Catherine Pennell is a real estate agent representing Kauai for KW Kauai Keller Williams in Hawaii, who claims that the housing industry in Hawaii has been booming since April. Pennell says she’s fielding two to three phone calls everyday from people living in the United States looking to move to Hawaii.
“I think people are saying, ‘Life is short.’ It’s a lot of talk because they’re not here yet and they can’t get here yet, but I’ve done more sight-unseen sales than I’ve ever done during the pandemic, three in the last three months.”
Julie Peters is another real estate agent working for Island Boutique Realty on the island of Hawaii, who recently spoke with the press about how when wildfire season began in August she was fielding at least one call each day from residents of California looking for places on the island away from all the smoke and fire danger.
Peters recalled how “one person wanted to come over immediately and rent in the meantime because she was so done with smoke. The last five closings I did were sight-unseen. I had rarely done that before.” This seems to be a major new pattern for Hawaii real estate, but also the industry in general. Buyers are more willing to invest in properties before seeing them either because they want an immediate escape from their current reality, or due to the Covid-19 pandemic making in-person viewings difficult in many areas of the country.
She claims that a majority of her buyers this year have been from the Bay Area. According to Title Guaranty, which owns the largest real estate database in Hawaii, from January to June 2020, California residents bought $587.6 million worth property in Hawaii, making up 41% of total sales during that period coming from the U.S..
“Demand for Hawaii is always there, but it’s just grown exponentially this year. A lot of people that were already looking toward retirement here sped it up, or people found out they could work from home. We got a rush of that and then the West Coast fires happened.”
Hawaii is also currently enduring a massive wave of new condos and other properties being placed on the market. In August 2020 new listings for condominiums went up by 97% when compared with the previous year. Single-family homes, on the other hand, are being bought at a much quicker rate.
Cash offers have also been the most common form of payment, as those offers are more likely to go over the initial asking price. This influx in purchasing, however, doesn’t mean that the industry in Hawaii isn’t struggling like the rest of the world. Active listings were down by nearly 20% between April – August 2020 versus 2019. Honolulu County specifically saw an 18% decline while Maui County saw a 9% dip.
West Coast buyers have increased exponentially as well as the concept of virtual listings/house tours. The pandemic, wildfires, and lack of active travel make it nearly impossible for buyers in the US to look at spaces in real life in Hawaii to move to. This new wave of blind buying is likely just the beginning of a new era of real estate in a post-pandemic world.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.