Thomas Buist is a man who knows Charleston, South Carolina. He grew up in the city and left during high school to attend an all-boys boarding school, Episcopal High School, in Alexandria, Virginia, which was, as he says, like “stepping on the gas pedal” for him. Now he had friends from all over the country, and this gave him the opportunity to expand his horizons and travel during school breaks, whether to visit a friend’s mountain or beach house, or go as a group to someone’s hometown. This fueled his love for meeting new people, networking, and having new experiences, all of which would continue throughout his life.
Thomas ended up at the University of South Carolina for college with a little help from his friends, too. He was in the process of applying to other places, but others kept talking with him about the great business school the university offered (plus, it was in his home state!) and the chance to stay close to so many great people he had met was something he couldn’t pass up. Thomas studied business with an emphasis in real estate, and graduated in four years. During his time there, he met Jeanne MacNaughton, who was from Columbia, South Carolina. He knew from the moment he saw her she would be the love of his life, and the two were married after graduation and moved to Charleston.
Back in Charleston, Thomas began his career. On the weekends, he stayed with Jeanne’s family in Columbia while working on becoming a licensed appraiser at the advice of Frank Brumley, a long-time fixture in the Charleston real estate and development world and a close family friend. During the weekdays, Thomas took a job with William M. Bird Paint Company as a salesman. He didn’t have to worry about getting his real estate license during this time, due to having an emphasis in real estate in school and taking the broker exam quickly right after graduating.
After getting his appraisal license, Thomas went to work for Atlantic International in North Charleston as a licensed real estate appraiser and broker, the first big change in his career as he began getting more heavily involved in the commercial real estate world. Atlantic, which would later become Coldwell Banker, seemed so far away from what Thomas knew and loved in downtown Charleston. After several years with the company, and many months networking with other real estate professionals, Thomas left and joined Chris Fraser and Miles Barkley’s group, the Barkley Fraser Company, also due to another long-time relationship his own family had with Chris and the Barkleys. At the Barkley Fraser Company, Thomas focused solely on brokerage, performing well and eventually being named partner during his 15 years there. After the company was sold, Thomas briefly spent time at NAI, before making a decision to join Lee & Associates Charleston, which Thomas felt not only had a great group of owners and brokers but had the national backing that is important, especially in industrial brokerage (which he specializes in among other brokerage).
Thomas had always liked the industrial market the most, and his knowledge about everything from Charleston’s geography to the changing product supply chains and the growth of Charleston ports was continuing to expand, along with the opportunities in the market in his hometown. A goal of his is, and has been for many years, to help industrial brokers, clients, and distributors set up on the East Coast. He worked closely with Ross Perot, Jr., a national developer, and his team, Hillwood. Together they studied the way industrial trade was changing—instead of the use of a ‘land bridge’ from the West Coast to the East Coast delivering goods from China and other Asian markets, freight was going to begin utilizing the Panama Canal more and therefore docking in major ports along the East Coast, such as Charleston. Perot was a little ahead of his time in terms of developing and selling this idea, along with what is now the Charleston Trade Center, but as an expert in the market Thomas is now seeing this concept (which he spent four years working on) come to fruition and is happy to have that experience now.
Another important part of Thomas’ success as an industrial broker has been becoming an SIOR in 2008, which gave him access to a global network that allows him to work with people not just on the West Coast of the U.S. but even from major global economic countries such as China. He has seen the Charleston market grow and change incredibly—after all, he has been in the city his entire life. In addition to helping companies, landlords, and developers grow, Thomas has been a hunting, fishing, and camping enthusiast his entire life. Outdoor sports have been a source of not just good times, but networking opportunities, from hunting on over 30 different camps and plantations to spending over 16 years in the Governor’s Cup Marlin Tournament, creating bonds while aboard a fishing boat with groups of people who were well-connected in the Charleston community.
Thomas and his wife Jeanne also raised two children—Ann and Lois—and have lived in Mount Pleasant for over 20 years, and his parents and three sisters still live in the Lowcountry as well. He is happy to have served on the Trident Technical Foundation board, helping raise money to establish companies in Charleston such as Boeing, which have changed the local economy dramatically. He also loves cooking and is a lifelong lover of surf fishing out on the barrier islands, one of his favorite pastimes. For Thomas, real estate is his passion because the inventory is all over the place, not hidden away in some warehouse. He always has and always will love getting out and about, meeting people and visiting new sites, and real estate gives him the opportunity to continue growing his network in and outside of Charleston. You won’t find Thomas sitting at his desk all day, but more likely out shaking hands and creating new deals.