Lowcountry Women are Leading the Way … and Moving the Industry Forward
September 2023 Issue
By Ellen Linnemann
A lot has changed in local real estate over the decades both in terms of the housing market itself, as well as the real estate professionals helping homeowners navigate the sale and purchase of homes here in the Lowcountry.
This year, as Hilton Head Area REALTORS® (www.hhrealtor.com) celebrates its 50th year in the community, is a perfect time to look back at the growing role that women have had in the local real estate industry and how today they are not only thriving in an industry once dominated by men but have also become some of the true leaders in the market.
A member-based organization dedicated to the advancement of the real estate profession and the protection of private property rights and quality of life, Hilton Head Area REALTORS® (HHAR) was founded in 1973 with 24 charter members: 23 men and one woman: Mrs. Johnnie Neidlinger served as its first President.
“Mrs. Johnnie was the leader of the pack. She and her husband, Jim, were running a rental company at the time and moved into real estate sales. She led the charge to form the association. There were not many women in real estate in the ‘70s,” said Sonny Huntley with Charter One Realty, who is the longest active member of the Association, joining shortly after it was chartered.
Since then, female membership has grown steadily—and today, 56.5% of HHAR members are women REALTORS®.
“I came to Hilton Head as a grad student of tourism and was working in food and beverage. The job options for women back then were largely secretarial or banking,” said Kathy Schroder, current HHAR president and an agent with Dunes Real Estate. Kathy has been a local realtor for more than 40 years and is a true pioneer as a woman in the industry. “I was looking for an opportunity that allowed me to pursue tourism as well as have my own business and create a career, and real estate offered, and offers, that opportunity. I didn’t care that there were few women in the industry back then – it was what I wanted to do, so I pursued it, and found women who both encouraged and mentored me.” Drawn to the HHAR by its educational opportunities allowing REALTORS® to expand their knowledge, Kathy joined the Association in 1982 and soon attracted the attention of the organization’s leadership. She was asked to serve on a committee and then chair a committee, and from that point her volunteerism grew within the organization.
Women have made tremendous strides in breaking through barriers and shattering glass ceilings in the real estate industry—contributing their unique perspectives and strengths. HHAR has had 15 female presidents and, this year, its first all-female executive committee.
One Lowcountry woman in real estate who broke that glass ceiling is Cindy Creamer of Dunes Real Estate, one of South Carolina’s most successful and highly respected realtors. Cindy served as the 2022 President of South Carolina REALTORS® Association (becoming only the eighth female in South Carolina to hold the title of President in 79 years) and served as HHAR President in 2015 and 2018. Her passion for real estate in the Lowcountry (especially in the luxury market) was sparked early on in her career when she realized, “It was all about the people and the thrill of the hustle!” She also points out that she always had a soft spot for helping others, “and real estate gave me the perfect opportunity to make a positive impact in people’s lives.”
“My personal journey of becoming a woman leader in real estate, both on Hilton Head Island and throughout South Carolina, has been quite the adventure, and I’ve been fortunate to have incredible mentors who believed in me and showed me the way,” said Cindy. “Their guidance and support helped me overcome obstacles and grab opportunities. I’ve actively sought out leadership roles within my network, joining committees and boards to make a difference. It’s been a combination of hard work, dedication and never-ending learning that has propelled my career forward.”
As two of the Lowcountry’s top women leaders in real estate, both Cindy and Kathy are excited about the growth of women in the industry and the initiatives to help women become leaders in local real estate.
“The current state of women in the Lowcountry real estate industry is one of progress and empowerment. I see strong women thriving in all aspects of the industry,” said Cindy. “We’ve built a vibrant community that encourages collaboration and knowledge sharing. However, there is always room for improvement, and we must continue advocation for equal opportunities and recognition. With the pressures of the career, it’s important for us as women to stay positive, encourage each other, and to lift each other up.”
“In 2022, HHAR supported the launch of the local Women’s Council of REALTORS®, an organization that nurtures, mentors and encourages future leaders,” said Kathy. “The opportunity to serve is there and, like me, you can find your niche.”
As HHAR heads into the next 50 years of serving REALTORS® and homeowners in our area, the future is bright for women in real estate here in the Lowcountry. With women like Kathy and Cindy continuing to lead the way, women in real estate will continue to thrive and advance into leadership positions—all while helping the community and inspiring other women, too.
Considering a career in real estate?
Kathy Schroder and Cindy Creamer’s advice to women considering entering the real estate industry:
• Be an active learner … and be an active listener. “You need knowledge of all the communities, their nuances, their benefits and their fees,” Kathy said. “If you are not naturally a listener become one. In order to guide people to their “IT” home, you need to understand their motivations and ask the questions that help them uncover the most desirable community for themselves.”
• Pursue your passion. “To all the remarkable women in the Lowcountry dreaming of a career in luxury real estate, my advice is to pursue your passion unapologetically,“ said Cindy. “Never stop learning because knowledge is key in this ever-changing industry. Build your expertise, cultivate relationships, and never stop honing your craft.”
• Surround yourself with a supportive network of like-minded individuals. “A supportive network of like-minded individuals can inspire and empower you,” Cindy said. “Together we can elevate the industry and create a future where women in real estate shine brightly.”
• If you’re considering leadership on a local level, get involved! For those already in the real estate industry, as well as those wanting to enter the industry and get on a leadership track, Kathy suggests simply getting involved with the committee that appeals to you most. “Be an active participant, offer ideas, help the committee accomplish its goals and let yourself grow.”