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Business :: Real Estate :: Hawaii Home Help :: A Grass Shack on the Beach

A Grass Shack on the Beach

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Planning Your Move to Hawaii
Everyone knows someone who wants to move to Hawaii. Maybe it’s you, or someone you know who’s been threatening for years to take the leap. After all, who doesn’t want to live here, with its matchless climate, gorgeous scenery, and slower pace of life?

The 50th state is first choice of many people who could live anywhere in the world. If you are determined, do your homework, and want the adventure of a lifetime, Hawaii is for you.  The “Aloha Spirit” here is as real as the tropical flowers, and every day when you wake up you’ll know that you are not in Kansas anymore.

Hawaii is Different.
There are many things to consider before you take the plunge into the warm tropical waters.  Hawaii isn’t right for everyone. It is isolated, expensive, and can be infuriatingly mellow for classic Type A “I-want-it-now” folks. We do things a bit slower over here, and we like it that way. We may not have all your favorite retails stores. Like to order merchandise online or by catalog? It will cost more to ship your orders – if they even ship to Hawaii. And just wait until you try to spell your Hawaiian street name for them!  So if you want things to be just like home but with beaches and perfect weather, stay where you are. Just slip on your favorite aloha shirt and plastic lei, turn up the thermostat, and pour yourself a tropical drink with a little umbrella in it.

Live Your Dream 

Waimea Bay

If you have a spirit of adventure, and can embrace the beautiful and quirky differences, you might want to come - and stay forever. Maybe you have a job transfer or business opportunity and Hawaii just happens to be a part of the package – lucky you! Whether you are coming on a military assignment, as a student, or for a job or family reasons, there is much to love about this place. Before you buy a one-way ticket to Paradise, there are many details to plan.

Unless you have a fat wallet, you will need to know about the cost of living as well as the expense of the move itself. There are family needs such as schools, medical facilities, and jobs. It’s wise to work up a rough budget showing your expected monthly expenses. There are some useful tools on the internet to help you calculate the costs – here is one:  Unless you already know Hawaii well, plan a separate trip to look at home and job choices first, before you sell all your coats and snow shovels.
Reality Check
So maybe that grass shack on a white sandy beach is a pipe dream. Finding your pad in Paradise is a big issue and will prrrrrobably involve some compromises. The home choices and the process itself are somewhat different than elsewhere.  Our homes are similar in cost to the coastal areas of the West Coast and some East Coast urban areas, but very expensive compared to many other areas. 
There is very little buildable land on these small islands, with their steep mountain terrain and vine-draped canyons.  Most of the prime land has already been developed.  Much is owned by the Federal Government, the State of Hawaii, and large private landowners such as Campbell Estate and Bishop Estate. Like other costly markets such as in Manhattan or San Francisco, there is no place to build out into the outlying areas.  As long as there is a strong demand for property, prices will remain high. This will be true whether you rent or purchase a home.

Waikiki  - or Waikele?
Get acquainted with some neighborhoods.  Each one has its own character. Driving around to get an overview, or look at homes online – try for one good site to see properties. You will probably need to get used to Hawaiian words and names. The price range of each neighborhood is primarily determined by how convenient it is to the employment centers of downtown and Waikiki. Other factors affecting price are neighborhood features such as curbs and sidewalks, proximity to the beach, school reputation, underground utilities, and quality of homes.

Waikiki Beach

Fortunately, even the furthest areas of the island of Oahu are only a little over an hour's drive from downtown and these areas are where you will find the least expensive homes.  Like the rest of the world, traffic is a factor for those who commute from these quiet rural areas during rush hour.

You will greatly benefit from the help of an experienced Realtor with years of Hawaii experience, patience and a true dedication to the needs of you as a buyer. Look for an Accredited Buyer Representative (ABR) to be sure your agent considers buyers a top priority. The “learning curve” for orienting malahini (newcomers) to Hawaii takes lots of time and commitment.

