Patricia Choi Featured in Hawaii Business Magazine as the #1 Hawaii Ranked Realtor

By Shara Enay of Hawaii Business magazine

Being the Best in the Worst of Times 5 Tips from Hawaii's Top Realtors



 Patricia Choi of Choi International

 In a slow real estate market, it’s easy to identify the top producers: they’re the ones out in the community shaking hands, developing relationships, aggressively marketing, and sweating the details to make sure their clients are completely satisfied. Many are busier now than ever.

With over 18,000 active real estate professionals in the state and fewer residential buyers than before, agents have to work harder and smarter to secure a piece of the shrinking pie.

Hawaii Business asked the top six residential Realtors in Hawaii, as ranked by sales volume, what it takes to be the best in the worst of economic times.

1) Play well with others

Realtors are some of the most exposed and networked professionals in town. Their names and faces are all over open house signs, ads and the Internet. That’s why top agents must work hard to develop a solid reputation with their clients and their peers.

In a tight market, buyers are extremely cautious because they don’t want to overpay, says Patricia Choi, president and principal broker of Choi International and the No. 1 ranked Hawaii Realtor. The broker who knows how to listen and work well with others will be the most successful.


“Sometimes Realtors are nasty if they don’t get the listing,” Choi says. “But you have to always leave good feelings no matter who you’re dealing with because a lot of times the clients that you don’t get today will come back to you later. It’s the same color green, whether you get the listing today or down the road.”

Whatever the outcome, avoid talking stink, says Stephen Hurwitz, president and principal broker of C and H Properties on the Big Island and ranked No. 6.

Nathalie Mullinix, president of Nathalie Mullinix Realty Universal, who is ranked No. 2, says top agents are good about not talking badly about other agents. “When I hear agents bad-mouthing their peers, I know automatically that they’re not a top producer at all,” Mullinix says. “There’s no need for top producers to talk badly because their actions speak to their abilities.”

Bottom line: If you’re good, everyone will know it.

When transactions go smoothly, the client benefits and will remember it the next time they’re ready to buy or sell. “In this business, you have to work with a lot of people — brokers, lenders, contractors and landscapers,” says Tracy Allen, vice president of Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties and the No. 5 Hawaii Realtor. If people don’t perceive you as enjoyable to work with, especially in a market that has a lot of inventory, they’ll pick an agent with a better reputation. “And word travels fast in this town,” Allen says.

Smart Realtors consider every person they meet a potential client or referral and know they can’t afford to burn any bridges. Other experienced agents stay connected with the community and network with people from different backgrounds by sitting on boards and participating in community organizations.

“You have to be out there and understand that your networking is far-reaching — it doesn’t just serve your personal interests; it also benefits your client when you can tell them exactly who to call, say, if they’re looking to buy a place in New York or want to know a good contractor,” Choi says.

Power BrokersPower Brokers: Three of Hawaii’s top Realtors (from left): Patricia Choi, Tracy Allen and Sachiyo Braden Photo: Olivier Koning

2) Build Relationships

Many Realtors are known for having their own signature style when it comes to closing deals, but all good agents make servicing clients their top priority. Especially, in the high-end market, where investment buyers are likely to buy and sell multiple properties, it’s all about developing and nurturing relationships. Choi estimates that about 75 percent of her business comes from repeat clients and that half of her clients originally came as referrals. She easily secured the No. 1 spot on our list for the third consecutive year, with 2008 sales of $72,692,999 — almost $30 million more than the No. 2 producer.

“I’ve sold properties to clients four, five, six times,” Choi says. “Some clients buy properties all over the world and I go with them. Affluent people are always looking for good opportunities no matter what the market is like, that’s why it’s so important to maintain good relationships and deliver quality and service every single time.”

Choi’s philosophy has served her well. In 2006, she was recognized by the Wall Street Journal as the No. 3 luxury broker in the nation. “It takes time and a lot of hard work to develop relationships, but they provide you your revenue,” she says. “If there’s one thing you’ve got to do well, it is understanding your client’s needs. Whenever people spend this much money, there are going to be a lot of emotions and other factors involved. As their agent, it’s my responsibility to provide them with the best possible service and present them with the most attractive options for their lifestyle so they can make the best decision.”

