Hawaii Busines: When the Going Gets Tough …

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When the real estate market was taking a beating last year along with the overall economy, Rob Kildow didn't back down.

"I like a challenge, and when the market got sketchy on us, I throttled up as much as I could go," Kildow says. "My wife, Barbara, and I have been together for 21 years, and she said last year might have been the hardest she's seen me go."

The effort paid off. Kildow ranks No. 1 this year on the Hawaii Business Top 100 Realtors, a list based on gross sales registered in MLS. His total sales in 2009 were $107.4 million.

His biggest sale last year was a "stunning" $26.25 million home that stretches over an acre of land at the Big Island's Hualalai Resort. "The only thing between it and the ocean is the signature 17th green on the Hualalai golf course," Kildow says. That was the second-most expensive sale in Hawaii last year, exceeded only by the sale of Kauai's "Tara Plantation" (see next page "2009's Biggest Deal").

Kildow and his company, Hualalai Realty, deal exclusively within the luxurious Hualalai Resort, a Four Seasons resort owned by computer magnate Michael Dell. The resort recently completed a $40-million renovation and is stacked with multimillion-dollar homes along 65 acres of the Big Island's Kohala Coast.

"You need a real solid foundation to weather the market we are currently experiencing … and, fortunately, we've got a lot of things we can sell off of here," Kildow says.

That includes six restaurants, two golf courses, two workout facilities, a spa, a pool, two beach clubs, a five-diamond Four Seasons Resort and an ocean-activity program at the nearby beach. "I get a lot of ammo to use," Kildow says.

He also attributes his success to a combination of other factors, including "great coverage" from national and global media that are attracted by Hualalai's luxurious amenities; the "prequalified prospects" he gets from the Four Seasons Resort; and the referrals he gets from previous clients.

"The referrals we get from our current owners are the most effective, because they've already done it, they've purchased here. So they are talking with their friends and colleagues, wherever their primary homes might be, saying, ‘You should go to Hualalai. We think it's wonderful.' Those people have already voted with their checkbooks, and that's a more compelling story than some article in Spa Magazine."

Some Hawaii families have getaway homes at Hualalai, he says, but the majority of his customers are Mainlanders.

"In the beginning, it was heavily weighted to the West Coast, and within the West Coast to California, but in the last few years our range has really picked up," Kildow says. "I think we have 26 to 28 states represented here and five different countries."

Kildow was not even on last year's Top 100 Realtors list because the resort's sales were not previously reported to MLS, which is the basis for the rankings.

So far, he says, 2010's sales have been a continuation of a "very good last five months of 2009" for the resort and himself.

"We've now put eight very solid months together, and as long as we can keep that up, we're going to be very happy. And I don't see any outward signs of that diminishing, but you can rest assured we're not taking anything for granted."

Kildow says he doesn't expect real estate prices in general to shift very much over the next couple of years, in part because construction prices have decreased, which could keep prices down for people trying to resell homes.

"I think anyone who expects any real appreciation over the next few years is probably going to be disappointed," Kildow says. "I think there is still enough inventory out there, and we're just trying to get a real firm floor established, and I know others in other price groups are trying to do the same."

Kildow has come a long way since selling his first house – to a third cousin for $36,000 in 1976 in Olympia, Wash.

"I can barely remember it," Kildow says with a laugh. "It was a long time ago. But other times it feels like it was a few years ago, because my career has gone very quickly. I've done practically all the things one can do in the real estate business."

Though grateful to be recognized as Hawaii's No. 1 Realtor, he repeatedly gives credit to his team. When the initial figures for the Top 100 Realtors were compiled, MLS data listed Kildow with $210 million in sales, but he graciously told Hawaii Business that his colleagues were responsible for half of those sales.

"I am so fortunate to have a team that shows up every day," Kildow says. "Because this is like the World Series every day. People come in here and expect an extremely high level of service and information, and everybody delivers it."

Kildow also attributes his success to Hualalai itself. He and Barbara moved there in 2001 and he began working for the resort in December 2003.

"My wife and I have traveled a lot, and I meet people who are very well-traveled. I tell people, if they ever come across a place that you feel has Hualalai beat, you call because Barbara and I will be there in 48 hours. And guess what? The phone has never rung on that one."

Meeting Cher

When you have been in the real estate business as long as Rob Kildow, you have met a lot of interesting people and have great stories to tell. One of Kildow's favorites is how he helped Cher sell a home that she had bought and spent a lot of money upgrading.

"Meeting Cher was fun," Kildow says. "I'd swung by the home just to check how work was progressing because it wasn't yet complete. I hadn't met Cher, but I knew she was the investor behind it.

"There was a group of three people there and I recognized who I thought was her and she got up and said, ‘Who are you?' And I said, ‘My name is Rob. I'm the director of sales here.'

She said, ‘Oh, my name is Cher,' and I said, ‘Yeah, I figured that much out."