Could El Nino be pushing Hawaii home prices higher?

Posted by Aaron Agsalda on Monday, February 29th, 2016 at 4:03pm.

Hawaii’s hottest summer and coldest winter coincide with all-time highs in Oahu median home prices. Maybe it’s time we talk about the weather.

Research suggests that Hawaii's unusual temperatures last year may have been a factor in driving up Oahu home prices.

Last September, two Hawaii cities reported the highest summer temperatures in over 100 years. "It really is significantly warmer than what we typically have," said meteorologist Chris Brenchley. He added that, once humidity was factored in, "We started to see those heat index values in the high 90's, even in the triple digits."

That month, the median home price in Honolulu reached a historical new high of $730K.

Then in January of 2016, the National Weather Service reported the lowest temperature recorded that day in Honolulu in the last 122 years. That month, the median home price – after a slight dip at the end of 2015 – reached a new all-time high of $733K.

Though radical temperature shifts may be common on the U.S. mainland from season to season, most long-time Hawaii residents were caught off-guard.

“Fluctuations in weather patterns have been linked to increases in consumer spending.” –Vadim Krasko, economist

Economically speaking, increased spending in unusual weather is a necessity. Krasko’s research simply connects the dots between unusual weather and higher energy bills, since consumers “need to balance the temperature differences from weather changes.”

Emotionally speaking, increased spending in unusual weather is a way to cope with unexpected discomfort. In an article published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, researchers linked the influence of weather on mood and, in turn, the influence of mood on spending. Negative affect (feeling bad) was shown to increase a person’s willingness to spend more money.

So research suggests that the unusually uncomfortable temperatures in Hawaii may have motivated home buyers to spend more on homes.

On the other hand, these historic highs may simply be characteristic of the seasonal ebb and flow of median home prices on the island of Oahu. 

In my previous posts, I’ve tracked median price peaks on Oahu over the last five years. From 2011-2014, I observed a pretty consistent pattern:

  1. High in May/June
  2. Dip in July/August 
  3. High in November/December

The pattern seemed to be broken in 2015 when the median went up in autumn instead of down, as was characteristic in previous years. I interpreted this as an elongation of the ebb/flow wavelength, predicting that the highs and lows would still occur in sequence, just on delay.

And so it went. The Oahu median home rise/fall pattern was delayed:

  1. High in September
  2. Dip in December
  3. High in January

 The chart below shows the pattern from 2011-2014 and how it shifted in 2015.

 

Summer Peak

Post-Summer Dip

Winter Peak

2015 – 2016

$730K (Sept)*

$700K (Dec)

$733K (Jan ’16)*

2014

$700K (Jun)

$650K (Aug)

$719K (Nov)*

2013

$677K (Jun)

$647K (Jul)

$685K (Dec)*

2012

$664K (May)*

$609K (Aug)

$640K (Dec)

2011

$595K (May)

$558K (Aug)

$605K (Dec)*

* Year’s Highest Median 

Were Hawaii’s hottest summer and coldest winter the primary cause for Oahu median home values reaching record highs? Probably not. Due to the strong demand for housing in Hawaii, prices were bound to go up anyway. Also, interest rates did not suddenly rise despite widespread anticipation. This must have been a huge encouragement to borrowers. 

Still, it’s hard to ignore the coinciding of two seemingly unrelated statistics: peak home prices and the weather. Taking into consideration the general impact weather has on consumers both economically and emotionally, it’s not a stretch to say that our record-setting weather influenced record-setting home prices.

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