June marks Hawaii Life’s 3rd anniversary. Three years ago, Hawaii Life was all of 5 agents operating out of a little 2nd story office on the east side of Kauai that most people couldn’t find even if we gave them directions. Today, we’re over 100 brokers and agents in 5 offices all around Hawaii. We’re the #9 residential real estate company in Hawaii, and we’re one of the fastest growing companies in the State.
We welcome the growth, but it comes with growing pains, too. We haven’t done the best job at keeping everyone informed about the behind-the-scenes projects we’re working on. We haven’t lost our focus on improving the technology we provide for our agents, clients and customers… but there have been a few curveballs thrown our way lately.
First up was Bethany Hamilton, the Kauai surfer who lost her arm to a shark a few years ago. What does that have to do with our technology projects? Well, a lot. Bethany Hamilton’s website was hosted on the same server as www.hawaiilife.com, and when the movie, Soul Surfer, came out, the traffic to her site went through the roof. As a result, www.hawaiilife.com was running very slow. Have you ever been to a website that takes forever to load? It sucks. So, we had to switch servers. (I have a way of making things sound really easy, but this was no simple task.)
We’re still finding all sorts of little glitches that were related to moving our very robust website (and some pretty cool software in the background) over to a new server. There were periods of time when our Search Alerts weren’t working, so our clients weren’t being notified about new listings on the market. We had issues with our e-mail server, data feeds, and our listing marketing systems. Fortunately, we’re back on track… but the server switch took time away from all the cool stuff we’re working on.
Next up on the list of black holes in time was RETS (Realtors do love their acronyms). RETS stands for Real Estate Transaction Language, and was designed to be a common language that real estate websites and MLS providers can use to simplify the process of sharing listing data. Prior to RETS, all of the different Multiple Listing Services were providing their data in different formats, which required a website like www.hawaiilife.com to speak different languages, with different code, all in order to display a listing for the consumer to see. (Hawaii has three different MLS providers, who all spoke different languages.) The implementation of RETS required a lot of organization on our end, and a lot of time.
Fortunately, the payoff to getting over these hurdles is huge, because now we can focus on all the cool stuff…
- On Maui and Oahu, you can now search by condominium project. We’ve just made this feature available, and I’m sure there are some bugs… but the beauty of it is obvious. Our clients and agents can now save searches for their favorite condominium complexes. It’s a massive improvement. We’ll have it up and running for Kauai and the Big Island soon.
- We have way more data on our listing detail pages now. This was another benefit of RETS. We now display a wide variety of information that previously wasn’t available. Flood zones, annual property taxes, acceptable terms, and even a ratio of the tax-assessed value compared to the listing price are now on our detail pages. Granted, it’s not very pretty… because we haven’t dressed it up yet. But that’s next. Delivering complex information in a simple and understandable way is an art, and it takes time. Our listing detail pages are the most-viewed pages on our website, so we’re committed to making them as comprehensive as possible without being over the top with unnecessary “features”.
- Keep your eye on the home page. HawaiiLife.com has been copied by more companies than I care to mention. (We even had one company on the Big Island literally copy every single page, verbatim). Most of these websites are created by vendors, not the real estate companies themselves. So, they have no idea what works and what doesn’t… they just copy what we’ve done, assuming it all works. It doesn’t. One of the great aspects of our company is that design, programming, and de-bugging (ugh) is all done in-house. So, we know that doesn’t work. While we’re flattered that there are now innumerable websites that look like www.hawaiilife.com, we’re going to make the competition work a little harder to keep up.
- The Hawaii Life blog is getting a facelift. Fortunately, our blog gets a lot of readership… especially by people who are seriously interested in buying or selling real estate. We have some incredible authors at Hawaii Life, and they’re committed to sharing their knowledge of the market (and more) through our blog. But our blog was never really ‘designed’. We just put up the basic format and then added a few WordPress plugins over time. We haven’t given it the love it needs, and now that there’s so much traffic to it… it’s becoming a much higher priority. Stay tuned, we’re going to make some pretty cool changes.
- Agent and Team Websites, coming soon. Individual agents and teams have been requesting websites since we first opened our doors in 2008. At first, we had a version of them, which were ok. But they weren’t designed in a way that allowed them to grow as www.hawaiilife.com grew. It wasn’t scalable. Now we’re working providing a comprehensive solution that will allow agents and teams to have their own domains, and promote their listings, blog articles and lifestyle information in a simple, easy-to-use format.
I use the royal “we” in most of the updates above… but the reality is that we have a team of some of the most talented programmers, designers, and search engine optimization specialists in Hawaii. They deserve the credit.