The Life of an Unemployed Maui Realtor

I'd like to share a tidbit about my unemployment as a Maui Realtor for the last 34 years. In 1979 I received my real estate license and then a broker license in 1984 in Hawaii. Each day of those 34 years, I awake looking for a job. I am terminally unemployed. Does this bother me? Not in the least. My future and income, together with the future of my children and wife, depends on whether I want to go out and find a job that day. Since I work in real estate, that means only one thing; go find a new buyer or seller, or you don’t feed your family.

Maui is a very tough place to find a job that pays enough to own a home, buy and insure a car, and pay tuition for private schools and college. Very few jobs pay enough to do these things. I see doctors, lawyers, engineers, dentists, all struggling to do these things on their earnings. Often their spouses have to work as well to ensure that they are able to provide for their families.

How Could a Realtor Possibly Do It?

During the peaks in the Maui real estate market (1977-81, 1987-91, and 1999-2006), you could make a lot of money just having a real estate license and being busy sitting open houses, sitting in real estate offices, and waiting for buyers and sellers to walk in the door, and by running glossy ads in magazines touting either your pretty face or your Million Dollar Club credentials. The question is, did you save any of that money, pay your taxes, pay off your car, and save money for the next real estate drought?

Agents now face competition we have never seen before. Print advertising makes up a very small percentage of our budgets because buyers want current, up to date information that is hard to get in print. Open houses still work well, but almost every buyer now has an agent they have met on the internet representing them.

Buyers that choose an agent, now call the agent and give them the Multiple Listing (MLS) numbers they want to see. On top of all of this, national sites such as Trulia, Zillow, and many other 3rd party sites are taking real estate MLS data, repackaging it and re-selling it to the public in order generate income from their services.

How has all of this changed the real estate business?

We used to draft a two page offer on carbon paper in a mechanical typewriter , give a copy to our client, and put the other in the US Mail, put  a dime in the pay phone and call the client and tell them to check their mail.  We now use a 13 page contract, sometimes more, prepare it and sign it electronically and send it via e-mail.  Faxes are now technically obsolete and when did you last use a pay phone?

Interestingly enough though, the business is still the same, it is just how you deliver it.  Real estate is and has always been a people business.  If you can’t communicate in a style that your client understands, you won’t make a dime.  The real estate part is usually easy; you take a listing, check permits and title, get a survey, check covenants and zoning and you usually know what you have to sell or represent your buyer to purchase.  People are the tough part.   Some just want numbers and data.  Others want to know about all the neighbors and fun things to do.  Some want all of the information, right now.  You have to be able to understand what their needs are; after all, they are writing your pay check today if you can get them what they want and need.

Speaking of delivery, be sure to check our initial launch of our new website.

How Have I Been Able to Succeed for 34 years in the Maui Real Estate Business?

It has been very tough some years, I have to admit. In 1982 and 83, I painted over 300 condos and houses and sold time shares 3 days a week. In 1983, I had a sawmill on the Big Island for a year, then sold it and started a video store in 1984, then finally came to the realization that I really liked real estate more than anything else.

After a mentor stopped me one day while I was painting and asked me why I was still painting condos when all I could do was talk about real estate all day, I realized I should listen to him. He sent me off to work selling time shares and I had my broker’s license within 1 year and soon had my own company.

Why is All of This Important?

It illustrates how a lack of full-time commitment in the tough times in real estate sets you back when the market starts to take off. I had no base to start with in 1984 and only a handful of prior clients to work with. The best agents bear down the hardest, work the hardest, when the market is tough. This is what I started too.

They keep getting listings, because there is always a buyer at the right price. They continue to work with buyers, coach them, help them plan and save. One buyer took me 8 years to find a home for. I just closed a listing that I worked on for 14 years. Sometimes you only end up making 4 cents an hour or actually losing money. Sometimes you hit it out of the park!

Now, the market is no different. Perhaps we are rounding the bend at the bottom of the market, perhaps not. Should you be considering a career in real estate? I answer that with a series of questions:

  1. How long can you survive until you get paid?
  2. Are you prepared to train every day to compete against the very best of the 1,350 agents on Maui?
  3. What are your greatest strengths? How can you use them to your advantage to compete?
  4. Can you live with the heartbreak of showing a buyer 30 houses over two weeks and then getting a phone call telling you they just bought a house at an open house from the listing agent, or they were going to lose?
  5. How are you going to handle the “internet" void you are starting the business with? Either you are going to pay for it, your company will provide it, or you will do it yourself. Remember, writing code is not meeting people.
  6. What are your goals? If you don’t have a five year plan coming in to the business, plan to fail in one year.

What is This All About?

