Every year thousands of people move to Hawaii, buy a home, and begin to live their dream. Starry-eyed people come here with high hopes of living in paradise, in a beautiful Hawaii house on the beach, surfing everyday, and sipping margaritas out of coconut shells. So here are some things you should know before moving and buying a home on Oahu. Check out my step-by-step Hawaii relocation guide, and see my tips on moving with children.
1) Hawaii is an island state
That means it’s harder to get some of the things you like. Things are more expensive to ship and slower to arrive by Fedex. Fedex overnight means 2 days here. Even if there are a few stores on Oahu that carry what you want, that doesn’t mean that they’ll have it in stock on a given day. Amazon prime doesn’t ship everything to Hawaii. Sometimes heavy items do in fact ship free, like the 40 lbs running boards I bought for my truck, but that is the exception and not the rule.
Since shipping heavy items is so expensive, living on this island sometimes means you have to settle for what we have. You can’t just drive a few hours to get something that isn’t available. More likely, you learn to settle or to wait. Some things that are hard to get here – like certain building supplies, furniture, or custom things, are nearly impossible. Almost literally, custom anything is very very hard to get. If you want a custom made desk, for example, you might have 1-2 options on island.
Speaking of which, that is a phrase you will add to your vocabulary- “On island.” Is that product or person “on island?” What might be easily available on the mainland might be almost impossible to get here, because it’s not already on island. I recently waited 6 weeks to get a dining table shipped here. While the shipping cost wasn’t much, I could have gotten that table in 1 day on the mainland.
2) Oahu is paradise on earth, but it’s not heaven
There is still traffic and crime, and there are still some rude people in Hawaii like anywhere else. People tend to live for about a year in the honeymoon stage, still euphoric about living in Hawaii. Then reality sets in. People in Hawaii still get sick. Life still throws you a curve ball in paradise, and your stuff begins to rust, no matter where you live on the island. People are still evil inside. People in Hawaii still get arrested, murdered, and divorced, or just annoyed. Money doesn’t make people happy, and neither does Hawaii. Only God gives true joy from within, and without inner joy, Hawaii isn’t necessarily going to make you happy. It might, I think, make your life a lot more fun. If you’re looking for inner peace, go to church. If you want life to be less dreary and have better weather, move to Hawaii.
3) If you’re not local, you’ll never be.
If you didn’t grow up here and have parents of somewhat Hawaiian/Asian decent, you’re called a haole. It’s not racial, not usually. However, most haoles fit right in, make lots of friends that are locals, and one even got elected governor.
Some people here are much more friendly than the mainland, but others might seem much less so. It’s like anywhere. If you go to a bad neighborhood on the mainland, you might get bad looks or feel unsafe, and that is waaaaay less common here. But there are areas that you won’t feel like you fit in if you aren’t from here. It’s not about your skin color, it’s about your attitude and comfort level in Hawaii. Sometimes it’s about knowing how to relate to local Hawaiians – with respect and grace, not arrogance.
Don’t get me wrong. For the most part, people are very nice here, especially on the freeway. Everyone will let you cut in front of them, if you give a friendly wave. Most people put on a happy face. There is definitely a sense in which people are happier in Hawaii, but there is also a sense in which people are more wary of new comers. They know that there is a high likelihood that new people will move away quickly, so they don’t get too excited when someone says they just moved here. I have personally had many friends move away because of job transfers, military orders, or just the inability to adjust to life in Hawaii. People here ask what high school you went to, because if you didn’t go to high school here, you’re not local.
4) Housing is expensive
$900,000 will buy you a small house in Manoa or a large condo in Waikiki. It might be an old single wall construction home, meaning there are no studs in the walls. Your yard will be smaller than you’re used to, especially in Honolulu, and the dirt will be bright red. However, if you go out a bit to the west side you can get great home for about $650k in Ewa, Kapolei, Royal Kunia, and Makakilo. Or on the North Shore, you can get a big yard, maybe even an acre, for around $1.5mil. It’s country up there, very rural, and very peaceful. It will likely (hopefully) always be farmland and a few houses, but you get a lot more land on the North Shore, and you get to surf bigger waves.
Unfortunately, our local government has taken on the idea that affordable housing solutions include building more condos for foreign millionaires who leave their 2nd (or 3rd) home condos vacant, so there is a massive housing shortage. That means a nice house in a nice area is going to cost you at least $1mil.
