Here we are, somewhat suddenly, in the spring of 2022. Although reopening, our world is still reeling from the shock of Covid-19 and innumerable other geopolitical events. As I contemplate the past few years – and look forward to the rest of 2022 over this Easter weekend – I’m inspired by the spirit of spring. New beginnings. New starts. Growth.
Speaking of growth, Hawai’i Life has had quite the first quarter of 2022. For starters, we’ve eclipsed our record year in 2021 and outpaced our sales volume, passing over a billion dollars in sales year-to-date in 2022 despite signs that the bulk of the real estate market in Hawai’i is already contracting.
We also conducted two of the largest “acquisitions”1 in Hawai’i Life’s history. As a company, we’re making a significant bet that physical spaces matter now more than ever. People want to interact. To see each other in 3D. To collaborate in real life.
In January, we began with Wailea Realty, the iconic luxury real estate company in South Maui and a group of 50+ brokers and salespeople in the high-stakes and high-powered markets of Wailea and Makena. A key asset of Wailea Realty is location, location, location. The office is located on the ground floor of the Shops at Wailea (on the Four Seasons’ side). It’s a prime location for both exposure of Hawai’i Life’s listings and interaction with clients and prospects.
Over the years, Hawai’i Life has experienced almost every version of acquisition, absorption, or “walk-over” imaginable, with a variety of different-sized brokerages and/or teams. So this wasn’t our first rodeo.
What we didn’t expect, however, was the degree to which the brokers and salespeople at Wailea Realty would engage with Hawai’i Life. I’ll confess that I thought they might be far too “busy,” if not avoidant to change, to lean in with the enthusiasm that they have. Wailea Realty has been embracing our tools – diving deep into our marketing and technology, and getting immediate results that are both gratifying and lucrative. Referrals are flying across the island chain. The team has already taken advantage of the exposure that Hawai’i Life provides, and they’re doing business that they can directly attribute to the company’s tools. It’s been a lot of work. And it’s been awesome to see.
It helps, too, that our Director of Operations and Managing Broker, Rhonda Hay, lives in South Maui, and already had relationships with the Wailea Realty crew. This made the process of onboarding everyone and being available for them, especially in those first few weeks, much easier.
Of course, we’re not out of the woods yet. There’s still more to learn and achieve for both the “front of the house” and the “back of the house,” but so far, we couldn’t be more thrilled! We definitely found our tribe in Wailea Realty, and are beyond happy with the way that they’re representing Hawai’i Life.
Then, on March 1st – not even six weeks later – we welcomed the team at C&H Properties. The Hawai’i Island company was originally founded by Bob Chancer and Steve Hurwitz, who are now with Hawai’i Life via our subsidiary, Mauna Kea Realty. So, the C&H Properties acquisition came full circle in a way for Hawai’i Life.
C&H Properties operated from two key locations: One in Kailua-Kona and one in Waikoloa Beach Resort. Although Hawai’i Life already had a presence in the Queen’s Marketplace at Waikoloa Beach Resort, we were upstairs and relatively out-of-sight. Now, we’ll be in a more prominent retail location, offering more exposure for our listings, and more opportunities for our brokers and agents to interact with clients and prospects.
The office in Kailua-Kona will serve as a great meet-up for our West Hawai’i team. We already have key leadership positions based in Kailua-Kona, and now have room to grow in both sales and property management on Hawai’i Island.
Whenever we welcome big firms like this, I’m quick to use an analogy for our leadership team, inspired by my personal experience: During a multi-year pilgrimage I took around the world, I happened to be at the basecamp of Mt. Everest (on the Tibetan side) when a terrible storm hit, killing many climbers and making national news. It was later documented and memorialized by Jon Krakauer in his best-selling book, “Into Thin Air.”
Teams who are attempting to summit Mt. Everest don’t usually suffer deaths or serious injuries on the way up, but rather on the way down. The adrenaline and focus required to summit the mountain, or even to make a serious attempt, often give way to a lack of focus and energy on the way down, which can lead to problems. The triumph of the summit can give way to hubris, and ultimately lead to miscalculated risks on the descent. The path down to basecamp requires a ton of humility, a commitment to feedback, and awareness of ever-changing conditions.
