In an already diverse real estate landscape, there may be no market more unique to the United States than Hawaii.
Fueled by wealthy out-of-state buyers, the demand for second-home housing exceeds any other part of the country. According to Hawaii’s chief economist, about a quarter of homes in Hawaii were purchased by non-residents.
This continued interest in Hawaii’s real estate by mainlanders and foreign buyers has, in part, propelled the luxury sector to new heights. According to the latest Hawai’i Luxury Market Report from leading brokerage Hawai’i Life, high-quality sales across the state have surpassed the previous year.
As a result, many Hawaii brokers are experiencing unprecedented sales volumes, surpassing those of much larger markets and placing them among the best brokers in the country. One such agent, Neal Norman, is regularly considered the top producing agent in Hawaii and was recently named #29 in Real Trends’ The Thousand, a national ranking of the top 250 individual agents in the US, ranked by sales volume.
Having moved to Hawaii as a surfer over 25 years ago, Norman has since become one of the most sought-after agents in the state, specializing in luxury properties on the island of Kauai. As president of Hawaii Life, Norman and his team have amassed more than $3 billion in sales, including more than $385 million in sales volume in 2021. Recent transactions of note include the sale of $11.9 million of Carlos’ vacation home. Santana.
In my ongoing coverage of the global real estate world, I spoke to the Kauai expert about his successes and how he thinks the market is changing on the Garden Isle. His comments have been edited for clarity.
How has the market in Kauai changed in recent years?
Fortunately, and unfortunately, Kauai’s north shore has been discovered by buyers, so everything continues to appreciate at a rapid pace. It is such a small rural area and there is super scarcity but high demand. There was more tourism here due to the pandemic and people discovered that they no longer had to work and that they could live in this place they have always dreamed of. There’s quite a bit of transference between places like Aspen, Jackson Hole or Telluride where it’s the same idea, only that instead of snow we have waterfalls.
Is there any concern that the spike in popularity will subsequently cause the area to lose some of its charm?
There are strict zoning and building codes and the only way in and out is a two-lane road, so it’s pretty protected, and I don’t think that’s going to change. The reason people go to Kauai vs. coming to Maui is that it is more relaxed. There are really no multi-family apartments and almost no hotels – it’s raw, natural beauty here.
How does the luxury market in Hawaii differ from that in the United States?
There is little speculation in our market. People don’t come here to build houses to sell. A lot of people come here and they can’t find a nice new home – I’ve only sold a handful of new homes in the 35 years I’ve been doing this. A large part of the market buys a vacant plot of land and builds something just right for the buyer.
For the most part I am in a second home market. So I sell people things they don’t need, I sell people things they want. In markets like California, there are often necessities associated with buying a home, such as living near where you work, and necessities can make more money. For a beach community like Malibu, if you want a few acres on the water or near the water it will be $50 to $100 million. To get something like this here pay half if not a quarter less than that and what you get will be amazing.
You have repeatedly been the top producing broker in Hawaii. What do you attribute to your success?
I think I have a skill that really works for what I do. I have an eye for site planning or renovation – I’ve been a hands-on builder myself – and I also like to negotiate. There have been projects with complicated sites and permissions issues and I have a long time experience navigating those sites and negotiating for someone to find their dream places, and I love that I get to do that.
I also have a great staff. We work extremely hard to find our customers in the right place and that hard work keeps us getting referrals.
Are there any recommendations for places to surf?
Needless to say, Kauai is a world-class surfing location, but Fiji, Indonesia, Central America and South America will always have a special place in my heart.
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