By Sarah Ruppenthal
Fifteen years ago, with nearly three decades of hotel, club, golf operations and vacation-rental management under his belt, Rob Shelton decided to try his hand at real estate. Turns out, the career pivot was a wise move: Since then, he’s made his mark on Maui’s home-buying scene, racking up his share of accolades along the way.
Today, Rob is the vice president and broker in charge of West Maui operations for Island Sotheby’s International Realty. When he’s not keeping a finger on the pulse of the local market, Rob is keeping a close eye on the needs of the community he has called home since 1978. He’s a founding board member and past president of the Lahainaluna High School Foundation, and the cofounder and chairperson of the Kapalua Clambake Pro-Am Invitational, an annual golf tournament that benefits Special Olympics Maui and the Lahainaluna High School golf program.
We asked Rob to share his local-market expertise and some tried-and-true tips for sellers and buyers.
Let’s start with the big picture. How would you characterize today’s real-estate market?
We are looking at a little more balance between buyers and sellers in 2019. It was more of a seller’s market in 2018, but there’s been an increase in inventory, which indicates the market will likely be skewed toward the buyer this year.
So . . . it’s a good time to buy?
What should a prospective buyer know before diving into the process?
First, if you’re financing, get prequalified by a lender [to determine how much you can borrow]. If it’s a cash purchase, have a budget in mind. When I was the general manager of The Kapalua Villas Maui, people would come to me and ask for advice on what they should buy. My response then was the same as it is now: What do you enjoy when you’re here? What kind of home best fits your lifestyle and your family’s needs? Let that guide your decision.
What pearls of wisdom do you have for first-time homebuyers?
Work with a real-estate professional who will walk you through the buying process. Listen to them—and ask questions. And I always recommend using a local lender. They know the nuances of the market, everything from condotels [a condominium building operated as a hotel], to leasehold, to HARPTA [the Hawai‘i Real Property Tax Act] and FIRPTA [Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act]. It will make the process so much smoother. I’d also suggest asking your lender what the do’s and don’ts are in the lending process; one of the first things they’ll tell you is, don’t change jobs and don’t make any large purchases before closing. Remember, it’s a business transaction until the end, so don’t pop the champagne until the keys are in your hands.
Let’s shift to the selling side. If I decide to sell my home, what should I do before I pick up the phone and call a realtor?
Get it ready to view. Stage it nicely, and keep things neutral to showcase the home’s best features; too many accessories or too-bright colors can be distracting. Make it look fresh, clean and presentable. Some people suggest taking down personal items like family photos, but a few of those items can make it feel more like a home. A buyer wants to see themselves in that house.
What are some won’t-break-the-bank things a seller can do to make a property more attractive to buyers?
I’d recommend simple things, like making sure the lawn is trimmed, and power washing the sidewalks. And you don’t want clutter. It might be a good time to have a garage sale and get rid of the things you don’t need. There’s also a strategy that some sellers employ: Get a building inspection. Any buyer will order a building inspection, but if you do it ahead of time and repair anything that needs to be fixed, you will make your home more attractive to a buyer.
What is a common selling blunder?
Pricing it too high. I’ll never forget a seminar I attended at a big real-estate conference in Los Angeles. The takeaway was: “Every property will sell the day it’s priced right.” If you set the price too high, its days on market [a measure of the age of a real-estate listing] will likely be too long, and at some point, potential buyers may think there’s something wrong with the house. It can get stigmatized.
You’ve been in this industry for a while. Apart from the cyclical nature of real estate, what has changed over the years?
When I started in 2004, a lot of people were buying [properties] sight unseen, or with their emotions. Eventually, people became more focused on the numbers and they started looking more closely at price points and comps [comparable home sales]. Buyers are doing their homework now—and that’s a good thing, because they need to know what they’re buying. Both buyers and sellers are more educated today. There’s a lot of good information out there.
How do you know you’re getting reliable information?
The best way is to consult a local real-estate professional—someone who has their eyes and ears on the ground.
Clearly, you enjoy your job. What’s the greatest reward for you?
There’s nothing more rewarding than handing over the keys to a couple who just bought their first home. It’s so gratifying to know that I helped them start a new chapter in their lives.
Interested in the latest and greatest market data for Maui? The Realtors Association of Maui publishes monthly real-estate market reports at RAMaui.com/Consumers/Market-Statistics.