For Wailea Realty and C&H Properties, we’re still on our way back to basecamp, but have been able to navigate everything safely so far, and maintain focus not just on the success of the summit, but the entire journey. Mergers and acquisitions are an art, not a science. The successful integration of teams, personalities, and cultures requires transparency and an ability to recognize the nuance of how different individuals react to change. There is no “one size fits all” approach to a successful acquisition. Each time, we learn countless new distinctions and nuances. We have learned what worked and what could have been done differently. And we’re constantly communicating internally and externally with empathy, clarity, and stoke.
Of course, it’s not all rose-colored all of the time. Some of our existing brokers and agents expressed surprise, and even concern, about Hawai’i Life’s growth. The coconut wireless, fueled in part by rampant recruiting conducted by our competitors, has amplified some of these otherwise valid concerns.
Why take on all these offices and leases?
For a company that essentially started as a creative agency and became a tech-enabled and cloud-based real estate brokerage, we tended to eschew the need for brick and mortar locations. So taking on the liabilities of new (big) offices was seen as out of character.
But the market landscape has changed. After over two years of relative isolation, both clients and salespeople are starved for meeting “in real life” whenever possible. New prospects are eager to interact in person. “Floor time” is suddenly a very valid business opportunity. And let’s face it, navigating a real estate transaction requires conversations that are best not overheard in the local coffee shop.
“They’re just building it up so they can sell it.”
I think this is more recruiter-speak than anything, but it’s a valid concern nevertheless. It’s also nothing new. I’ve heard this gossip for years, even complete with fictitious details about which company we’re selling to and when. It’s all made up.
Hawai’i Life takes extraordinary pride in being an independent Hawai’i company. We’re not a franchise or a big box or publicly-funded or, worse, funded by institutional investors with little to no ethics or sense of place. We’re not a multi-level marketing company, promising profits ever-after in exchange for relentless recruitment.
The additions of Wailea Realty and C&H Properties were the result of business development conversations that were years in the making, and a general orientation towards increased market share. We’re honored to have had the opportunities and to be able to act on them.
Won’t the boutique feel of a smaller company be lost as we grow?
Not if I have anything to do with it. We’ll always be more rebel than empire. Even after these two relatively big firms have joined Hawai’i Life, we still have over 150 fewer agents than our nearest competitor and we have no interest in just signing on countless real estate agents and hoping that they succeed. Hawai’i Life agents average over $10m in annual sales.
We’ve seen time and time again that, when we bring on the right practitioners, brokers, and agents who truly understand who we are and how we approach the profession, then the combination of market share and collaborative effort can really provide extraordinary results for our clients. Of course, it’s on us to develop the level of trust required for that formula to work, which we do by being transparent, honoring our word, and really putting the power of relationships to work.
We’re blessed with an amazing team of brokers and agents. For as much as the real estate industry waxes poetic about “raising the bar” and standards of professionalism, the fact is that unfortunately there’s a wide range of quality and experience when it comes to real estate sales professionals… and more so since Covid.
There’s been a giant rush of people getting their real estate sales licenses. And every island’s Realtor boards have more members than ever before. Combine that with the freakish volume, intensity, and frenetic energy of the real estate market, and it becomes painfully obvious that experience and professionalism are at a premium.
I couldn’t be more honored to be associated with the brokers and agents at Hawai’i Life. If anything, we’ve doubled-down on our professionalism. The quality of our representation, and the way in which we’ve represented our clients, our communities, and Hawai’i, have been nothing short of phenomenal. Especially during this time.
I’m also totally impressed with the leadership team we’ve built over the past few years. I now regularly have imposter syndrome in my own company. The talent, intellectual capital, and tenacity they’ve displayed throughout all this growth is inspiring.
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” – Steve Jobs
So far, we’re off to a great start in 2022. If you happen to be in South Maui, please stop in and visit our team at the Shops at Wailea. And the same goes for Queen’s Marketplace in Waikoloa Beach Resort on Hawai’i Island!