What, Where, Why, and How Much? It's not a dream; it's your life on the beach in Hawaii. It's January, and you are in a hammock stretched between two palm trees, book in lap. You gaze out at the ocean and give yourself a little push to keep the rhythm going. The trade winds blow gently while waves tickle the shore, and the palm trees wave hypnotically overhead just as they were destined to do. A distant pipe dream for most but everyday life for others. The big questions are: Can you afford to live on the ocean, and if so, is it right for you? And where are the best oceanfront locations?
Beachfront Home Choices Oceanfront properties on the island of Oahu vary greatly and tend to be somewhat eclectic. Most are in suburban or rural settings, not tourist spots. They may take different forms, but these are the ultimate luxury homes for those who can live wherever they choose. If you have vision and means to achieve this, you will want to make your property very personal. You may select a high rise condo or a townhome, but most properties are freestanding single-family homes. Because the main value lies in the land, the houses will usually be the more expensive choice.
Sandy Beaches Waterfront brings to mind Hawaii's white sand beaches. The most desirable waterfront – and the priciest – will be found here. Friendly and accommodating beaches that invite walking, swimming and other water sports are always in demand. Beaches are not necessarily stable: they may be eroding or accreting (growing) – it's important to know which. Gorgeous and desirable Lanikai, for example, has only a very narrow beach at high tide. Other areas have a history of major high surf problems several times a year. Some beaches are seasonal, or subject to tides and dangerous surf so they are not for everyone. If you are looking for the big surf, you may want to be here.
A Thousand Shades of Blue The beach is just the beginning. Oceanfront Hawaii property includes a variety of other shorelines where the land touches the sea. You can choose rocky beaches with tide pools or cliffs, or marina areas with docks for boating. Not all are ideal for swimming- the water may be too shallow, too rocky, too muddy, or too rough. A few oceanfront locations have no water access at all due to steep cliffs, mangrove trees along the shore, and others may be muddy due to adjacent creeks bringing silt. Marina frontage for boating is different still, and requires deeper water close to shore.
What Oceanfront Costs Single family homes on the ocean start at about $600,000 for less desirable waterfront locations, but the median price for homes currently on the market is about $3,000,000. Twenty-eight oceanfront houses sold in the past six months, with the median sale price at $2,000,000. One estate on the beach in Hawaii Kai is currently listed for $80 million! Prices have remained stable for the most part, but a lower number of sales are taking place. This means that motivated sellers will need to offer attractive prices based on past sales, not pie-in-the-sky hopes. There is a smaller pool of buyers so negotiating opportunities exist. Beach houses can be found in these areas, starting with the more expensive: Diamond Head, Kahala, Kailua, Waialae to Hawaii Kai, Waimanalo, North Shore, Windward Coast, Makaha, Ewa Beach.
Oceanfront Condos High-rise condos on the water are another choice. The “Gold Coast” between Diamond Head and Waikiki offers a small string of about 16 gracious older buildings with the ocean on one side (including a narrow white sand beach), and Kapiolani Park on the other. Prices for fee-simple condos or co-ops here range from tiny studios for $300,000 to penthouses for $4 million or more. The location is matchless, with reef-protected; restaurants and boutique hotels are a few steps away. Entertainment at the Waikiki Shell or the major hotels is a short stroll down the beach – or hang out at the zoo for the wildest show in town.
Other less pricey beachfront condos can be found on the North Shore, Windward Coast, and Makaha areas. If you want a new luxury beachfront condo you'll find a handful at the resort of Ko Olina – next door to the newest Disney resort now in the planning stages. For a “slice” of ownership, there are attractive beachfront timeshares here as well. Most townhomes on the water are marina front rather than oceanfront. Surprisingly affordable, townhomes in waterfront communities start at about $450,000.
The elegant community of Hawaii Kai - at the east end of Honolulu- offers various choices of waterfront townhomes with boat docks. This is a great setting for casual entertaining and active sports like kayaking and waterskiing, and a small private harbor has docks for resident's boats. You can even cruise to waterfront restaurants, shopping, and dining or just explore the many nooks of Kuapa Pond. Kaneohe is another area with a few dockside townhomes worth considering and newer marinas are coming soon to Ewa Beach. Waterfront Concerns and Complications Some things to look for in comparing oceanfront property:
What is the high water level during storm conditions? Some beaches change dramatically by season, with calm waters or huge surf depending on the month and conditions. It can be helpful to ask the neighbors.
What is the flood zone and what is the owner paying for flood insurance, if any? You can check here for flood zone details http://www.floodsmart.gov.
Are you in a Tsunami Evacuation Zone? Look at the maps in the front of the phone book white pages for details. Most but not all waterfront falls into this category. Don't panic – tiny tsunamis are frequently less than an inch high and undetectable to the beachgoer!
Is there a seawall, and is it legally built and permitted? Seawalls can be an asset or a liability depending on their legality, appearance, and function. Look for building permits and ask for details.
Does the property comply with the current shoreline setback and other building code requirements? You don't want this kind of surprise later. The current setback is now 40 feet from the shoreline, with smaller setbacks allowed under specific conditions. Check the details at http://www.co.honolulu.hi.us/refs/roh/23.htm .
Where is the water side property line? Unless there has been a recent Certified Shoreline Survey, you won't really know where the (public) beach ends and your property begins. Also, the definition of the shoreline has recently changed to be “the highest reach of the highest wash of the waves”. Are you aware that there are no private beaches in Hawaii - all are open to the public? Public access is a right, but can bring with it the predictable issues of noise and litter in some areas.
If the property has a dock, was it legally built and permitted? Many were not, and construction in and on the ocean is now highly regulated. A refreshing exception is the Hawaii Kai marina area, which is private and suffers from far less government control.
You may want to consider rocky shores and cliffs for waterfront with more privacy and great views. If the beach is nearby, you can have the best of both worlds.
Beachfront buyers should be sure to utilize the services of a knowledgeable Realtor, preferable an Accredited Buyers Agent (ABR), to assist them with their property search and purchase. A specialist will be mroe likely to have the research and negotiation tools to get the job done right.
Taking the Plunge Living on the beach, or any waterfront, requires a certain willingness to accept the whims of nature, beyond the control of man. For that matter, coconuts can fall on your head, if you don't trim them regularly (I found no local statistics on this issue, so it is probably not a serious threat). But what a way to go, and so much more romantic than perishing in a blizzard! It's a different way of looking at life: acknowledging the risks to enjoy the benefits.
The beauty of a waterfront setting is a changing panorama that has inspired artists and brought poets to tears. Beyond the obvious visual bounty there is a peace that comes to the soul from residing on the edge of the ocean. Is it from the sound of the waves, whether gentle or fierce? Or the vista that stretches towards the watery edge of the planet?
Oceanfront property is a rare and priceless treasure to enjoy and experience for a few years or a lifetime. Are you one of the fortunate few who will choose to live the dream? If so, I'd love to help.
Copyright 2009 Stephanie Gieseler - No part of this article may be copied without permission of the author.
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