Steady second home market extends Hawaii’s real estate boom

In an already diverse real estate landscape, there is perhaps no more unique market in the United States than Hawaii.

Driven by affluent out-of-state buyers, demand for second homes is outstripping any other part of the country. According to Hawaii’s chief economist, about a quarter of Hawaii’s homes have been bought by non-residents.

This continued interest in Hawaii’s real estate by mainlanders and foreign buyers has, in part, propelled the luxury sector to new heights. According to the latest Hawai’i Luxury Market Report from leading brokerage firm Hawai’i Life, year-to-date high-end sales across the state have topped the prior year.

As a result, many real estate agents in Hawaii are experiencing unprecedented sales volumes that dwarf those of much larger markets and make them the best real estate agents in the country. One of these agents, Neal Norman, is consistently ranked as the top-selling agent in Hawaii and was recently ranked #29 by Real Trends’ The Thousand, a national ranking of the top 250 single agents in the United States by sales volume.

Norman moved to Hawaii as a surfer more than 25 years ago and has since grown into one of the state’s most sought-after real estate agents specializing in luxury real estate on the island of Kauai. As a Director at Hawaii Life, Norman and his team have achieved over $3 billion in sales, including more than $385 million in sales volume in 2021. Recent notable transactions include the sale of Carlos Santana’s vacation home for $11.9 million.

Continuing my coverage of the global real estate scene, I spoke to the Kauai expert about his accomplishments and how he thinks the “Garden Isle” market is changing. His comments have been edited for clarity.

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How has the Kauai market changed in recent years?

Fortunately and unfortunately, Kauai’s North Shore has been discovered by buyers, so everything continues to appreciate in value at a rapid pace. It’s such a small rural area and there is super shortage but high demand. Due to the pandemic there was more tourism here and people discovered that they no longer had to work and could live in this place they always dreamed of. There’s quite a trade off between places like Aspen and Jackson Hole or Telluride where it’s the same idea except instead of snow we have waterfalls.

Are there any concerns that the subsequent surge in popularity will mean that the area will lose some of its charm?

There are strict zoning and building codes and the only way in and out is a dual carriageway so it’s fairly protected and I don’t think that will change. The reason people come to Kauai vs. Maui is because it’s more relaxed. There’s really no multi-family condominiums and almost no hotels — there’s a raw, natural beauty here.

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How does the luxury market in Hawaii differ from those in the US?

There is very little speculation in our market. People don’t come here and build houses to sell. A lot of people come here and can’t find a nice new home – I’ve only sold a handful of new homes in the 35 years that I’ve been doing this. Much of the market buys an empty lot and builds something that fits the buyer perfectly.

For the most part, I find myself in a second home market. So I sell people things they don’t need, I sell people things they want. In markets like California, there are often necessities that come with buying a home, such as: B. living close to your work place, and necessities can mean more money. For a beach community like Malibu, if you want a few acres on or near the water, it’s going to be $50 million to $100 million. Well, to get something like this here you pay half if not a quarter less and what you get is going to be amazing.

You have repeatedly been the top-selling agent in Hawaii. What do you attribute to your success?

I think I have skills that really work for what I do. I have an eye for site planning or renovations – having been a builder myself – and I also enjoy negotiating. There have been projects that involved complicated sites and permissions and I have years of experience navigating through them and negotiating for someone to find their dream spot and I love that I can do that.

I also have a great staff. We work tremendously hard to find the right place for our clients and through that hard work we keep getting recommendations.

Any spot recommendations for surfing?

Needless to say, Kauai is a world-class surfing destination – but Fiji, Indonesia, Central America and South America will always hold a special place in my heart.


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Hawaii Life is an exclusive member of Forbes Global Propertiesa consumer marketplace and membership network of elite realtors selling the world’s most luxurious homes.

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