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When the Going Gets Tough …

Hawaii’s No. 1 Realtor Worked Even Harder in Last Year’s Weak Economy

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    Photo Courtesy: Sealight Studios

Referrals, Knowledge, Low-Pressure

By Mark Brislin

Real estate is mainly a referral business, and Neal Norman knows that happy clients will keep referrals coming.

“Our business is such a referral-based business that we say, ‘If you screw up on a little island like Kauai, you’re not going to be able to do business here,’ ” says Norman, an agent with Koa Properties on Kauai and No. 2 statewide on the Hawaii Business Top 100 Realtors. His total sales in 2009 were $76.88 million.

Norman describes his style as high-integrity honesty and low-pressure sales combined with “extreme local knowledge and professionalism.” The properties on Kauai are so beautiful that they sell themselves, he says, so the agent’s primary job is to present opportunities to buyers and sellers and have the insight and foresight to find the right match between the two.

“There are no high-pressure sales, it is all very local, akamai and casual,” Norman says. “Some of our best deals have been made out surfing in Hanalei Bay on a board talking friend to friend about a property.”

Norman’s 2009 numbers were bolstered by the sale of a $13.5-million, 7.5-acre bluff-front home overlooking Secret Beach on Kauai’s North Shore. He also had a successful 2008, but sold more land that year than homes, and did not make the Hawaii Business Top 100 Realtors list because land sales are not counted.

Norman says most of Koa Properties’ clients are “second-home, Californian, high-net-worth individuals,” who Koa attracts with its access to unlisted properties.

He says the real estate market on Kauai right now is very strong, driven by prices on high-end homes that are 30 percent lower than the 2005-2006 peak. He attributes his recent success to a combination of “gems” available for reasonable prices, persuading sellers to be realistic about their expectations, and linking buyers with the right properties.

Koa Properties also spent a lot of money upgrading its Web site, which Norman says gives “a bigger bang for your buck. You get your message out to a lot more people for a better price point on the Web, and the ability to get massive amounts of information out there.”

In a weak economy, Norman says, he takes things slower with buyers because there are more choices available. “We act with much more patience, but in a strong economy, there would be a sense of urgency. There’d be a fire lit under a client to buy, to make offers. In this economy, it’s more like: Let the seller come to the buyer, instead of the buyer running after the seller.”


    Photo Courtesy : Papa'a Bay Ranch

2009’s Biggest Deal

By Jon Letman

When Tara Plantation on Kauai’s east side sold in November, the 174-acre beachfront property had been listed for 1,927 days – more than five years. At $28 million, the sale was Hawaii’s priciest residential real estate transaction in 2009.

The sprawling property, tucked out of sight between the Anahola Mountains and Papaa Bay, originally listed in 2004 for $46.5 million. Even though Hollywood executive Peter Guber and his wife, Tara, had to cut the price drastically to sell it, they still received four times what they paid for it in 1998.

Representing the buyer was Hannah Sirois of Kauai Heritage Properties, while the listing agents were John Ferry, Malia Powers and Barbara Sloan of Coldwell Banker Bali Hai Realty. Despite speculation about a “Hollywood buyer” or development acquisition, Sirois says, Papaa Bay Ranch (as it’s again called) was purchased by a noncelebrity, “professional couple” who aspire to own a property that allows them to “restore, recuperate and enjoy the magic of the island.”

The wooded, rambling estate was owned by Kauai’s Rice family, and then the Gerbode Trust for most of the 20th century. Before Hurricane Iniki, it was sought by Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor, but sold to an Idaho rancher in the mid-1990s. In 1998, Guber bought it and incorporated authentic Hawaiian architecture, adding two 4,000-square-foot guest houses, a pool, horse stables, a yoga studio and a caretaker’s house alongside the 13,154-square-foot, plantation-style home.

Sirois says the undulating property is criss-crossed with trails and has a meadow that abuts an idyllic sandy beach. “This is an extraordinary property,” she says. “It’s beautiful, just beautiful.”

Link to list of Top 100 Realtors

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