This is Real(tor) Life: Wacky and Funny Stories From Hawai‘i’s Real-Estate Agents
Messy monks, high-flying dogs and risqué parties—eight Hawai‘i real-estate agents share their most memorable stories.
Illustrations: Joseph Canlas
Ask real-estate agents about their everyday lives and you may be surprised by the not-so-glamorous parts of their often-glamorized jobs: cockroaches, unruly pets, naked people, black mold, wonky tenants and odd clients. They experience it all. As one put it, “This job is part comedy 😂, part horror 😭.” We asked Hawai‘i real-estate agents to share their interesting, crazy, funny and quirky experiences from the field. Here are their stories in their own words. 🔑
Kerri Jo Heim, Elite Pacific Properties
👀 🔍 I had a great new listing in Royal Kunia. The house had been a rental, and the seller decided to ask the tenant to move out a month before putting it on the market so he would have time to spiff it up. After staging, the house looked great, and I set up the photo shoot for the marketing pictures.
During the photo shoot the photographer said someone was at the door. When I opened the door, there were two police officers and a woman in plainclothes. The woman asked if I knew how to reach the former tenant. She said he had been missing from work for the past month and his employers were worried about him. I didn’t have any contact with the former tenant, so I gave them the information for the rental company that managed the property.
While driving to the open house a few days later, my phone started ringing. My kids were with me in the car. I asked my daughter to look at the phone to see who was calling. She listened to the message and said, “Someone from Time magazine wants to ask you about a house you have for sale.” I figured it was a scammer. But the next call was from The Washington Post. Then after that the Los Angeles Times. I couldn’t figure out what was going on.
I dropped off my kids and headed to the open house. The street was more crowded than usual, and as I looked closer I realized most of the cars were news vans. On the lawn was a frenzy of reporters, cameramen, cords and lights. Right then, my seller called me to say there was something strange going on. He had been getting calls all morning from news agencies around the world asking about his former tenant.
“Who was your former tenant?” I asked.
“His name is Ed Snowden,” my seller replied.
Edward Snowden (the National Security Agency whistleblower who leaked confidential information exposing the agency’s programs) had released his name to the press that very morning.
To this day my kids give me a funny look any time Edward Snowden is mentioned on the news. My seller and I joke about what would have happened if he hadn’t asked his tenant to leave when he did.
Stop bugging me
Suzanne Yen, East O‘ahu Realty
🙅🏽😒 Many years ago, I had a listing that was in a tenant-occupied condo. It was on the ground floor of a building that had sliding doors that opened to an outdoor patio, which had metal hurricane shutters.
When I went in, the condo was always clean and neat. There were never any dirty dishes in the sink or clothes left anywhere; the bathroom was always clean. He always kept his sliding doors open and the hurricane shutters closed.
But every time I came in, there were at least a dozen to two dozen dead 747 cockroaches scattered on the ground. They were always dead and out all over the floor.
I couldn’t figure it out. It’s not like there was food or anything like that. The tenant worked during the day and all of our showings were during the day, so I actually never saw him.
Before a showing (he had a vacuum, thank goodness), I would go around and vacuum up all of these dead cockroaches. The next time I had a showing, it would be the same thing.
I was terrified. I got there one day for an open house and vacuumed up all of the roaches. I sat on a little stool, clutching my purse—I didn’t move because I didn’t know if anything would come out.
Once the tenant moved out, I bombed the unit twice and never saw another roach again.
A good cross breeze
Allison Lum, Plum Associates Inc.
🍃🗞️ It was more than 20 years ago at an open house in an apartment building: A shirtless man came up to the front screen door with a newspaper wrapped around his waist.
He said he had just gotten locked out of his apartment. He walked out in his underwear to pick up the newspaper when the wind blew his front door closed.
He asked if he could use the phone. I let him in, but before he could get to the phone, a young couple arrived at the front door for the open house. I told him to sit on the couch and put the newspaper around him.
The couple looked at the property, but then cornered me in the kitchen asking, “Who is the man sitting on the couch? Is he the owner? Is he the tenant who didn’t want the unit to be sold?”
After much to do, the locksmith finally came to rescue the neighbor—he was most appreciative. The young couple chuckled but left without buying the unit.
It was proof that the building had a good cross breeze.
Kill ’em with aloha
Alison Wisnom, Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties
🤙🏾🤬 I was contacted by a young couple, both boisterous traffic attorneys in Manhattan, who would be vacationing on O‘ahu and wanted to look at properties. They were about to sell a business and were thinking of starting a new life in the Islands.
After meeting them and discussing the differences between Island life and their New York lifestyle, we narrowed down properties they would like to see.
On the way, we encountered a construction crew working in the middle of the road. The worker was focused on his work, and his machinery was loud, so he didn’t hear my car approach. I slowed the car and waited patiently for him to notice me; no honking, of course.
I could feel the impatience build from my clients, wondering why I didn’t just blow the horn. In a few seconds, the worker looked up and noticed me. He smiled and waved me on through. I rolled down my window and said, “Mahalo,” to which he replied, “I’m sorry I was in your way.”
I smiled and drove on. My clients said in New York, they would’ve been honking and the construction worker would have been swearing at us for being in his way.
