The steady market for second homes 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.

Fueled by wealthy out-of-state buyers, demand for second home properties outstrips any other part of the country. According to the chief economist of Hawaii, about a quarter of Hawaii’s homes were bought by non-residents.

This continued interest in Hawaiian real estate from mainland citizens and overseas buyers has, in part, taken the luxury sector to new heights. Year-to-date statewide high-end sales outpaced the previous year, according to the latest Hawai’i Luxury Market Report from leading brokerage firm Hawai’i Life.

After moving to Hawaii as a surfer more than 25 years ago, Norman has since become one of the state’s most sought-after agents, specializing in luxury property on the island of Kauai. As director of Hawaii Life, Norman and his team have amassed over $ 3 billion in sales, including over $ 385 million in sales volume in 2021. Recent notable transactions include the sale of 11.9 million dollars of Carlos Santana’s vacation home.

In my ongoing coverage of the global real estate scene, I spoke to the Kauai expert about his successes and how he thinks the market is changing on the “garden island”. His comments have been edited for clarity.

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How has the market changed in Kauai in recent years?

Fortunately, and unfortunately, Kauai’s north shore has been discovered by shoppers, so everything is continuing to appreciate at a rapid pace. It is a small rural area and there is super shortage but high demand. There was more tourism here due to the pandemic and people found that they no longer had to be at work and could live in this place they always dreamed of living in. There is a lot of transference between places like Aspen, Jackson Hole or Telluride, where it’s the same idea except, instead of snow, we have waterfalls.

Is there any concern that the spike in popularity may subsequently cause the area to lose some of its appeal?

There are strict building and zoning regulations along with the only way to get in and out of a two lane road, so it’s pretty secure and I don’t think it will change. Why people come to Kauai vs. Maui is that it is more relaxed. There aren’t really multi-family condos and there are hardly any hotels – it’s natural, raw beauty here.

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How does the luxury market in Hawaii differ from that in the United States?

There is very little speculation in our market. People don’t come here and build houses to sell. Many people come here and can’t find a nice new home – I’ve only sold a handful of new homes in 35 years of business. Much of the market is buying a vacant plot of land and building something that exactly suits the buyer.

For the most part, they are in a second internal market. So, I sell people things they don’t need, I sell people things they want. In markets like California, there are often needs related to buying a home, such as living close to where you work, and needs can mean more money. For a beach community like Malibu, if you want a few acres on or near water, it will be $ 50 to $ 100 million. Now, to get something like this here, you’ll pay half, if not a quarter less, and what you get is going to be great.

You have been the most productive broker in Hawaii several times. What do you attribute to your success?

I think I have a skill set that really works for what I do. I have an eye for site planning or refurbishment, having been a hands-on builder myself, and I also love to negotiate. There have been projects that have complicated sites and rights issues and I have a long experience browsing those and negotiating for someone to find the places of their dreams, and I love being able to do that.

I also have an amazing staff. We work very hard to find our clients in the right place and that hard work is how we keep getting referrals.

Any surfing tips?

It goes without saying that Kauai is a world-class surf location, but Fiji, Indonesia, Central America and South America will always have a special place in my heart.


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Hawaii Life is an exclusive member of Forbes Global Propertiesa consumer market and a network of members of elite brokers who sell the most luxurious homes in the world.

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