Realtor Jeffrey Samuels stands in front of a home he is selling for a client in Aiea. Samuels' pricing policies anger real estate agents who charge commissions.

Agent of change

Jeffery Samuels' approach
to home sales is popular with
clients, but not with peers

Jeffrey Samuels is Oahu's second highest-selling real estate broker. But it's lonely at the top.

"Everybody hates me," Samuels says of his fellow real estate agents.

That's because Samuels charges a flat fee of $3,500 for his real estate services, which has allowed him to pump up the business volume at the expense of other agents who still adhere to the industry-standard 6 percent commission.

"I'd go to these Realtor gatherings in the past and people would say hi and be nice. But now the mood is ... like a glacier," he says.

But Samuels doesn't mind the cold shoulder because it means business is heating up. Since launching Jeffrey Samuels Real Estate Services in late 2002, Samuels has found a ready market among cost-conscious home-sellers unwilling to pay the usual commission, which runs to $30,000 for the sale of a $500,000 home.

In the first quarter of this year, Samuels handled $28 million worth of home resale transactions, according to Multiple Listing Service data, the second-highest of any agent on Oahu. Representing mostly sellers, he has about 60 properties listed each month and 15-20 transactions in escrow.

He's not the only cut-rate agent in town. National chains like Help-U-Sell and Assist-2-Sell, which offer a scale of set fees that rise with the services performed and the price of the home, predate him in Hawaii by a year or two.

But Samuels, a former agent with Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties, is the only full-service broker offering a true flat fee that is not tied to a home's sale price, and his success may be sign of things to come.

"We're still going to see people who want all the normal services that standard brokers provide," says Calvin Kimura, executive officer of the Hawaii Real Estate Commission, which oversees the industry.

"But today, more than ever before, people are willing to go through a cafeteria line of services and may even want to do some things themselves. It's a new generation."

Samuels sees himself as less a cafeteria than a Wal-Mart, calling his business philosophy the "Sam Walton approach": low prices, good service and high volume.

"It's all about volume. That's how I can do this," he says.

Samuels spent 14 years as a sales trainer with Circuit City in Washington, D.C., before moving to Hawaii in 1995. He worked for Coldwell Banker for five years before opening his own commission-based business.

"One day I was sitting in my office and started thinking, 'what am I doing?' I can never compete with Coldwell Banker," says Samuels, who noticed a Help-U-Sell ad and decided to charge a flat fee, choosing $3,500 "because it seemed like a nice number."

Unlike the cut-rate chains, Samuels has one fee that gets clients the full range of services, including entering a property in the MLS database for other agents to see; advertising in local media; and handling all contract, escrow and other paperwork.

"A lot of people ask me 'what's the catch?' But there's no catch," he says. "I offer full service, the same things other Realtors do, despite what they say."

What "they" say is that while Samuels charges a low rate, you get what you pay for.

"Certainly, brokers are upset about him taking their commissions, but they also question his ability to serve the client," says Robin McCann, an agent with Coldwell Banker, who says a real estate sale is a "tricky process" fraught with potential legal and financial risks that requires an attentive agent.

McCann says many brokers won't even show Samuels' listings, either out of spite or for fear that they'll have to handle an inordinate share of the work.

"I like Jeff, he's an interesting character," she says. "But from what I understand, the service and the follow-through are not always there. How can you really offer full service if you're just churning through the volume?"

Some of Samuels' previous and current clients say they have indeed encountered services hiccups, such as delays in hearing back from Samuels or misfiring on pricing strategies.

"I think it's probably true," Samuels client Cliff Weingart says about the service concerns.

Weingart's Mariner's Ridge home is now in escrow after he sold it in April for $760,000 -- in three days and at $10,000 over the asking price. He says Samuels was hard to get hold of at times during the process, but he's happy with the sale and the money he saved on commissions.

"The way the market is now, with homes selling so fast, I just could not see paying a full commission that would have been close to $50,000," Weingart says. "That doesn't seem relevant anymore."

Sellers have traditionally paid 3 percent of the sale price each to their agent and to the buyer's agent. However, many people don't realize that the commission is not set in law and is negotiable.

Mary Begier, president of the Honolulu Board of Realtors, says Realtors will often lower their fee to get a client's business or to offset an unexpected expense to the client.

"Realtors will give up things to make a deal happen. No two instances are the same," she says.

However, Weingart says he was initially approached by other brokers who wanted to handle his sale but it was "like pulling teeth" to bring the commission down even a little.

"I would have used regular agents if they were more willing to negotiate. Maybe the competition (from cut-rate brokers) will be good in that sense," he says.

Samuels flashes an impish grin about the stir he's caused, saying that real estate is a "dog eat dog" business.