Land is King
Most of the value of a home in Hawaii is in the land, so homes tend to be smaller than in areas where there is plenty of usable land. You may find that the type of construction and the extra features that you might expect in higher priced homes are not always present. Some properties are offered as “leasehold” ownership rather than the normal “fee simple” tenure that is the norm.  If you are not familiar with leasehold property, ask your Realtor for more information on this unusual (and less-desirable) form of ownership.

The laws of supply and demand have pushed up home prices as many families try to get their “piece of the rock”.  Generally homes in Hawaii have appreciated over time; so long-term Hawaii homeowners often have significant equity that they can tap into for retirement, college expenses, or investments.

moving van with condo

You Call THAT a House?
Hawaii has a higher percentage of condominium dwellers than the rest of the nation. Many families of all sizes live in condominium apartments or town homes, so don’t rule these out. We are seldom driven inside due to the weather, so outdoor activities at the many beaches and parks can provide room to stretch. It’s almost always great weather for a swim or a picnic. The most desirable homes- whether high rises or garden cottages- will offer plenty of ventilation as well as patio or lanai space to take advantage of our year-round climate. If you like to garden you may want a yard to enjoy the many orchids, ferns, and other “house plants” growing freely in every yard. 

There are other differences in our homes. Central heating is nonexistent, and air conditioning is not standard since the trade winds provide natural cooling most of the year. Newer condominiums and luxury homes are an exception. Also, keep in mind that most homes are usually sold with appliances including refrigerator, range, washer, and dryer. It’s rarely cost-effective to ship appliances from the mainland.  For that matter, shipping your car is also to be discouraged, unless you have a rare collectable vehicle or an employer-paid move!  There is a large selection of used and new cars of all makes and models available including late-model vehicles available for purchase through dealerships, car rental agencies, and individuals.

Hawaii Kai condo lanai

Lanai Living
Much of our living and entertaining is outdoors; most single-family homes in Hawaii have less than 1600 square feet of interior living area.  Few homes are larger than 2400 square feet, even in the higher price ranges.  For this reason, it is wise to evaluate your furniture prior to packing it up to move!  You might find that it does not fit the size or the style of island homes. Few homes can accommodate full size dining room sets or master bedroom sets.  The standard here is smaller, lighter colored pieces, and wicker or tropical styles.  Many homes have a lanai, which is a covered patio or deck that is used year-round for dining, entertaining, and family living on a daily basis. Outdoor living is the reason most of us are here so you will want durable patio furniture.

Market Values Are Strong
Real estate in Hawaii has held its value over the long term, and the market has brought consistent appreciation over time.  Our market is now leveling off after price appreciation over the past 7 or more years. Some areas are starting to favor buyers.

With changing interest rates and stricter guidelines, be sure to get prequalified with a Hawaii mortgage lender to see what price range is workable for you. As a general rule, don’t expect to find even a fixer upper house on Oahu for under $ 350,000 since the land alone will be worth more. Leasehold properties may cheaper since you don’t really own the land so if you see a price that seems too good to be true, there is a reason. The Hawaii market experiences very few foreclosures compared to most parts of the nation so don’t hold your breath.

Renting is a logical short-term plan for some. Typical monthly rents for a 3-bedroom house will range from $1600 on the low end to $4000 plus at the top. Whether buying or renting, the more convenient and desirable areas will be priced far higher, and the more distant and less favored areas somewhat lower. 

Honolulu city lights

Work and Other Distractions
It would be great if life in the Islands were a simple matter of building your grass shack on a deserted beach! Then you wouldn’t have to interrupt your hammock time with mundane realities such as employment.  Living off the land and eating fruit that you pluck off the trees sounds great, but is not really an option. You are smart to make an exploratory trip to the islands to gauge your job choices while you check out homes and neighborhoods.  Many positions are in the tourist trades, which are the main driving source for the Hawaii economy. Other growing sectors include health care, agricultural, technology, and banking.  The military has a strong presence, with many jobs open to civilians. The State has recently made a commitment to encourage private businesses, and opportunities abound for entrepreneurs. 

