Q&A: Mary Lu Tuthill

By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief

From IBM to real estate, Coldwell Banker Realtor Mary Lu Tuthill has seen it all. Find out what the Kansas-born agent—raised with five siblings—has to say about her background, trends in real estate and more.

Shmerling: Tell me about your childhood.

Tuthill: Born and raised in Wichita, Kansas, I had a wonderful childhood with five siblings. It was very lively and happy indeed, with constant activity and entertainment.

All of us had big personalities, which engendered lots of teasing and friendly competition. We enjoyed each other’s company and played all kinds of games together. To this day we are extremely close and provide strong moral support to each other.

My parents were the best parents and the finest role models anyone could wish for. They inspired independent thinking, solid integrity and a desire to achieve.  They expected us to always do our best and none of us wanted to disappoint them—they definitely had the biggest influence on my life.

Shmerling: What were some of your hobbies and interests as a child and teenager?

Tuthill: As a child, I loved playing sports outside and reading. We chased fireflies in the summer and skated on the frozen street in front of our house in the winter, but also scheduled time to visit the library.

We had tap dancing, ballet and piano lessons. Tennis and swimming lessons. We vacationed at Minnesota and Arkansas lakes and the Colorado mountains, where we learned to maneuver a canoe, water ski and snow ski. Music was always a part of our everyday life, from classical to big band to popular music.

I acted in school plays and was also Homecoming Queen at the private boys high school. I participated in archery and field hockey for my high school, which was all-girls.

Shmerling: Where did you go to college and what did you study?

Tuthill: I attended Sacred Heart College, which was an all-girls college in Wichita. It was a positive environment for me. I studied a well-rounded liberal arts curriculum, with majors in math and English. The environment was very conducive to acquiring in-depth knowledge on so many subjects, which I craved. So, college was a very stimulating and enjoyable experience for me.

Shmerling: What was your first job out of college?

Tuthill: After college I was recruited by IBM to work as a systems engineer in San Francisco. There I began my new career, providing technical support to salesmen in their sales presentations. I assisted IBM customers in the design of their new computer systems, which meant teaching their engineers or other operations staff how to adapt their current systems and procedures to the computer.

I loved my job, the exquisite logic of the computer and solving customer problems. It was like putting a puzzle together. It was exceedingly rewarding to finish designing and programming a system and reach that goal for the customer.

It was an exciting time in San Francisco and in technology; we had a wonderful group of young people at IBM at that time, so I made fantastic friends. In fact, I met my husband there.

Shmerling: What led you to choose a career in real estate?

Tuthill: An injury from a car accident prevented me from continuing in the computer systems design and programming field, so my husband suggested that I go into real estate. I was skeptical that real estate would be a good fit for me, but he encouraged me, so here I am.

Shmerling: How does your background help you when working with clients to buy or sell a home?

Tuthill: My technical background has been extremely valuable. My analytical aptitude, my commitment to solving every problem and determination to reach every goal, as well as my IBM sales training, were definitely skills that helped me to succeed quickly.

Being from a large family I make friends easily, I know how to negotiate, and love meeting and learning about people. I developed persistence, commitment, focus and determination at a young age.

My straightforward Midwestern manner and work ethic are also critical components. People seem to trust me as a Realtor because it is apparent that I am focused on their best interests. My in-depth knowledge of the market and the technicalities of the business engender credibility. Coupled with persistence in finding the right home for a buyer, I have an uncanny knack for matching a buyer to their perfect home.

And I always believe in the value of my listings, so I come from a position of strength with my sellers. I have a genuine enthusiasm, high energy and incurable optimism for my business.

Shmerling: Do you represent homes in all neighborhoods of the Palisades?

Tuthill: Yes, I have sold homes all over the Palisades, from The Riviera to Castellammare. I have sold homes in the Alphabet Streets for $100,000 and homes in The Huntington for over $20 million. I love the Palisades and believe that it is an exceptional place to live and raise a family.

Shmerling: Tell me about how you approach new clients who are aiming to buy or sell a home.

Tuthill: My first step is to ask them to define their personal and financial goals.  We have an open dialogue asking many questions to help clarify their priorities.

Once we establish their objectives, we then define the steps needed to achieve it. We collaborate on a plan that incorporates their timing and their budget, with a strategy for their future. We are partners in the process, exploring their opportunities and preparing for all challenges.

I also try to educate buyers and sellers about the realities of the market. It is important for them to have realistic expectations about what they can buy, or what their home will bring. I don’t want anyone to be disappointed with me or my efforts because I was not authentic with them. Giving someone false hope is unwise and is detrimental to the client.

Shmerling: What are some current trends in real estate?

Tuthill: Modern architecture has made a strong comeback on the Westside after being out of favor for many years. The brand-new Nantucket/Hamptons homes have been very hot for several years now.

Regardless of style, buyers want only brand new homes. Older homes with character and charm are languishing. Interest in land remains, but buyers expect good value when they are buying, because they know it will cost a great deal of time and money to develop.   

Shmerling: Why do you like the Palisades?

Tuthill: I like the Palisades because it is its own special community. It is somewhat out of the way from the hectic pace of Brentwood and Beverly Hills.

Somehow the Palisades has maintained a friendly, almost 1950’s neighborhood ambiance, refusing to be drawn into the glitz and glamour of the rest of Los Angeles. The presence of many schools, the park and the nearby ocean are great bonuses and add to the allure of the wonderful lifestyle offered here.

Shmerling: What do you and your family like to do for fun?

Tuthill: Being in a career as demanding as residential real estate has intruded upon my opportunities for “fun.” I am compulsive about “always being there,” so for many, many years, real estate literally ran my life.

We always loved the beach and spent many happy hours at the Bel Air Bay Club. We summered on Cape Cod, took trips to Europe, the Caribbean and Hawaii.

In recent years, I have begun to take advantage of the experiences offered by the groups I have been a member of for many years. Fostering my passion for reading, I particularly enjoy the Library Council and the Sun Valley Writer’s Conference. Blue Ribbon, Homeboy Industries and Everychild Foundation allow me to give back, with their programs for helping children and youth in crisis.

As a new member of the Pacific Council on International Policy I am exposed to dialogues and discussions with International figures who present their country’s policies and goals. I have the opportunity to join International Delegations to many countries around the world, which I find exceedingly stimulating and enjoyable.

I have always been a very curious person, pursuing new knowledge and learning about others. This has been an ideal group for me as a widow, and I have made many new friends.

After all these years, I am still passionate about this business. I treasure the client loyalty and the continued confidence my clients have in me. And I am grateful for their referrals and high recommendations. I have met so many wonderful people, who inspire me and made many life-long friends.

I am very grateful for my success.