From auction house to luxury real estate, Sotheby’s goes big in Hawai’i and Japan with its newly formed dream team.
In the 1980s, Hisashi Kitami landed a job at a large corporation opening a number of offices in Japan. Fresh out of college, Kitami was tasked with visiting various real estate agencies to find office space. But he discovered it was difficult to find what he wanted. Envisioning a way to better connect clients with what they are looking for, Kitami launched his own brokerage firm, LIST Co., Ltd, at age 25.
Last September, the related LIST International Realty Inc. of Hawaii acquired the Kahala-based Mary Worrall Associates and the Sotheby’s International Realty franchise on O’ahu, with aims to establish a direct connection between Hawai’i and Japan, and access a discerning clientele worldwide.
The newly formed company, LIST Sotheby’s International Realty, will facilitate international purchases via Sotheby’s vast international network, along with Mary Worrall’s local connections.
“Because of the Sotheby’s network, we now have a strong network that we can work on,” says Kitami, who serves as president and CEO of LIST Sotheby’s International Realty in Hawai’i and Japan, during a recent visit to the islands. His LIST Co. also owns Japan Sotheby’s International Realty. “We can grow the business in so many different ways.”
That growth through the creation of LIST Sotheby’s International Realty works both ways, too, providing an international stage for Hawai’i properties.
“We are very excited about this new initiative,” says Sotheby’s International Realty COO Dave Carson. “We think it is going to be an extraordinary success.”
Sotheby’s International Realty was founded from Sotheby’s Auction House, which opened in 1744, selling books and manuscripts to wealthy clients. Over time, it expanded its products to include art, jewelry, antiques, fine wines and more. Sotheby’s Auction House realized its clients also could benefit from property sales and launched Sotheby’s International Realty in 1976.
In 2004, the company launched its current franchise model-allowing for firms that fit into the Sotheby’s brand to become franchisees. Today, Sotheby’s International Realty operates in 49 countries, with more than 670 real estate offices and 13,000 sales associates. Through all of its affiliates-Mary Worrall Associates included-the company strives to maintain a consistent excellence.
Such quality is evident by browsing the website for properties for sale-an elegant penthouse apartment in Manhattan, a hilltop castle in Italy, a sprawling villa tucked away in the hills of Japan, and a bright, modern beachfront home in Kahala.
For Kitami, the brand personifies luxury real estate-not just in price, but also more importantly in quality.
“It was the Sotheby’s connection that got us together with Mary,” Kitami explains.
“And then we saw what she has done in the business here, so it has just all worked out.”
For Worrall, real estate is a family affair. As a child in Kahala, Worrall grew up watching her parents work as real estate agents. Seeing their passion for the business inspired her to pursue the industry. Throughout the years, Worrall has excelled in luxurious single-family homes in some of the Hawai’i’s most prestigious neighborhoods. Mary Worrall Associates has especially been known for its work in Kahala, and Worrall herself has completed more than 70 transactions on Kahala Avenue alone. It also has made a number of sales in Portlock on oceanfront properties. In addition to local properties, the company also has conducted sales worldwide.
Mary Worrall Associates became a franchisee of Sotheby’s when Worrall noticed that local real estate was becoming increasingly popular with out-of-state buyers. Being incorporated with Sotheby’s has allowed Worrall to access properties and clients worldwide sans boundaries.
“We need to be able to get local properties out of the state,” says Worrall, who now serves as a managing consultant for the newly formed company. “It is becoming more and more important, and the Asian market is certainly a huge source.
This is an opportunity to access the Asian market, as well as the local market, as well as the mainland market, and the world market. It puts it all together.”
Carson and Kitami agree that combining Worrall’s local know-how with the LIST Sotheby’s brand will be invaluable. In addition to Worrall remaining with the company, the 30 agents from Mary Worrall Associates have been incorporated into LIST Sotheby’s International Realty-including Worrall’s daughter, who is an agent, and her granddaughter, who runs the office’s front desk.
Drawing on LIST’s experience in development, the company also hopes to have a role in development projects in the islands. So far, LIST Co., Ltd. has invested in the highly anticipated ONE Ala Moana, a forthcoming condominium development. It held the exclusive rights with developers to market and represent buyers in Japan and was responsible for selling 31 units out of 206.
“I think we are going to very quickly here become a player in the high-end condo market,” Carson says.
“I think in Hawai’i, there is just so much happening in the real estate market right now, especially with new development,” Kitami says. “We want to be selective, and we want to find the right projects that we feel are good for the clients, whether they are projects or single family homes. Whatever they are, we want to select things that fit the buyers.”
Executives feel that the acquisition will help clients find, as Carson puts it, “extraordinary properties to match their extraordinary lives.” After all, what better place than Hawai’i to live out an extraordinary life?
Another reason that motivated Kitami to do business in Hawai’i was more of a personal nature: The surf is good. Kitami visits the islands several times a year to go surfing-one of his favorite spots is off of Ala Moana Beach Park. He has always loved Hawai’i and feels that people all over the world share that love-especially, it seems, in Japan. Sotheby’s Japan COO Yutaka Takeda often jokes with clients that Hawai’i is Tokyo’s final district.
“I think that Hawai’i properties will always be sought after,” Worrall says, adding that many out-of-state buyers are drawn to the islands for second or third home locations.
And although Worrall has called the islands home her whole life, familiarity has not dulled her enthusiasm for Hawai’i.
“I am very lucky that God has made it possible for me to live here,” she says. “We get up every morning and look out the window and think, ‘Oh, Lord!'”