5) The ocean in Hawaii is wonderful, but you won’t be in it as much as you think
People ask me if I surf everyday. (yes, almost) They think I sit on Waikiki beach and type my blog or handle my escrows, etc. (No.) Most days I sit at a desk in my office, just like you, except my office is across from a beautiful beach with great waves, and it’s 75 degrees outside. And I actually just surfed before I sat down to write this. We do go to the beach as a family often, maybe 4-5 times a month. We prefer the North Shore or Ala Moana, and sometimes we go to a little secret beach near our house. There are still plenty of empty beaches in Oahu, and if you buy a house here, I’ll show you some of them, but not my secret beach. 🙂
The point is, you still have to have your normal life, but the ocean does usually become part of it. The ocean is free, doesn’t allow you to bring your phone, and is pretty much always there. You can paddle, surf, swim, dive, etc., and it’s how we live here, but you would be surprised at how many people here almost never touch the water. I would guess that far less than half of the people on Oahu every enter the ocean in any given year. Maybe 20%? There are thousands of people here who have no interest in the ocean at all, and still enjoy Hawaii a lot. You can hike, play golf, and do many other things year round, since we don’t have any real winter.
6) It rains a lot, suddenly, for about 10 minutes at a time
If you live in Manoa, Maunawili, the North Shore, or Kailua, it rains more than in town, or the Leeward side, or Hawaii Kai. Usually within a few minutes the sun will come out and dry everything off. So stop walking around with an umbrella, you look like a tourist.
You can pretty much count on rain every night in Mililani and on the Windward side, especially upper Kaneohe, around Ahuimanu and Haiku plantation. By the way, if you want a little bit cooler climate but don’t want to pay as much as Kailua and Kanoehe, Mililani is a great choice and has great schools!
There are neighborhoods in Kaneohe where I have literally never seen the ground dry. The rooftops are always wet too. So you have to think about that when you buy a home on Oahu. Do you like it wet and cool at night? Then consider Mililani, Kaneohe, or upper Kailua. Or do you prefer dry and hot? Then think Ewa Beach, Kapolei, Royal Kunia, maybe even parts of Hawaii Kai.
Oahu has tons of micro climates, thanks to the many different valleys between our mountain ranges. Hahaione valley in Hawaii Kai is green, wet, lush, windy. About a mile away in Kalama Valley, you will see much less rain, less green, a little less wind, and more heat.
7) Everything rusts
Especially on the windward side of Oahu, which means Kailua and Kaneohe, everything rusts. Things rust quite a bit in Manoa too, where it rains almost everyday of the year. Everything has to be replaced more often because of the salty, humid air. My bike took 1 year to turn rust. Your car will be dirty most of the time because of rain and wet roads in these areas. You might repaint your Hawaii home every few years. Mold will grow in 2 days if you leave anything wet anywhere.
If you live in an area near the ocean where the wind blows on shore, like Kailua for example, things will rust and corrode much faster than if you live where the wind blows off shore (out to sea). Very often I walk in to a house for sale in Kailua and find that the door hinges and locks are completely rusted, while in Kapolei they might last ten times longer and never see any rust, in part because some people run the AC all year in Kapolei.
8) All your friends will visit you the first year
And you’ll have to cart them to the North Shore, to Waikiki, to the Dole plantation, and Kailua Beach. You’ll have less visitors in the second year, until finally you get 1 or 2 visitors a year—forever. It helps if you visit them once a year, and have them visit you once a year.
If you don’t want to get island fever (which I’ve never had), then just leave once a year. Go visit some family somewhere, and every time you come back, Hawaii will feel more and more like home.
9) Everything takes longer in Hawaii
Things that take 5 minutes will take 10 here. Things you might get instantly in L.A. could take days in Hawaii. You need a contractor to come give you an estimate? How about 2 weeks from now? You need a dentist appointment? How about next month? Life in Hawaii is in sometimes in slow motion, and we like it that way. Even in our real estate transactions, we work slow. Our average escrow is 45-60 days. Learn to drive slow, walk slow, and live slow. We enjoy the drive along the coast at 35mph, just enjoying the beautiful Hawaiian views.
Also slow – relationships. Since we see a lot of people come and go, it takes longer to develop friendships here. New people are accepted with caution, because it’s hard to know which people will stay in Hawaii long term. One of my current good friends had to live here for 3 years and buy a house before I believed he would be a long time resident. Notice I didn’t call him a local or anything like that. He’s still a haole, but then again so am I to some degree.
10) Many people end up leaving Hawaii after a few years, and then regret it for the rest of their lives
Whatever the reason, many people who move here end up leaving after only a few years. And one person every week tells me how much they regret ever leaving Hawaii. Most people who sold their Hawaii real estate would have made hundreds of thousands of dollars if they would have held onto it. So don’t come thinking, “I’m going to try out Hawaii.” Instead, make up your mind and say, “I will make it work no matter what, I will buy a house in Hawaii, I will make it my home.” People give up their dream of living in Hawaii everyday, they quit and leave paradise. For those of us who make it, it becomes more like paradise than we thought at first. Here are the first 10 things to do when you move to Hawaii.