Getting a handle on housing

LIHUE — Grant Bowen and his family closed on their 1,700-square-foot home in Poipu last week. They’ve been renting on the South Shore for the past eight years and wanted to stay in the same community, and it took them some time to find their dream home.

“We were looking for four years straight,” Bowen said. “We probably went into 10 different houses and made offers on a few, but we got blown out of the water.”

Bowen said it was a huge struggle to lock down their new home, but he and his family are happy with it now.

“We constrained ourselves to the Koloa area because we were already established there,” Bowen said. “We might have made it harder by not being flexible, but we’re glad we held ourselves to that standard.”

It’s not just location that threw roadblocks into the Bowens’ house-buying process. The market itself made things dicey.

“The market is very unobtainable for the average type person right now without going out of your comfort zone price-wise,” Bowen said.

“It’s tough for normal people because you have to get a huge loan for a house.”

Bowen’s theory is that housing prices, whether buying or renting, have been driven too high on the island because of the influx of folks who are buying vacation homes, second homes and retirement properties.

“This place has a high demand for vacation spots and it puts constraint on the market for all of us normal people,” Bowen said.

Movement in the Kauai housing market in general is fairly static right now, said Realtor Tom Austin.

“If you look at Kauai market statistics, the number of opened escrows and the number of closings in the last two or three months has leveled off,” Austin said. “Who knows why. The market does this all the time.”

Austin said he’s noticed the housing market responds to what is going on in the social climate of the world and he theorizes that’s why the current market has stalled a bit.

“If people are freaked out about Donald Trump, or China, or immigration to Europe from Syria, they might wait and see what happens before buying or selling,” he said.

According to the September 2015 Kauai market report from Old Republic Title, the average cost for a single-family residence on Kauai rose to $550,000 this year from $522,000 in 2014.

The most expensive place to buy on the island is in Koloa, according to the report, with a median price of $800,000 for single-family houses. The least expensive place to buy on the island is in Waimea, where the average home costs around $477,000.

Last year, the most expensive single-family homes were selling for an average of $940,000 in Hanalei, while the cheapest houses were still in Waimea.

Austin said what happened to the market in Hanalei, and throughout the island, was that sellers were getting overconfident on pricing.

“Sellers got very optimistic and they started pricing properties higher and higher,” he said.

When those properties didn’t sell, Austin explained, homeowners would lower the price.

“Then buyers see that it’s been on the market for a long time and the price went down and they’re wondering what’s wrong with it,” Austin said. “You price yourself out.”

According to the Multiple Listing Service, through August, 320 residential homes sold on Kauai. There were 94 sales of vacant land; nine commercial properties sold; and 239 condominiums sold.

For the same time frame in 2014, there were 152 vacant land sales; 320 residential properties, 10 commercial properties and 233 condos.

A popular place to buy this year seems to be in Kawaihau, where 125 homes have been sold so far. The least popular place to buy homes this year is in Waimea, according to the report, where 30 homes have gone into closing.

The median sale price for a home in Kauai County was $508,000 through Aug. 31, according to Zillow.

At the higher end of the price range is a mansion on 6.4 acres overlooking Anini Bay, listed at $29.4 million.

Walter Balcomb, the general contractor that built the Anini Bay mansion, said the house took two years to build and it has extensive concrete work, because it hangs over two sides of a hill overlooking the water.

The five-bedroom house has 9,009 square feet of livable space and around 12,000 square feet of covered lanais. It also has an exercise room, a media room and enough garage space to store five cars. The mansion also has a 500-square-foot caretaker’s house.

“It’s the size of a small Walmart,” Balcomb said.

The house has two kitchens, complete with five dishwashers and four refrigerators. The entertaining kitchen opens up into an open space lined with windows that create nearly a 360-degree view of the ocean.

Outside, there are three showers, as well as a rock-scaped pool that has two hot tubs and several waterfalls.

Some materials for the house were imported from around the world. Japanese glaze tile was imported for the roof, for example, and mother of pearl was imported from London for one of the bathrooms.

“You know, a lot of times when people are building their own houses, they like to put their own touches on it,” Blacomb said. “It becomes a work of art that expresses who they are.”

When it comes to building these works of art, Balcomb said he’s very happy with the way the market is right now.

“It’s a select market for these types of houses, but it’s keeping me busy right now,” he said. “It’s good.”

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