But he says competitors are spreading "false rumors" about his service capabilities and notes that he won't put a listing in the MLS database unless his client is willing to pay a 3 percent courtesy commission to any Realtor who brings in a buyer. About half of the properties he sells go to buyers represented by an outside broker, he says. But in the other half of his transactions, when Samuels represents both the buyer and the seller, he makes no money beyond the $3,500 flat fee.

He's building on his operations to make sure he can handle his growing volume.

He recently moved into a new Kapiolani Boulevard office that is three times the size of his previous location and he's adding another person to his full-time staff of four. Earlier this month, he launched his own in-house mortgage company called Hawaii Lending Service.

He also has about a dozen real estate agents that work for him as independent contractors and more are on the way, he says, which could make him even less popular with his peers.

"The only people who really like me are the title and escrow companies because I bring them business," he says.


Owner-sellers find
the process daunting

Attracting buyers may be easy,
but that's where the real work begins,
say many do-it-yourselfers

When Charnette Hoke decided earlier this year to sell her Maili home for $398,000 without the aid of a real estate agent, it seemed like the way to go.

Selling homes on Oahu had never been easier, with many finding buyers within days, and she would have saved $24,000 in Realtor commissions to boot.

But after five months, she finally broke down in early June and called in an agent.

"It was pretty frustrating," says Hoke, who had to deal with a parade of low-balling "tire-kickers" and mortgage companies proposing unattractive "rent-to-own" arrangements.

"They weren't sincere buyers. These people think you must be distressed since you're not paying a Realtor and they want to take advantage of you because they think you don't know any better," she says.

Hoke's experience is a fairly common one.

In today's seller's market, the temptation to go without a Realtor is strong. Though no statistics are available on the practice in Hawaii, the National Association of Realtors says that about 14 percent of all American homes sold in 2003 were FSBOs, or "for sale by owner," and newspaper classified pages are sprinkled with ads by hopeful owner-sellers.

But sellers often encounter more than they bargained for.

"These are amateurs doing a job that should be left to the pros," says Robin Sagadraca, vice president and manager of property information at Old Republic Title & Escrow of Hawaii Ltd.

"A lot of Realtors try to solicit the 'for sale by owners' because after a certain period of time they get disgusted and latch onto whoever throws them a lifeline," he says.

Buyers who opt for a broker are probably lucky they did so, according to experts, who say that pre-sale tasks such as advertising and showing a home are onerous enough. But once a buyer is found the process gets far more tricky, and legally risky.

They say sellers need to have a working knowledge of the land recording system; deal with the intricacies of drawing up a contract with a potential buyer; be able to check on a potential buyer's ability to afford the property so a deal doesn't fall through; and work with title and escrow companies to keep all the paperwork on track before the closing period ends.

"You better do your homework," says Calvin Kimura, executive officer of the Hawaii Real Estate Commission. "There are just too many rules and laws to accidentally trip over."

Chief among these are disclosure laws, which require sellers to divulge to buyers any potential problems with a home -- such as structural damage -- or risk being sued later. However, emotions can get in the way.

"(The owner) will think its perfect so they only talk about the great features of the home," Mary Begier, president of the Honolulu Board of Realtors. "But then things are discovered and they have a problem on their hands."

Kimura adds that some owners think putting an "as is" clause in the contract will protect them, but court cases have shown otherwise.


FSBO tips

If you are considering selling your home on your own, experts advise taking a few steps:

1.  Determined the right price for your property by checking property ads regularly to see what is selling in your area and at what price. Take special note of properties that seem to stay on the market for prolonged periods.

2. Hardware stores sell "for sale by owner" signs but that is rarely enough to get the word out. Buy newspaper advertisements or visit Web sites that offer packages for advertising homes for sale, some of which include an entry in the MLS system that all licensed brokers can see. These include, and

3.  Keep emotions out of the transaction. Be honest with clients (and yourself) about your home's drawbacks and price it accordingly or you may wind up talking potential buyers out of the deal.

4. Pay an attorney, preferably one versed in real estate law, to review all documents for potential liability.

Getting help

Many people who abandon plans to sell their homes alone opt for set-fee brokers, some offering full realty services. Some options are:


Has two price packages. The first offers full services for $4,995 but no MLS listing. The second charges a 4.5 percent commission on the sale price but adds an MLS listing. Contact: 735-6005,


Full-service, with a multi-tiered fee system that includes MLS listing if seller desires. Contact: 377-1200.

Jeffrey Samuels Realty Services

Full-service, with flat rate of $3,500 regardless of home sale price. Contact 589-1776.

Realty Universal

Basic $500 rate gets you a listing on the MLS and half a dozen nationwide Web sites, but sellers handle home showings and all other tasks. After finding a buyer, sellers can pay a 1 percent commission for Realty Universal to take over the paperwork. Contact: 261-0350.

On the Web

A number of sites offer a range of packages for advertising a property, including an MLS listing, starting at less than $100 per month. These include,, and's real estate section.


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