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 beach house, surfing everyday, and sipping margaritas out of coconut shells.
That is not always the reality, so here are some things I think you should know before moving and buying a home in Hawaii.
Living on an island means it's harder to get some things and to do some of the things you like. A few things are just impossible - like going on a long road trip to another State. Many things are more expensive to ship to Hawaii, and slower to arrive by Fedex, but Amazon Prime ships many things for free to Hawaii in about 3-5 days. Even with Amazon, some things are impossible to ship here.
Fedex overnight sometimes means 2 days to Hawaii, and there rarely any overnight shipping from Hawaii. Almost anything you ship from Hawaii to the mainland will take 2 days to arrive.
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 any given day. Some stores they won't ship very large things at all, but many, like Home Depot, will do it if you wait a few weeks. Yes, some heavy items actually do ship free to Hawaii, like the 8 person dining table that Home Depot shipped to their store for me. I did have to pick it up at the store, but at least it got here. Target and Walmart would not ship that same table at all. Once in a while, we have some 1st world problems, and that's the cost of living in "paradise." But trust me, it's worth it.
Since shipping heavy items can be expensive and often slow, living on an island means that sometimes you have to settle for what we have. You can't drive a few hours to another city to get something that isn't available, although we do have 3 Home Depots, 4 Costcos and 4 Targets on Oahu .
Sometimes you just wait a few weeks, and in the mean time, you learn to be content with more important things - family, warm weather, the ocean, Island life. Yes, some things that are harder to get here - like certain building supplies, some types of furniture, or custom things. If you want a custom made desk, for example, you might have 1-2 options on island.
But these are the definitions of first world problems.
If you decide to stay on the mainland because of "stuff" you can get, then you're settling for less. People love Hawaii because of what is more important the material things. We cherish our beach time with the kids, sunset surfs, warm hikes in winter, beautiful ocean views all year long, and all the things that only and island State can give you. I once saw a mother whale and her babies swimming just a few yards from shore, while on a morning hike with my kids as the sun rose over Makapuu lighthouse. You can't buy that on Amazon, but you can buy a house in Hawaii and have it everyday.
There is still traffic and crime, and there are still some rude people in Hawaii like anywhere else. We have homeless people and drug problems in Honolulu, like any major city. People who are new to Hawaii tend to live for about a year in the honeymoon stage, still euphoric about just living in Hawaii at all. But eventually reality sets in and life begins to look similar to back home, only with perfect beaches and more time in the water, and less jackets. In fact, no jackets, hardly any long pants, no sweaters at all for the first couple of years, until you acclimate.
My son lived for almost 16 years without owning long pants - he didn't even know what they were called. No joke.
People in Hawaii still get sick, get fired, get mad at each other, etc. Life still throws you curve balls in paradise, and your stuff begins to rust, no matter where you live on the island. People are still evil inside. People in Hawaii get arrested, murdered, and divorced.
Only God gives true joy from within, and without inner joy, Hawaii isn't necessarily going to make you happy, but it will make life more pleasant. We don't deal with snow, people on the road will let you cut in if you wave to them, and if you're respectful of local people, they will eventually warm up to you.
Living in Hawaii will probably make your life a lot more fun. If you're looking for inner peace, go to church. If you want your days to be less dreary and have better weather, and be able to enjoy the outdoors all year round, then move to Hawaii. I actually do surf and golf almost every week. Actually almost every day.
If you didn't grow up here and have parents of somewhat Hawaiian/Asian decent, you're a haole. It's not just racial, usually. However, most haoles fit right in, make friends that are locals, and even got elected governor or mayor. We have plenty of nice people of all races, but if you didn't grow up, you flew here - just like I did. My wife is haole, and she's never had any problems here. I'm Japanese, but I'm also sort of haole even after 20 years on island, because I didn't grow up here.
Some people in Hawaii 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. It's not about your skin color, it's about your attitude and the respect you show to others.
We are visitors on an island that was overtaken by a foreign country, America. So be aware that we need to show respect, be polite, and don't treat Hawaii like you own it just because you bought a house here. You aren't "Hawai'ian" if you live here. You're Hawai'ian if you have Hawai'ian blood. But many locals in Hawai'i are not "Hawai'ian" either. They're usually a mix of Japanese, Chinese, Philippino, Korean, Portugese, Samoan, Tongan, and haole.
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 shaka. Most people put on a happy face. There is definitely a sense in which people are happier in Hawaii, but some 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 truly local. I didn't go to high school here, and I'm fine.
As a general rule, the longer you live here, the longer you're likely to live here. Meaning, if you just got here, your chances of moving back home are very high.
