The last 15 months since the onset of the pandemic have been a whirlwind for Hawaii real estate. We went from legitimately wondering if our brokerage would survive to navigating the most intense real estate market in the history of real estate markets.
In response to the pandemic, we not only had to renegotiate critical contracts and build intense forecast models, but we had to lay off employees and independent contractors. In March and April of 2020, the future was pixelated at best — if not completely unknown.
The real estate market didn’t wait for us to rebuild our teams. By July 2020, we were experiencing extraordinary demand, historically low inventory and interest rates, and an unexpected market velocity. It required a sprint of restructuring behind the scenes.
Like most businesses, the process of ramping back up has been challenging, but it also provided an extraordinary opportunity. We got to look deeply into our forecast (and our P&L) and decide which roles we knew we needed. Rebuilding entire teams is difficult enough when adding roles one at a time, but restaffing entire departments amidst a pandemic, all the while flooded with work… has been quite the feat.
We’re also facing a flurry of competition in the residential real estate space. New market entrants from the U.S. continent have flooded Hawaii with venture capital and public money. What was once a loose culture of “recruiting” between brokerages is now a hyper-aggressive environment flooded with venture-capital money and chop-shop style tactics to entice agents to join these new market entrants.
We welcome the competition. It keeps us on our game and fuels our fire to focus even more on what really matters: our people and this place.
Hawaii Life continues to attract incredibly talented and professional local brokers, agents, and staff — people who were born and raised in Hawaii; people who have a deep connection to Hawaii and who understand this place; and people who appreciate that the decisions about this company are made here, in Hawaii, and not in a highrise office somewhere in New York or Saudi Arabia.
As a result, we are the leading residential real estate company in Hawaii by the statistical measures that matter: number of transactions, volume of sales, and the number of listings. We are stronger than we’ve ever been, a feat we attribute entirely to our team’s ability to focus, pivot, and rebuild. It all comes down to talent. We’ve also made some key hires, expanded our leadership team and critical departments; poised for whatever the next act of this market holds.
Hiring has always been a challenge here in Hawaii. We’re a distributed team, spread across the island chain. The talent pool varies across the state and is often not particularly deep. But we’ve learned from experience that nothing beats organic growth. We find our people through our people.
First, we promoted Errol Llantos to head up our Human Resources Department. As head of HR, Errol takes on the responsibility of taking care of one of our company’s most important assets, our employees. With both finesse and tenacity, Errol manages the entire employee life cycle from recruiting, hiring, onboarding, nurturing, and separation. He’s developing a comprehensive HR strategy, including succession planning, updating our workplace policies, increasing our employee benefits, and supporting our health and wellness.
Consistent with our history of lead generation and online prowess, we also hired Michael Marks as Director of Inside Sales. Michael brings a wealth of experience and expertise in leveraging systems to maximize prospecting and engagement. He’s essentially a growth hacker.
HawaiiLife.com remains the most heavily trafficked real estate website in the state. Michael has already found more ways to capitalize on that resource by enhancing and streamlining our entire customer experience online. As a result, we’re able to qualify our prospects more effectively, foster stronger relationships, and level up our entire customer service game.
Michael has also leveraged his knack for finding and recognizing talent into growing our Inside Sales team. He has since brought on April Luga and Bradley Saguid, both of whom are highly skilled customer relationship experts, who’ve hit the ground running and have already generated an increase in sales.
Under the leadership of Kahea Zietz, Broker-in-Charge of Hawaii Life Vacations, and our long-term rental department, we have increased the staff of our rental division to keep up with the demand as Hawaii reopens to visitors. Joining Kahea’s team are Katelyn Mountisne, Lisa Pegg, Victoria Terrazas, and Jolanta Valencia. The full complement of agents and reservation specialists are ready and more than capable to serve the needs of our property owners, tenants, and visitors. Kahea and her team have taken on 44 new vacation rental property management accounts this year and 27 new long-term rental properties, pushing our total of properties under management well above 600 across the island chain.
We’ve also expanded the capacity of our executive team by hiring Carrie Knope, who will likely quickly outpace her title of Executive Assistant. Carrie adds a much-needed layer of support to our team in efficiently and effectively managing projects on behalf of our leadership. She brings grace, acumen, and skill to her role, drawing from her extensive sales, marketing, and customer relations background.
Behind the scenes, Carrie is helping to steward a new software tool that will become the backbone of our product offering to salespeople. It’s incredible work, and it will provide a robust and feature-rich resource to make all of our jobs easier by offering a litany of source and reference materials, including policies, business practices, training and development, tools and tips, service provider lists, and other useful information. It’s a major undertaking, and under Carrie’s charge, we are making tremendous progress towards launching it for the entire company.
Rhonda Hay, our Director of Operations, and David Lundstrom, Director of Agent Services, have also increased our transaction management team by adding Erin Galbraith, Paige Reisman, Chevy Martinez, and Kiana Vallente. Hiring into this market’s velocity is no small task, especially with the standards that we maintain for our transactions. We expect great things from this new team, and they’re already supporting the salespeople as we all navigate this frenetic market, managing hundreds of transactions at a time.
The record number of transactions in both rentals and sales have also meant all hands on deck with our Accounting Department, so we’ve proactively brought on new team members there, as well, hiring Barbara Almeida and Noelle Irons to help us keep pace with our team’s increased accounting needs.
On our Creative Team, we have added Cliff Mello and Brian Baldwin, to boost our Design and Digital marketing services to deliver fast and accurate advertising and promote our Company. Hawaii Life’s roots are as a creative agency, and we’ll continue to grow that team, our resources, and our services, especially as we take on new, exciting projects and listings.
On a much broader scale, our new partnership with Forbes Global Properties has helped to garner extraordinary exposure for our luxury properties across the state. Forbes Global Properties and our PR team have combined to generate prominent placement in press outlets across the globe, which means our listings are spread far and wide and were exposed to hundreds of millions of viewers. Our founding membership in Forbes Global Properties is helping our sellers reach extraordinary audiences, and coupled with our partnerships at Luxury Portfolio International and Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, we’ve maintained our position as the market leader in luxury real estate in Hawaii for the better part of the last decade.
We now have the best team of leaders and employees we’ve had in Hawaii Life’s thirteen-year history. We started this company in June of 2008, at the peak of the financial crisis and resulting recession. We’ve since weathered the storm of the pandemic, and are poised for the future with a Leadership Team composed of a talent pool that includes C-Suite Executives in Operations, Finance, Project Management, Property Management, Human Resources, Customer Experience, and our Creative Team. We have never been more strategically positioned to respond to the real estate market.
No one can be sure how long this market will hold its current pace. The pandemic has certainly highlighted the intensity of demand for Hawaii’s real estate. We’re poised for whatever the future holds, and we’ll respond to it with collaboration, innovation, and acumen from the talent we’ve been so fortunate to attract.
It’s an honor to have earned the trust of our employees, brokers and agents, and clients. That trust means everything to us — and we’ll always do right by it. Buckle up. There are great things on the horizon.