After looking at a few homes, I dropped them back at their hotel and never heard from them again. I don’t think they could handle the kindness. So, to those who want to keep the aloha in Hawai‘i, I say treat newcomers with extreme kindness. They won’t know what to do.
I walked into a Playboy-esque party
Anne Hogan Perry, Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties
👙😳 I had my first big opportunity to sit a listing (hold an open house for someone else’s listing) for one of the owners of the company. It was a big deal. I was thrilled. I never sat anything at that price point before.
I went there all prepared: I had all of my signs. I had sent out postcards and mailers (because in those days we didn’t have internet). I was dressed to the nines. I got there early.
I knocked on the door, which opened onto a pool deck, and I walked into a scene like you see on TV. There were six naked women sipping Champagne with loud music playing. They were all topless from sunbathing. The tenant was nowhere to be seen.
I said, “Uh, hi. We have an open house here.” They just ignored me.
I go into the house, and I hear loud noises coming from a room. I go, “Hello! Hello!” The tenant was apparently in the room with a few other women. (He was paying a lot of money to rent this house and had been notified that we were having an open house.)
There I am trying to sit for the woman who owns the company at a very prestigious listing. And I walk into a Hugh Hefner Playboy (type) party.
I call the owner of the company, and she says to tell them to leave. I go back into the bedroom and say to the tenant, “I’m really sorry. We have an open house.”
I asked the ladies if they could put their towels on. I started cleaning up wine bottles and party toys. But the guy wouldn’t budge.
I had to sit outside of the property and say to people that we had to cancel the open house. You could hear the stereo playing, the noise and the people partying in the pool. I said, “I’m very sorry. There was some miscommunication. They’re having a personal event that we didn’t realize was scheduled.”
It was a very interesting introduction to high-end real estate. The business always surprises you.
Beware of dogs
Stephany Sofos, Realtor and author of Untold Stories of a Real Estate Diva
🐶😱 I was inspecting a house to get it listed for a bank foreclosure. The tenant was in the process of moving out, and there must have been more than 20 dogs on the property, from 100-pound mastiffs and pit bulls to little toy Chihuahuas.
The renter told me the dogs were his security alarm system and that they were all tied up. I walked through the house and then out to the backyard. I was near a tool shed when I felt something drop on my shoulder—dog drool.
As I looked up, a massive black-and-white pit bull was standing over me on the roof of the shed. It was like a scene out of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when the three-headed dog, Fluffy, awakens to find Harry, Hermione and Ron in his lair.
He started to growl as I began to walk backward toward the house. I got about 10 feet from the shed when he jumped into the air and landed 1 foot from me, snarling and barking, his chain taut.
I yelled and fell backward on my butt. With me yelling and the dog barking, the tenant came running toward me.
“You OK?” he asked as he shooed his dog away and helped me up.
“Yes, but you should have told me about him,” I said.
“Um, I kind of forgot about him. He likes to sleep up there,” he said as he pointed to the roof of the shed. “But I wasn’t lying. He’s tied up.”
And people wonder why we real-estate agents enjoy our cocktails.
Messy monks get the boot
Judy Barrett, Judy Barrett, REALTOR
💰🙏 Past clients referred me to a brother and sister, both out of state, who needed to sell their father’s home.
On a Wednesday, I had the whole house staged and almost ready for the photographer, who was due on Friday. Vacationers were supposed to check in Wednesday night to a limited part of the property.
When I returned for the final touches on Thursday to prep for the photographer, the vacationers had helped themselves to the entire property: Furniture was rearranged. Food, pots and appliances were strewn all over the kitchen. There were suitcases, clothing and snacks in every room of the house. My meticulously staged beds had been slept in. I’m sure blue flames accompanied the words flying from my mouth.
The booking agency made arrangements for the vacationers to return by 3 p.m. to remove their belongings and leave (they had violated the terms of the rental agreement). When they had not returned by 5 p.m., I locked the gate, leaving a note telling them to call me.
When they finally called at 8:30 p.m., I headed over and called the police to ask for an officer to accompany me. I waited a few doors away from the house until four police vehicles pulled up at about 9 p.m. The officers explained that they couldn’t evict anyone because that’s a matter for the courts, but they could come with me to make sure nobody got hurt. With that, the five of us approached the gate.
We reached the house to find a dozen saffron-robed monks. A variety of excuses and explanations were offered: The flight was late. It was dark. There weren’t enough beds, etc.
In about 40 minutes, the monks had almost everything packed up and put away. There was much bowing and smiling. On their way out, one asked if she could hug me. She said the house would sell for a good price in an honorable transaction because they had all blessed it.
She was right—the house sold to a nice doctor over the asking price in just five days.
Thirty-six years in this business and it never gets boring. But I’ll never forget the night I evicted a house full of monks.
It looked like a blockbuster horror film
Adrienne Lally, Keller Williams Honolulu
👻😨 We received a home as an REO (property owned by banks or other lenders) from people at the bank we thought were our friends. It was so foul that you wouldn’t wish it upon your competition to sell (unless their client was Freddy Krueger).
From the looks of it, one might think the property was being readied for the next blockbuster horror film: There were feral cats and rats guarding the property, vaulted ceilings and black mold accent walls. The home was eventually sold to a determined fix-and-flip family, who brought it back to life.
But here’s the kicker—the previous homeowner was a real-estate professional.