What Makes Hawaii Real Estate Different

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hawaii-flagWhenever I speak with some of my real estate investor colleagues beyond Hawaii, the conversation inevitably comes back to what it’s like to work in the Hawaii real estate scene. Of course, they get jealous of our consistently beautiful weather, high housing market value and in-demand inventory, not to mention the freedom to wear t-shirts and shorts to open houses in January. And who can blame them? Hawaii is a great place to both live and work, especially if real estate is your trade.

But what makes real estate in Hawaii different isn’t just the stone’s throw drive to an orange sunset no matter where you are. There’s more to what separates Hawaii real estate from real estate on the mainland. Here’s my two cents:

How Hawaii Real Estate is Different

First off, let’s acknowledge the role the tropical climate plays, as obvious as it is. Year-round pleasant, if not ideal, weather means no heating systems to worry about (although it’s a comparatively chilly Sunday as I write this), no chimneys to maintain (with minor exceptions), and no driveways to shovel.

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It also means more consistent demand for houses throughout the year. Whereas in the mainland¬† fewer people are buying houses in the cold winter months, that discrepancy is not nearly as pronounced here in the islands. Never mind the tight inventory of today’s market, there’s no reason not to get out and buy a house in a Hawaiian December if it’s the right time. That may not be the case in Boston or Chicago with Jack Frost on your tail.

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The next reason Hawaii real estate is different than other places is our strong international demand. If the Japanese aren’t buying, the Canadians are; if the Canadians aren’t buying, then investors from California or Oregon will pick up the slack. There’s always some area of the world — mainland or international — that’s looking to buy Hawaii real estate. You can’t say the same for most of our friends on the mainland.

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Tenure — and not the kind that keeps professors employed until they turn gray. I mean land tenure and the existence of leasehold property. In many areas, fee simple is the only way to buy real estate, but such is not the case in Hawaii. We have leaseholds, many of the 99-year variety, that may offer a cheaper buy-in but without all the benefits of outright fee ownership. This option rarely exists elsewhere.

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Hawaii also has more than it share of potential natural hazards and disasters. We have Kilauea volcano erupting on the Big Island, and all islands are susceptible to yearly hurricanes that sweep across the Pacific. We’ve also had some tsunami warnings recently resulting from earthquakes in Chile and elsewhere, but those same earthquakes can happen right here in our own backyard. Hawaii is also suffering from significant coastal erosion in many of its beaches along with sea level rise, compounding the effects of erosion. From a real estate perspective, this makes home ownership a delicate decision as geography becomes a critical deciding factor.

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Of course, no discussion of what makes our real estate scene special is complete without mentioning our almost national leading home values. Where else does the median single family house price hover around $600,000? Even a modest 3-bedroom home will cost you at least $300,000 in most areas. While we may have become immune to that fact, it’s shocking when you really sit back and let that sink in, especially when comparing it to most metro areas on the mainland.

Whether you’re a real estate professional, an existing or future homeowner or just enjoy keeping tabs on the Hawaii scene, there’s no denying that Hawaii real estate is in a class of its own!

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