It is the title of this post “unemployed for the past 34 years." Proudly, I still am unemployed. I wake up every day with a smile, prioritize my day based on my clients (employers) needs, and schedule my fun around them. My children were all born on Maui; all three graduated from Seabury Hall. My son, Jeremy, is my business partner. Brianna is a Maui Police Office, Chloe is a junior at Central Washington, and my dear wife, Laura, is still the rock she has always been, always solid!

I am at peace with myself, my business, and especially the company I work for, Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers. This company is the future of real estate in Hawaii because they have totally taken the technology off the table for me and provided the best tools available in the world, not just Hawaii, to compete. Jeremy and I have had back to back, record years in 2011 and now 2012 with Hawaii Life and next year will be even better.

Why Join Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers as an Agent?

I write this blog as an agent of Hawaii Life. Nobody has asked me to write it or paid me to do it. I am doing it because I love what the company represents in an industry that is otherwise quite stagnant and relies on old models that don’t work because they have failed to adapt to consumer needs.

Hawaii Real Estate - Then vs. Now

In 1979, I got my sales license in Hawaii working for DT Land in Wailuku. We got monthly MLS books, paper forms, and all offers were either hand delivered and presented or snail mailed via USPS. We had carbon paper, typewriters, and mimeograph copying that was just giving way to fancy copy machines. There were no fax machines, no computers, and certainly no internet or e-mail.

Dial the business forward 34 years. What is really the same is what we are selling - real property - and we actually still sell it to real people. Absolutely everything else is different about the business.

The primary core of our business is still exactly the same, people and property. I have owned 2 companies of my own and part of a very large statewide franchise where I previously worked for 10 very happy and productive years. In 1994, I was actually one of the very first Realtors to have a website on Maui (

What started to happen in the mid 1990’s was a logarithmic increase in the use of technology. To be competitive, you not only needed to own a computer, you had to learn how to use it. Fax machines were mainstream at that time and they were at the core of our daily business. Then along came the internet. We still had pagers because only the very rich could afford cell phones - and those weighed a pound or more!

Between 1995 and 2005, the business totally transformed to a web based model. Most MLS data nationally became available to the public and that is where the public really began to start their searches. Agents had choices to make.

Did you go learn how to write code, design your own web page, try to take professional photos for the pages, learn how to do e-mail marketing, blogging, tagging web pages to optimize searches, buy and learn the latest data base programs to handle contacts with your clients, design flyers, cards and brochures? It goes on and on, and never seems to stop.

What happened is that some really good agents began spending most of their time doing all of the above functions and had little time for the core business, people and property. Today, any good agent knows that in order to succeed you have to show up on internet searches, otherwise, buyers and sellers who want instant gratification on the internet, go elsewhere.

What Promoted My Move to Hawaii Life?

What promoted my move to Hawaii Life was a very interesting event. My son, Jeremy, is my business partner. We are the “Stice Team." In December 2009, Hawaii Life sent 3 buyers leads to Jeremy while were both at our prior brokerage. I was due to start as President of the Hawaii Association of Realtors in Jan. 2010 and I owned a healthy chunk of the brokerage we both worked for.

Jeremy came to me in Dec. 2009 and said, “Dad, I am going to go work for Hawaii Life...they don’t even have an office on Maui and they are #5 on Google search for Maui Real Estate." Needless to say, that caught my attention.

Jeremy and I flew to Kauai almost immediately to meet with Matt Beall, Justin Britt, and Winston Welborn, the owners of Hawaii Life. What we saw was the most un-corporate, free wheeling, fun-loving bunch of competitive young people who had just broken the mold.

What Hawaii Life had done was marry the most progressive marketing, search engine optimization, and web design company in the state, Wasabi, with a broker, Matt Beall, who was a true visionary along the lines of Bill Chee who saw the internet coming in the early 1990’s as National Association of Realtors President and the owner of Prudential Locations in Hawaii.

Jeremy and I immediately could see that we could forget about “writing code, designing our own web page, trying to take professional photos for the pages, learning how to do e-mail marketing, blogging, tagging web pages to optimize searches, buying and learning the latest data base programs to handle contacts with clients, designing flyers, cards, and brochures, etc." because Hawaii Life already had the top ranked real estate search in Hawaii - and all the rest is included as part of what Hawaii Life agents are offered.

Since Joining Hawaii Life

We packed our bags at our prior brokerage, I sold my stock back to them (not happily as they are wonderful people and a great company), and opened Hawaii Life on Maui. We had an amazing first year with almost $80,000,000 in sales - and I have never been happier.

Now, I spend my time doing what I want to do - dealing with people and property. I have more free time to surf, cycle, paddle canoe, and farm and last year was the best year of my 34 year career in all forms. I made more money, had more free time, and now I can smile at our good choice.

Thank you, Jeremy, for inspiring the move.