Pets in Paradise
It has become far easier to bring your beloved dog or cat into Hawaii. Our feared 4-month quarantine period is now entirely avoidable.  Hawaii is free of rabies and intends to stay that way, so you will need to follow strict rules and begin the process months before you arrive if you want your dog or cat to avoid quarantine.  Check out the Hawaii State Quarantine web site for details, at

Or if you wish to adopt a pet after you arrive, be sure to visit the Hawaiian Humane Society for an excellent selection of adoptable animals and a very helpful staff.

fox terrier with ball

Some exotic pets are not permitted at all due to fears that they could decimate the native plants and animals; so leave your pet snakes, monkeys, etc. at home unless you get official approval - highly unlikely. Remember that most landlords are biased against pets and it is especially difficult to find a rental if you own larger dogs. If you want  additional information and suggestions for finding a home with your pets, just email me at

School Days
Hawaii public schools need improvement.  Some neighborhoods boast attractive “magnet” schools with motivated students, involved parents, and top-notch educators. These tend to be located in the more expensive neighborhoods where parents figure that the savings over paying private school tuition will compensate for the higher housing cost. There are numerous highly rated elementary schools, but middle and high schools  have much lower public confidence.  Finding a satisfactory public high school can be a challenge in many parts of the state.

The State Department of Education operates a gigantic state-wide school system that in the past has been slow to respond to the needs of students and expectations of parents.  Attempts at real reform are met with resistance from an entrenched system with chronic budget shortages, burned-out teachers, and overworked administrators. Efforts at improving the schools are ongoing, and the future looks far brighter. Even so, 15% of Hawaii’s students attend private schools, higher than the national average of 10%. There are over 130 private schools statewide, including many church-operated institutions, prestigious and selective schools, and specialized schools to meet every need.

Hawaii has a subtropical climate, with notable variations in rainfall over even a one-mile radius.  A ridge of mountains going from northwest to southeast divides Oahu and is the primary determining factor in the climate on the island. The prevailing trade winds from the northeast are almost constant, and bring rain and cool breezes. These factors create “microclimates” within the Island, with dramatic differences in rainfall and climate in just a mile. The Windward side of the island always has more rain, and the lush tropical appearance means that there is little need to water your yard.  Some areas are known for daily rainfall, and frequently cloudy weather. Other areas are hot, dry and desert-like, and air conditioning will greatly increase your comfort level. If you have allergies you will want to consider whether a dry or moist climate is best for your health.

The Beach is Free
Don't forget that there are compensating factors that balance the high prices. These include lower utility bills (no heating or air conditioning in most cases), no need for a winter wardrobe, and plenty of free outdoor recreation.  Property taxes in Hawaii are a pleasant surprise for most people, with rates at less than ½ of 1% assessed on the value of the property (rates change annually), so the monthly taxes tend to range from roughly $ 75 per month for a small condo to $300 or more for a large luxury home, with most being somewhere in between.

If you like adventure, are open to new experiences in a multi-cultural environment, and you want to live in one of the most beautiful and interesting places in the world, you will love life in Hawaii.  And yes, all the beaches in Hawaii are open to the public, and all are free.

Aina Haina Beach surfers

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Booch — Monday, March 3, 2008
Great article! Required reading for anyone who would like to move to Hawaii and wants to make an informed decision. What a wealth of practical topics are addressed herein.

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hawaiidreaming — Friday, January 15, 2010
I am planning the big move and I am doing alot of research on the islands, Big Island in particular. I keep hearing alot of talk about rats...that the infestation is so bad on the islands. Can you please tell me the truth about this rumor?

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JasonVoide — Saturday, June 25, 2011
It's no wonder that you get a bigger response from "Don't Come" than this article! I guess people didn't read the part where you said it was to be taken with a grain of Hawaiian salt. That said, moving to Hawaii is a far away dream for me (being a New Englander) however this article is very informative and offers a little on every aspect of the big move. So I'll say mahalo for both articles! And know that the Aloha spirit is alive and well in this guy! I would love to experience it firsthand.

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HawaiianDreamer — Thursday, September 1, 2011
Of all the books out there on this subject, I found this article to be better than any of them. It is straight to the point, easy to understand & answers the question "Can I Do This?' without having to second guess yourself.


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