$900,000 might buy you a small house in Hawaii Kai or a decent condo in Waikiki, or a pretty nice house in Ewa Beach. Depending on the area, it might be an old single wall construction home, meaning there are no studs in the walls, and the house was built in the 1960's. Mine was built in 1948.
Your yard might be smaller than you're used to, especially in town (metro Honolulu), and the dirt may be bright red. But it's a small island that isn't growing, and there is nowhere to expand, so the prices will probably keep rising forever, as more people want to live in paradise.
Almost everyone who bought Hawaii real estate 10 years ago has half a million in equity. The renters have nothing. If you want to make a million dollars someday, buy real estate in Hawaii.
If you go out a bit to the west side you can get small home for about $700k in Ewa Beach, Kapolei, Royal Kunia, and Makakilo. 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 hopefully always be a lot of farmland and just a few houses, but you get a lot more land on the North Shore, you get to surf bigger waves, and you get to be farther from town.
Unfortunately, our local government thinks that affordable housing solutions include building luxury 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. That's good for Realtors like me, but it makes the cost of living in Hawaii go up, which means an investment in Hawaii real estate is likely to be one of the best investments you'll ever make. Limited land (supply) and nearly unlimited demand.
The solution is simple and politically unlikely - to heavily tax the foreign investors who leave their properties vacant. Unfortunately, that will probably never happen, so buy Hawaii real estate, because prices will likely go up forever.
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. (Sometimes, yes.) Most days I stand at a desk in my office, which is across the street from the ocean, with great waves, and it's 75 degrees and sunny outside.
Yes, I often work from the beach while my kids play in the water. I often surf between appointments and bring my board to a showing because it's a good surf spot. But a lot of days I have too much work to surf. It's sad. ;)
I did just go surf before I wrote this. We go to the beach as a family a few times a month. We like 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, maybe even my secret beach if you promise not to expose it.
The point is, you still have to have your normal life, but the ocean can become part of it. The ocean is free, doesn't easily allow you to bring your phone into it, and is pretty much always available, except when the weather is really bad, which is rare.
You can paddle, surf, swim, dive, fish, 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, fly helicopters, and do many other things year round, since we don't have any real winter. In fact we love winter on Oahu, because it's nice and cool, no AC needed.
If you live in Manoa, Maunawili, the North Shore, Kaneohe or Kailua, it rains a lot more than in town, 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. Up there it's always wet and everything in your house feels damp. 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 for a nice cool climate and has great schools! Nice homes in Mililani are around $850k-$1.5mil as of 2021.
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, Aiea, and some parts of Hawaii Kai. Ewa and Kapolei are much hotter and dryer than the rest of the island, but homes are cheaper, newer, and master planned with great amenities.
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. This is why you need a Realtor with local knowledge of the micro climates. If you need a Realtor, I know a guy...
Yes everything rusts, especially on the windward side of Oahu, which means Kailua and Kaneohe. 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 a pile of rust, but at least I got to ride it to the beach a few dozen times. Your car will be dirty most of the time because of rain and wet roads in these areas, especially North Shore.
You probably have to repaint your Hawaii home every 15 years because the sun is stronger out here. Mold will grow in 2 days if you leave anything wet anywhere. It's a tropical island, so there are costs to living near the lush green mountains and the ocean.
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 most of the year in Kapolei, where it is hotter, dryer, and where the wind doesn't blow the salt onto your house.
You're going to have all kinds of first world problems living on a tropical island paradise. If that doesn't seem worth it to you, I would challenge you to rethink your priorities. All materials things eventually fall apart, burn up, rust, get stolen, or you leave them to your kids when you die.
Your friends may visit you right away, 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. You will discover long lost relatives who want to stay with you, because a lot of people love the idea of coming to Hawaii. That's why TV game shows don't give away trips to Nebraska. It's the trip to Hawaii that everyone wants, and we help you make it permanent.
If you don't want to get island fever (which I've never had), then just leave once a year and go visit some family somewhere miserable. Every time you come back, Hawaii will feel more and more like home. You might miss what is familiar until you compare it to life in Hawaii in the winter. Once you've acclimated to our warm winters, you won't miss the snow so much as you'll miss your friends, so just invite them out to visit.
Things that take 5 minutes may take 20 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. What's your hurry? Just enjoy the view on the way.
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.
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 home in the past would have made hundreds of thousands of dollars if they would have held onto it. Maybe even a million.
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, and I will make it my home." People give up their dream of living in Hawaii everyday, they quit and leave paradise, and then miss it for the rest of their lives.
The people who stay are usually the ones who get in the ocean, get involved in a good social group, and learn to love the things that are unique to the islands. If you stay in your cubical all day then stay in your house all night, you'll be wasting the opportunity to enjoy what makes Hawaii unique.
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.
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