October 3, 2008

You’Ll Have a Swell Time Living on This Isle

By Larry Olmsted

The first hotel on Waikiki Beach was built in 1901, and for more than a century, Waikiki, as well as surrounding Honolulu and the entire island of Oahu, have been what people think of when they visualize Hawaii.

Though each island in the 50th state has a distinct personality (and there are good arguments for visiting and owning vacation homes on any of them), Oahu is by far the most popular. The island is home to 75% of the state's nearly 1.3 million inhabitants, and Honolulu, with about 25% of the state's citizens, is nearly 10 times the size of the next largest city, Hilo.

What this gives Oahu is a combination of big-city and tropical-isle assets, from Broadway shows to world-class restaurants, along with the myriad charms generally associated with Hawaii: endless beaches, towering volcanic peaks and, of course, some of the planet's best surfing.

And have we mentioned the weather?

"The obvious attraction to second-home owners is the tropical climate and beaches," says Nancee Jenko Crispin, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Honolulu. "It's like living in a big country club, and all the best things are free. You can play tennis 24/7, 365 (days) on free, lighted courts, the mountains are full of great hiking trails, and no one lives more than 15 minutes from the beach. And it feels very exotic but is on U.S. soil."

Honolulu also has experienced a renaissance, in large part because of $2 billion in upgrades, including the $650 million Waikiki Beach Walk development.

Hawaii is a fairly resilient real estate market and has had the least foreclosures of any state, Crispin says. Among reasons: Land is limited, and little new construction prevents a glut of inventory.

Many properties date to the mid-20th century, and in most cases, the location is more important than the house's features.

Says Crispin, "In Hawaii, the view is more of a draw than the place itself." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>