Affordable — relatively speaking

LIHUE — Kauai is home to two of the “Most Affordable Places to Live in Hawaii,” according to a new study.

Making the Top 10 cut were Kauai’s Westside community of Waimea at No. 7 and the commercial center of Lihue at No. 9.

Clifton Kukino, a real estate agent at Kauai Realtors, said it’s certainly true that Waimea and other neighborhoods on the Westside are much more affordable than the rest of the island.

Seeing Lihue on the list, however, came as a surprise since he considers it one of the more expensive places because of its central location.

“I think it’s maybe one of the three or four strongest markets on Kauai, the others being resort communities,” he said.

Compared to the rest of the country, however, calling Waimea and Lihue “affordable” hardly seems fitting.

“It’s all relative,” Kukino said. “There’s no affordability in living in an isolated island state like we do.”

According to the study from SmartAsset, a New York-based personal finance technology company, those looking for the most affordable place to live in the United States should look no further than Mesquite, Texas, an eastern suburb of Dallas, where the average annual mortgage payment is $1,737 and the median income is $51,846.

In comparison, the most affordable place to live in the Aloha State is Kailua, on Oahu, which has an average annual mortgage payment of $18,246 and a median income of $95,190. Nationally, Kailua ranks 2,463 in affordability.

At No. 7 on the Hawaii list, Waimea has an average annual mortgage payment of $20,869 and a median income of $62,000. It ranked 4,194 nationally, according to the study.

Lihue, at No. 9 in the state and 4,263 in the nation, has an annual mortgage payment of $24,075 and median income of $68,346.

Cities secured their ranking due to their relatively low property taxes, homeowner’s insurance fees and mortgage payments when measured against the local median income, according to SmartAsset. The study only looked at cities with a population greater than 5,000.

Dwight Fujii has owned his home in Lihue for more than 40 years and said he found Lihue being on the statewide list a bit hard to believe.

“For Kauai, yes it is (affordable),” he said.

Fujii expects there are a number of Hawaiian cities with fewer than 5,000 people that would make the list.

“I know Pahoa is cheap right now,” he said with a laugh.

Since June, the Big Island town of Pahoa has been threatened by a lava flow from Kilauea volcano.

Paul Roy, general manager of Coldwell Banker Makai Properties in Koloa, said the methodology of the study is sound — that there is a lot more to home affordability than the price a homebuyer agrees to pay the seller.

“I would agree that based on their criteria Waimea and Lihue are more affordable for housing than other communities with 5,000 and more people in Kauai,” he said. “I would also remind everyone they are looking at only cities with a population of greater than 5,000 — so there may be more affordable areas, towns and cities than Waimea and Lihue.”

In 2014, according to figures provided by Roy, the median sales price of a residential home in Waimea was $325,000, down from $375,000 the year before. In Lihue, the median price increased from $386,000 to $442,000.

In Hanalei, the median price of a home was $975,000 in 2014, up from $855,000 a year prior.

Jane Kuriki built her home in Lihue in 2002, when she said the neighborhood had few homes and prices were much cheaper.

Upon learning that Lihue made the affordable list, Kuriki let out a loud laugh. However, prices here haven’t kept her from searching elsewhere.

“Lihue’s always been OK with me,” she said. “I mean, I’ve lived here all my life, so.”

And Lihue’s central location is a draw.

“I think it’s convenient,” Kuriki said. “It’s close to everything.”

Rounding out the Top 10 most affordable cities in Hawaii were: No. 2, Waianae; No. 3, Kapolei; No. 4, Ewa Beach; No. 5, Hilo; No. 6, Waimanalo; No. 8, Pearl City; No. 10, Wailuku.

The Aloha State routinely tops lists of the most expensive states to live in.

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Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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