June 13, 2019 | Cassady Sirois Kruse

The Millennial Kauai Realtor: Building Our First Home

My Mom advised me to take time to do the research on real estate; don’t just buy property off the shelf. Understand its unique qualities, long-term opportunities, and the quality of life that it affords. When you locate property with all 3 positive elements, you move forward. That action in Hawaiian is called imua. My Mom Is one of Hawaii’s top Realtors, and just this month was again included in the Hawaii Business Magazine’s Top 100 Real Estate Agent listing. When she first floated the idea of building a home, I was hesitant. Like many millennials, buying a house for my husband, Kepa, and me is a massive investment. And it’s a long process. We looked for a home, but they exceeded our budget which forced us to get creative and consider building.
Our first step was to locate land for sale with form-based code zoning and close. The County of Kauai first introduced form-based code on the Southshore of the Kauai. We read up on the zoning, realized its positive impact, met with the County of Kauai Planning Department, and researched properties with this unique entitlement. This zoning brings people like ourselves into communities and homes in a high density and architecturally thoughtful way. Now, four years later, the National Association of Realtors in its Spring 2019 issue entitles an article on this topic as "Form-Based Codes Inducing High-Value Development Across the Country".
We bought our 12,365 sq. ft. homesite for $260,000 in the perfect spot, about 10-minutes walking distance to the beach in Poipu. Given the zoning, we knew that we could build a right-sized home for us with 2 covered parking spaces and also build a home for my father-in-law. By right size, I mean small homes.
For many Kauai custom home builders, it takes two years from start to finish to complete a home. After months of planning, design, and constant communication with our architect and our contractor it’s rewarding to see the final outcome appear. While the building is time-consuming and may not be an endeavor for everyone, we saved money and our efforts allowed us to have 2 homes for significantly less than any other property in Poipu. Given that the median home price for Kauai County is $574,600, and that home values have gone up 8.8% over the past year and Zillow predicts they will rise an additional 5.8 %, we decided to take the plunge.
Building a home on Kauai takes patience: Contractors are busy. When living on an island, and given Kauai's diminishing inventory, labor is in short supply. We worked with our architect to design efficient spaces with high-quality materials, managed budget where needed, and focused on important elements like our Pella Imperva windows and doors. Our 2 bedroom home's total net square footage is 1,360 square feet. By keeping the job straightforward with quality materials and good lines, but avoiding excess elements such as hallways, we were, for the most part, able to get sub-contractors to perform work within a timely manner.
Island building is difficult: Factor in additional time--there is normally a delay for shipping materials in and consolidating your shipping and working with suppliers really helps. For example, doing our own research, connecting with local experts on electrical, lighting, plumbing, and sourcing items from Amazon Prime has helped us save on costs and time. Expect to become a regular at Kilohana Lighting and big-box retailers such as Home Depot and Costco where I suggest you make friends with the employees who are able to offer valuable insights and forewarn you regarding upcoming sales. Products sell quickly at island stores. Calling in advance saves you from wasting a trip into town.
It can get expensive quickly: Buying land anywhere near Poipu, Princeville or Hanalei is going to be pricey. For less than a half-acre, you’re looking at around $390,000 to $450,000. I’d suggest looking into Koloa or Kapaa where you can find lots in the $269,000 - $310,000 range. Construction can be expensive, too--$250 to $400 per foot for a middle-range home is not out of the norm, and as much as $450 to $600 per foot for a more lux home with high-end finishes. Always budget for more than you expect and build an energy-efficient home. Go for a big lanai versus a big house. The lanai to us is everything – dining room, living room, TV room … and why not? Homes in Kauai are all about bringing the outdoor elements in. Why build an indoor shower, when you can have one outside?
Build for keeps. Land is scarce here and it is cherished. Roughly 10% of Kauai is zoned for housing. Plan to build, care for your property, and by all means hang on to your Kauai home. Also plan for long-term energy savings via smart solar/photovoltaic, deep lanai overhangs to keep your home cool and include water and electricity conserving features. We can’t afford photovoltaic panels right now, but we planned for it when designing the house, and when we have enough saved up to afford it, we’ll install them.
Feel empowered! Owning your home is a proven way to increase your wealth and security. You’re going to be on a mighty learning curve, soaking in new knowledge in everything from construction to home design, and will end up with an incredible feeling of accomplishment. I know I’ve already learned organizational skills, relationship building, and consistent follow-up techniques.
A, B, C, Find your Aina. Build it. Care for it.
I’ll be there for you every step of the way.

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