Fewer Traditional Homes in Hawaii

I don’t have any data to support this idea, but one need only look at the high cost of living to know apartments, condominiums, and shared houses are the norm on the islands. Space for building traditional 3/2 homes 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 entirely uninhabitable. Some hills have loose rock and homes cannot be built on them or below them. Quite a bit of the islands are comprised of mountainous area that is just too steep to build on.

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 for a few hours to ‘get away’ for a while.

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. It has awesome natural scenery and fun things to do, but this is it. This is home, and it’s not a big home, it’s a little 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)

In 2019 the media sale price of a single-family home in Hawaii was $795K. Condominiums median selling for $413K.

Rent on Oahu – even for a one room studio far away from downtown is very high – $900+.

For two people living in Waikiki or downtown Honolulu on Oahu you would spend $1K to $1,500 for a studio or 1-bedroom with no-frills.

For $445K in Clearwater, Florida you can have a very nice four or five bedroom home on a deep-water canal and park your deep-sea fishing boat in the backyard at your own dock.

Not so in Hawaii!

Hawaii is 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 $500K no matter what the housing market looks like at the moment. Likewise, for a decent condo – over $300K and much more in a good area and in a good building.

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 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, New York City, Paris, or Singapore. A one-room studio will run between $1,000 to $1,500 per month. You will have a ½ kitchen in studio rentals, and maybe one or two closets, 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 $750 per month for a one bedroom place. I had a kitchen between the front living room and bedroom. The toilet was next to the kitchen. I had a large balcony in the back which was good for storage, and a swimming pool out in the front, 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 first and last months rent, and paid a deposit equal to a month’s rent. This is the typical fee (3 months rent) up front when renting in Hawaii.

In and around Waikiki, nice one-bedroom apartments typically start at $1,200 or higher, and two bedroom apartments and very small homes, start at $2,000 or more per month. At 400 Hobron Lane in Waikiki, “Eaton Square” (by the Ala Wai Canal) I found a studio with a nice ocean view for $875. It had no balcony, and a very small kitchen, but what it did have were excellent barbecue facilities and a large swimming pool on the top of the building which was around 30 stories high. We had many friends over at night so it was the perfect arrangement. We ended up moving into a bigger unit in the same building. We really enjoyed the place.

On Maui I my girlfriend at the time and I lived on the west side near Kahana. There are no large apartment buildings or condos, so we had to rent an “ohana” unit, next to a large 6-bedroom house on Mahinahina Street. 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. Total square feet of living space – around 400.

So, housing will be a challenge for those of you that are used to paying $500 per month rent, like you can in still do across much of America.

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

I’ve seen it said that the average 2-bedroom apartment for rent isn’t affordable by two-thirds of Hawaii’s renting residents. I can believe that.

And forget about buying a house – which is out of the question for most residents these days, and might not even make sense as there are always housing bubbles and collapses going on in the state. On Big Island you’ll have to consider whether the volcanic fog (vog) will come over your house often. You’ll have to assess whether any lava flows could be heading your way anytime soon. If you live near the ocean, I mean right on the ocean, you’ll have to decide whether the threat of a tsunami or strong storm could affect you. Hawaii doesn’t have many earthquakes that are felt, but do you really want to live on the 50th floor of any building? Fires still happen. Maybe I’m old and too cautious anymore, I don’t know. Anyway, there are many areas to look at when deciding what sort of home you will live in on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, or Big Island.

Change of Mindset Needed

For most people, a change of mindset will go a long way in Hawaii when it comes to adjusting your style of living. What you are accustomed to now wherever you live, could drop off substantially once you arrive in Hawaii. Before you move, consider what your bare minimums that you could live with look like. Then, go even lower with your expectations. Not too many people I knew on Oahu or Maui bothered ‘living large.’ Some could have, but they chose to live their lives on as little as they could and still be happy. I think it’s easier to adjust your mind when you see many other people living as if they are at college. Shared houses, shared condos, even shared rooms!

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 four different families living in one house and sharing expenses. That would be a major adjustment for most of you, wouldn’t it?

If anyone wants to comment about their housing situation – either now, or when you first moved to Hawaii – in the comments below, that’d be great!

Aloha,

Peter Kay