Sachiyo Braden, president and principal broker of Sachi Hawaii Pacific Century Properties, Hawaii’s No. 4 Realtor, says she’s formed solid relationships with clients, most of whom are from Japan, because she is honest, direct and compassionate. “Since a lot of my clients are not from Hawaii, they put a lot of trust in me, so I always look out for their best interests and answer all of their questions openly, even if it means not making the sale.” She says a transaction is not a success unless all parties involved walk away happy.

3) Build your brand — it’s you!

You have to love what you do to be willing to work 10 to 12 hours a day, often seven days a week. “It’s seriously like being a doctor who is on call 24/7,” says Allen. She says one of the biggest misconceptions of the real estate business is that selling homes is fast, easy money. “This is incredibly tedious work. You’ve got to know your market inside and out; pay attention to details; be extremely organized; and know every aspect of the buying and selling process to be a top producer. If you’re not willing to do all that, plus work on the weekends and miss your kids’ games once in a while, choose another profession.”

Choi says for agents to build their brand, they have to be visionaries. “You have to look down the road and always be thinking,” she says. “Experience is always your greatest teacher. I’ve always got a five-year plan and am thinking about what I need to do to get there. I think a lot of Realtors don’t plan professionally, like you would a business. But you are a business. You have to look at it like you’re the CEO.”

It doesn’t end there, Allen says. “A lot of times we’ve got to be guidance counselors, psychologists, interior designers, and most importantly, friends. You’ve got to remember that everything you do and how you interact with people all connects back to building your brand — and that brand is you.”

Robert Hansen, a Realtor for Coldwell Banker Island Properties and No. 3 in the state, says perseverance is the name of the game. “You have to be organized and have good communication skills,” he says. “But above all, you’ve got to be consistent and persistent.”

4) Market knowledge

When Tracy Allen drives down a street in Hawaii Kai or Kailua, chances are she knows how much the most recent home on the block sold for and even whether it had a cesspool or sewer system. If she doesn’t, she’ll do her homework. Being the best means doing research and knowing your market. It’s about being prepared and foreseeing what problems could arise, and then providing solutions. For example, when Allen walks through a home for the very first time, her mind is already hard at work thinking of ways a large family could expand the kitchen or create a larger dining room to accommodate guests. She also knows what schools are in the area and where to get the best Chinese takeout.

“You’ve definitely got to have great market knowledge and be in tune with what’s going on in the neighborhoods that you focus in on and that your clients have homes listed in,” Allen says. “You have to be up on the latest sales and the new properties that have come up on the market, where they’re located, why that block sells for more than the block neighboring it, and whatever the certain attributes are for that specific location and that specific house.”

Taking educational courses to increase your knowledge, familiarizing yourself with the surrounding area prior to hosting an open house and being familiar with listings on the MLS are all part of the job.

“It’s all about thinking one step ahead,” Braden says. “You have to know about permitting, financing, termites, everything. The more knowledgeable you are of your market, the more successful you will be and the more useful you will be to your clients.”

5) Aggressively market to your market

Once Realtors carve a niche, how they market to their market is crucial. “If I had to give advice to a new agent, it would be to remember that you are your own business within yourself,” says Mullinix. “Don’t look for handouts. See what market you want to be in and then figure out how you’re going to produce.”

Braden says Realtors need to present their properties correctly, whether it’s through ads, open houses or online. “You need to find out where the fish are before you go fishing or you’ll end up wasting a lot of time and money.”

Allen, who is known for her immaculate, staged homes, takes at least one month to prepare listings before showing them or photographing them for advertisements.

“It starts with the ad,” she says. “If you don’t like that photo that you see in the MLS or on the Internet, nobody will be interested. I spend a lot of money on photography, but to me it’s worth it because the client is owed that right.”

Over the past decade, technology has transformed communication in the real estate industry and opened access to real estate information. Face-to-face interaction is still best, Choi says, but “80 percent of people are going to look at a property on the ’Net before they ever see it or call for an appointment. That’s why we market hard and we spend a lot of money on technology. We know that our Web site is our image — both in Hawaii and worldwide.”

Hansen estimates he spends about $50,000 each on print advertisements and Web site development and maintenance. This has allowed him to grow his client base all over the West Coast and in Canada. “We launched our Web site probably about 10 years ago and since then, I think it’s remained one of the best sites to come out of Hawaii,” he says.