All Islands, All The Time
Century 21 All Islands Makes Real Estate an Inter-Island Affair
For a while it seemed as though Jim Wright was always in the right place at the wrong time. For 16 years, Wright, president/principal broker of Century 21 All Islands, toiled in the newspaper business in faraway Valdez, Alaska. He worked his way up from apprentice pressman to publisher before moving to Hawaii in 1987. A couple of years later, the Exxon Valdez grounded itself in Prince William Sound, and Wright missed the biggest story of the year and probably the biggest of his career.
But that wouldn’t be the only ship that Wright would miss. After failing to find a job in Hawaii, he decided to try his hand at real estate, getting his license in 1990 at the very height of the state’s bubble market. But just as Wright learned the ins and outs of the real estate game, the bottom fell out. At year’s end, the agent had made a grand total of $11,800. He began to believe he had made a bad career move.
“Everything was smoking when I first started,” says Wright. “ But just as I figured out what was going on, the market tanked.”
“Looking back, it was a prescription for failure,” says Wright. “We started a business when the market was terrible, thinking that it would turn around and it didn’t. Those first couple of years just about broke me.”In 1992, Wright got his broker’s license and struck out on his own, forming a new firm, Century 21 Hale Ohana with a hui of co-workers who raised $50,000. In 1994, the first full year of operation, the company made approximately $97,000 in commission. There were 14 people in the company. Again, it seemed as though Wright’s timing was off.
But they didn’t and by 1997 his company started to make money—approximately $227,000 in commissions. It was enough for a small profit but Wright realized that he had to grow to continue to run a worthwhile business. “We made a little money but I wasn’t going to continue to work that hard for small profits,” says Wright. “We had to maximize our resources and grow.”
In 1998, Wright acquired Century 21 Kahala Hale. In 1999 he purchased a firm on the Big Island and changed the company’s name to Century 21 All Islands even though it had yet to achieve that distinction. But it soon would, acquiring another real estate company in Makawao, Maui, in 2000 and another at Princeville, Kauai, later that year. Earlier this year, Century 21 All Islands further expanded into Kauai, purchasing a company in Koloa in January and another in Kilauea in June. This is in addition to moving into a new office in Kaimuki and opening another one in Waikiki.
From 1997, Century 21 All Islands increased its commissions from the aforementioned $227,000 to $4.6 million. His agents sold more than $168 million in real estate. This year, as of the end of July, Century 21 All Island agents have already earned $4.4 million in commission with Wright projecting $8 million to $8.5 million by year’s end. He expects his 204 agents to sell between $300 million to $350 million in sales for 2001. This time his timing seems to be right.
“If you grow fast you have to be a risk taker. You’ve got to step up and make things happen,” says Wright. “We were really doing things on a shoestring but things have stabilized. I don’t recommend trying to move your office, create an office and buy another at the same time, however.”
Wright’s neighbor island operations, primarily selling to mainland customers, account for 70 percent of his sales while Oahu continues to grow in strength.
Although the industry here has had to endure the dot-com crash and a sluggish mainland economy, Wright believes that Hawaii’s market will remain hot for another six or seven years. He believes that baby boomers, retiring or near retirement, are the driving force behind Hawaii resort real estate boom: “Many of us sold a house to one of those dot-com guys, but they were few and far between,” says Wright. “I’m selling a lot more property to people from small towns in Texas and Kansas, who have done well and didn’t put everything into the stock market. This will last a while longer.”
Just call it good timing.