouver or Hong Kong looking for second homes. Max makes the analogy that Whistler has become “the Hamptons for Hong Kong,” and notes that the area, unlike Vancouver, does not have a foreign purchaser tax. “Whistler is a Canadian success story,” he says.

The experience often starts in the brokerage’s offices, which are so exquisitely decorated that when Thornhill asks clients what they are looking for, they frequently respond, “something exactly like this.”

Quality has always been important to her. “I like nice things,” she says.

Shoes seem to be especially high on her list. In her earlier days selling jewellery, dresses, exclusive baby clothing and then cars, Maggi’s entire paycheque sometimes went towards buying shoes, she says, laughing.

When Maggi and the family first visited B.C. on a vacation to North America from England, it was on the spur of the moment. While in California, they looked at a map and mistakenly determined that the two regions were just a hop, skip and jump apart. The lesson in North American distances aside, they adored the B.C. lifestyle and eventually moved there, first to West Vancouver and later Whistler, where Thornhill’s real estate career began.

At that time friends back in England had never heard of Whistler. Many were mystified as to why Maggi and her family left England for B.C. in the first place.

Cue to a party in Whistler last Christmas, where Maggi had a cosy chat with soccer star David Beckham.

Hanging with Beckham and being queen of North America’s premier four-season resort are a long way from running a doomed English dress shop at the age of 19 and spending your entire paycheque on shoes.

Hopefully Maggi’s friends overseas got the message by now.


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