Growth Spurt

Real estate on the neighbor islands has grown at a phenomenal rate – the number of new real estate agents, that is

April, 2003

When Mark Harbison and his Maui-born wife, Lisa Oyama, relocated to Maui after several years in Japan, they both decided to switch careers. Today, the husband and wife are real estate agents. “We walked into a booming market. It’s been fantastic,” says Harbison, a former investment banker. “My listings board is so full, I may have to start writing on the wall.” He specializes in Kihei beachfront condos and has been a real estate agent since August 2002.

Harbison is among the growing number of new real estate agents attracted to the upswing in the Valley Isle real estate market. Membership for the Realtors Association of Maui has grown at an average annual rate of 13 percent, from 800 members six years ago to 1,200 agents today, says Terry Tolman, executive vice president of the association.

The increase in membership rings true on other Neighbor Islands and is due to several factors: low interest rates; Web site listings that are accessible to non-Hawaii buyers; a sufficient housing inventory; and new housing developments. In fact, Hawaii led the nation, with the largest increase in home resales (33.9 percent) in the last quarter of 2002, compared with the same period in 2001.

Neighbor Island realtor associations expect membership to grow this year. In January, the Kona Board of Realtors saw its membership increase from 325 to 450. “The vast majority are new licensees,” says Jackie Parkinson, executive officer for the Kona Board. “Some, however, are reinstating or reactivating agents who left the market, when things were slower. [They] now want to get in on the incredible increase in sales volume and sales prices.”

In Hilo, the Hawaii Island Board of Realtors increased its membership by 30 percent over the past three years, from 427 to 558. Kauai Board of Realtors Executive Vice President Karen Ono says that about 100 new agents bumped the board’s 2002 membership to 428. On Molokai, the Board’s membership three years ago was 26. Today, it is 32, says director Ray Miller. The reason: new home purchases by U.S. Mainland retirees and by local residents seeking relaxed lifestyles.

“Single-family home resales of oceanfront and ocean-view properties are our big sellers,” says Ray Miller of Friendly Isle Realty. “Molokai is a good buy right now.”

Even on Oahu, the number of sales agents jumped 9 percent over the same period, bringing the total to 2,833. The trend is nationwide. In the past year, membership for the National Association of Realtors (NAR) grew by more than 40,000, bringing the total number of agents nationwide to 840,000.

Another organization that tracks the number of real estate agents in Hawaii, is the Professional and Vocational Licensing Division of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA). From 2001 to 2002, the number of entry-level sales agent licenses jumped by 513 to 5,016, according to the DCCA. In that same period, 167 entry-level agents upgraded their licenses to broker status.

Nalani Finsand, president of the Kona Board, explains: “People are motivated and searching for independence to some extent,” she says. “More are leaving corporations and companies but need to provide for their families in order to spend more time with [their] families [and] plan for the future.

“The current real estate market is robust,” she says. “Homeownership is at a high level around the country, and as long as that trend continues, I believe the growth in new agents and renewal licensees will, too.”

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