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Luxury Insider: Honolulu, Here We Come!

Honolulu is getting too small! There is only so much coastline for homes to spread, so the only easy way to try to satisfy an insatiable demand for luxury real estate is to grow taller. More towers are about to pop up on the seafront. The traditional tug-of-war between concrete and grass has been fought. Concrete won; although the concrete we are talking about here would make Singapore, Hong Kong and the likes very envious: the style of the new buildings is amazing and green open spaces are set to provide plenty of chlorophyll for the locals to breathe on.

Something like 6,500 new condo units are scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2016, in the most coveted downtown area. That’s a lot, yet it’s far from enough. Too many would-be buyers, coming from all horizons, are waiting in line to get a piece of paradise. At any price. Talking about the devil, prices have reached new all-time records last year; the median price for a single family house was 19% higher than in 2009 and nearly 3 times that of 2001.

I was in Honolulu at the end of May, supposedly to relax, although that option did not work. That’s OK because, instead of more time getting a tan on Waikiki, I was offered to go on a tour of the most striking high-end properties for sale by the pros who know the island luxury market best: Patricia and Cedric Choi, from Choi International, our Hawaiian partners within the Luxury Portfolio global marketing network.

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They set me up with a terrific guide, Gwen Inzer, Patricia’s right arm. We covered a good many miles stretching along South & East of Oahu, enjoying the scenery and visiting a few unique properties; all out of my price-range for a vacation home, which, if nothing else, made them even more desirable.

The first one we saw is Waiea (try to pronounce every single vowel…). That’s the name of the most exclusive condo tower located in the Howard Hughes “Ward Village”, 60 acres of prime coastal property. Waiea will likely set a new standard for luxury living. Roughly half of its 171 units, including 11 penthouses, offer the most stunning views of the Pacific, Waikiki and iconic Diamond Head.

You may wonder what the price sheet looks like. Well, since you asked for it, please note that prices vary from $5,500,000 for a 3BD/3.5BA condo with open view & close to ground zero, to $7,500,000 for the same unit on floor 31. Not to mention 1 penthouse (my favorite) at $ 19.8M on the 34th & the mother of all penthouses (17,521 sqft. on the top floor) for a price which has yet to be determined. BTW, 75% of the units are already marked sold, although occupancy is more than 2 years away.

Our ride along the coast took us to Patricia Choi’s “hunting grounds”, where her For Sale signs decorate the sidewalks: the high-end neighborhoods of Diamond Head & Kahala, and then the South-East beach-towns jewels named Kailua & Lanikai. I don’t want to make you over-salivate but you need to know about the ultimate beachfront home at 213 Kailuana Loop, in Kailua. The list price is $21,138,000. For that, you get 8,200 sqft of striking contemporary design and a ¾ of an acre lot looking straight toward the Mokulua islands and stretching to the most pristine beach and the turquoise waters of Oahu….

Who, on earth (literally), is buying properties in Honolulu? Indeed, lots of people from lots of countries and with lots of money. East meets West in Honolulu/Oahu. America & Asia share the prize. Last year, the top foreign buyers were again the Japanese, who continue their love affair with Hawaii. They bought 215 properties for a total of $166M. Far behind, we find our neighbors from Canada, followed by Hong Kong, China (coming up fast), Australia, Singapore, the Mariana Islands, S. Korea, Guam & the Philippines.

Of course, we too are buying a big piece of the good life in Honolulu. The top US buyers are Hawaiian, as you would have guessed. They acquired 13,382 properties for $6.9B. They know what’s good, that’s where they live or come from. California comes next with $1.2B worth of sales volume. The other biggies are Washington ($262M), Texas ($252M) and …New York ($191M).

Yes, Honolulu is getting smaller. Don’t wait too long to indulge in a nice little place by-the-sea.

Alain Pinel

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