Living on an Island

Space on the islands is at a premium. It’s no wonder then that Oahu, with nearly a million residents, seems a bit small. There are other reasons the islands seem small.

Parts of Hawaii are uninhabitable. Some hills have loose rock – and homes cannot be built there. Quite a bit of the islands is comprised of mountainous area.

Living on an island is a little different than living in downtown Boulder, Colorado. The Hawaiian islands are not large. Oahu is about 65 miles on the long side and less than 40 on the short side. Can you imagine living in a 2400 mile square? The only way you go further than 60 miles is on a plane or in a boat – which sounds interesting, but there’s another set of issues there I’ll talk about in a minute.

Island Fever

Defined as the feeling that one is stuck on an island, and doesn’t have the freedom to just go somewhere and drive, take a bus, train, or other land transporation for a few hours to ‘get away’.

In Hawaii you are, in fact, isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You’re thousands of miles from any major country. If you’re anything but Japanese or Filipino you are probably feeling like a minority – because you are. Hawaii is a multicultural melting pot. It’s not easy to pick up and fly away to a neighboring state for the weekend. There are no more road trips to other states as you did in the mainland. Hawaii is a bit confining – especially if you do not have the money to visit the other islands often, and visit the mainland once or twice each year.

Island fever usually hits first timers that moved to the islands after six months or a year. The sudden realization that – this is all there is. Sure Hawaii is beautiful… awesome views and fun things to do – but, this is it. This is home, and it’s not a big home, it’s an island.

There are parts of the island you wouldn’t want to go see, and parts you shouldn’t see. There is a lot of private property on Oahu and the other islands, and you will never see a good portion of the island. So in reality, you’re stuck living and exploring the public places – whatever the government has declared as such.

Island fever is one of the big sources of discontent among new Hawaii residents and it shouldn’t be overlooked because if you move to Hawaii to live it will likely hit you at some point in time and it might be the cause of leaving paradise.

House and Condo Prices (Buying)

The mean home price in Honolulu in 2018 is $665,600. That is not a palace, or even what most of you would consider a ‘decent’ house, coming from the mainland. For $445,000 in Clearwater, Florida you can have a very nice 4 or 5 bedroom home on a deepwater canal and park your deep sea fishing boat in the backyard at your own dock.

Not so in Hawaii!

Hawaii is definitely one of the most expensive places to live in the USA. If you’re going to buy a house you can count on paying over $400,000 no matter what the housing market looks like at the moment. Likewise, for a decent condo – over $200,000 and probably much more in a good area in a good building.

Right now the median sales price for single-family homes on Oahu is $639,000. On Maui it’s over half a million dollars. On Big Island, $490,000 and Kauai, $504,500.

The median price for Oahu condos is about $420,000.

Before buying a home you should take the time to visit the neighborhood during the weekdays and weekends, days and nights. See who lives there, ask people if there are any problems in the neighborhood. Go without your Realtor and get a good feel for the place before deciding to buy.

You could start your search by using the advanced search function at the online Hawaii MLS – Multiple Listing Service – the real estate listings for Hawaii:

MLS Hawaii

Cost of Hawaii Rentals

If you plan on renting in Hawaii it might come as a shock to you a little bit unless you’re currently living in California or New York City. A one room studio will run between $700 – $1,400 per month. You will have a ½ kitchen in studio rentals, and maybe one closet, but for the most part – all your things will need to be in the same room. Studios with a balcony are great because you get some extra storage space – and maybe a view.

At 1720 Ala Moana Blvd in Waikiki is a condominium where I paid $700 per month and got a room and one bedroom – joined by a kitchen. I also had a large balcony – so I was quite happy with the arrangement for a couple months while I was transitioning into a better place. I found the condo by looking in Craigslist.org. The owner was living in California and she had a couple units at that location. I transferred money to her through PayPal to  cover the 1st month’s rent, last month’s rent, and deposit equal to a month’s rent. This is the typical fee (3 months rent) upfront when renting in Hawaii.

Typically one-bedroom apartments start at $1,000 or higher, and 2 bedroom apartments and very small homes start at $1,500 per month. At 400 Hobron Lane in Waikiki, “Eaton Square” (by the Ala Wai Canal) I found a studio with ocean view for $875. It had no balcony, and a very small kitchen, but what it did have were excellent barbeque facilities at the top of the building – and a large swimming pool. We had many friends over at night – it was the perfect arrangement.

On Maui I mentioned that my girlfriend and I lived on the west side near Kahana. There are no large apartment buildings or condos, so we had to rent out an “ohana” unit, a mother-in-law suite, next to a large 6 bedroom house on Mahinahina street. It was a 1-bedroom with about 280 square feet (I never measured). We had a kitchen, small family room, bedroom with some closets, and a very small restroom. We paid $1,100 for it per month – and were HAPPY to get it since we didn’t want to rent a room in someone’s house and live with them.

So, housing will be a challenge for those of you that are used to paying $500 per month rent, like you can in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Because living in Hawaii is looked at by employers as a perk in itself, salaries are lower than the cost of living suggest they should be.

It has been said that the average 2-bedroom apartment for rent isn’t affordable by 2/3 of Hawaii’s renting residents.

And forget about buying a house – which is out of the question for most residents these days.

What many locals do to avoid paying high rent prices – is rent with many people, or even buy a home with many people. It is not uncommon to find 4 different families living in one house.