Sheltering In Paradise: Hawaiian Real Estate In The Pandemic

Real Estate

Broker-Owner of Better Homes and Gardens Island Lifestyle. Luxury Homes sales on the Big Island of Hawaii. 

The shelter-in-place order meant to control the spread of Covid-19 has been stressful for all of us. Even in Hawaii, where I live and sell real estate in an oceanfront resort, there have been unexpected challenges.

It’s true that when you live in Hawaii, you recognize daily how blessed you are. At the time of this writing, we’ve not had one death due to the illness on the Big Island. Tourists are not allowed to travel here unless they self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. The vast majority of homeowners in this resort do not live here full time. These homes are their second or third. It’s almost eerie how deserted the resort is now. 

Those of us who live here full-time are experiencing unusual tranquility as a result. We can go to the beach to exercise by swimming or paddleboarding. The golf courses are open — one person to a golf cart for social distancing. Oceanfront tennis and paddleball courts are available for use. The fitness centers are open with limited occupancy at a time. Pools, too, are accessible with social distancing and limited numbers in the water at one time. Hotel chefs are preparing meals to go, groceries are available for pick-up with an online form.

But it’s not all worry-free here on the Big Island. While you stroll the deserted beach and look up at the closed-down hotels, you are uniquely aware of the unemployment devastation. Thousands of resort employees are out of work. The antiquated unemployment system can’t keep up with the claims.

Those employees are our ohana, which means family. Some employees have been working at the same resorts for 30 years. As locals, you tend to know how many kids or grandkids they have and what they do on their days off. Now they can’t feed their families, let alone pay their rent or mortgages, due to the near-complete reduction in tourism. There is a joint effort between the resort where I live and homeowners to help feed the employees’ families while they await their unemployment income and their return to work. Homeowners who aren’t here on the island right now are painfully aware of the plight of the employees and are sending funds to support food distribution to the employees. One owner challenged the other homeowners to raise $50,000 toward the employee food bank, promising his own donation match. In the end, we raised $200,000 for meals for the hotel employees!

Speaking as a real estate agent who generally sells homes to visitors to the resort, it’s an unusual business atmosphere. While there is no travel from the mainland without a 14-day quarantine on arrival, there is still real estate to be sold. In fact, we recently sold a paired home for $2.2 million, and it was on the market for only 48 hours before getting two offers. Interestingly enough, neither potential buyer has stepped foot into the home.

In fact, sales of high-end multimillion-dollar homes are on the upswing here. From what fellow agents and I surmise, many people believe there will be another uptick in Covid-19 cases during the next flu season, and they don’t want to be in lockdown again in a cold, congested location. Additionally, many traditionally office-bound workers have found that their employers have seen the light and decided working from home is a good idea — and makes for a way better financial position. Several buyers in newfound “work from home, wherever it is” situations are deciding their new home office is now in Hawaii.

While real estate here is selling “sight unseen” in greater numbers during this pandemic, it’s not at all unusual for Hawaiian real estate agents to sell second homes to buyers on the mainland or other countries in a sight-unseen manner. When you live on an isolated island, you adapt to your needs. Agents in Hawaii have used 3D virtual tour software to sell properties for many years. About six years ago, our firm added drone footage, too, because buyers wanted to see how far the property was from the beach before they signed their sight unseen addendum to the purchase contract.

From 3D virtual tours to drone aerial video, video emails, Zoom screen-sharing for the contracts and DocuSign for virtual signing, it’s possible to go from interested buyer to a closed escrow without setting foot on the property. As soon as travel opens up to the Big Island of Hawaii, we look forward to meeting new buyers for the first time after the close of escrow.

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