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Will Hawaii Be the Next Puerto Rico?


More likely, the issue is land use rules, of which Hawaii has extremely strict ones. That drives up the cost of housing and commercial real estate. Likewise, the booming tourism industry in Hawaii may be creating a wedge between the price of real estate ...


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While there have been bumps, overall international migration has been somewhat more stable than domestic migration, and, of course, rather strongly positive at least since the 1970sThe early 1960s population trend remains befuddling to me… but oh well.Converting these to rates, we get:Interactive.So here you see Hawaii’s problemIt is not experiencing record-low domestic migration rates; they were lower as recently as the late 1990sBut the late 1990s also saw high immigration rates… while immigration rates today are at best stable, possibly fallingMeanwhile, over the course of the 1990s, Hawaii averaged a 1% annual rate of natural increaseSince 2010, it has averaged 0.6%, and falling quicklySo while domestic migration may be leading Hawaii’s plunge downwards, it is helped along by weaker immigration and weakening rates of natural increase.Photo by Jeremy Bishop on UnsplashWhy Is Natural Increase Falling?Let’s start with the simplest component to assess: natural increaseWhy is Hawaii’s rate of natural population growth slowing?Well, simply, birth rates are falling and death rates are rising.But, why are birth rates falling?Here we can decompose Hawaii’s fertility into three components:Age-compositional changeMarital-compositional changeAge-and-marital-chained changeSo let’s look at those componentsWe can start with our probably most reliable data, CDC birth dataHere’s a graph of how many births would occur in Hawaii if we chained the age-and-sex composition to 2007, if we chained the age-specific birth rates to 2007, and if we chained age-and-sex composition and birth rates.Interactive.Let’s start with age-chainingThe total number of births in Hawaii would actually be lower in 2015 if it were not for a change in age compositionBasically, Hawaii’s population is more tilted towards prime-childbearing-age-women in 2015 than in 2007, according to CDC.Next up is the rate-chained lineAnd that’s the moneymaker: if the rate of childbearing for each age-group had remained constant, the number of children born in Hawaii would have steadily risen instead of fallingAnd if we add in the age-chain as well, it gets a bit bigger.By 2015, declining age-specific fertility rates can account for over 8,500 “missing babies” in Hawaii.Unfortunately, CDC data does not give us estimates of the number of married women by age, so cannot be used to compute thatBut we can look at the American Community Survey for thatNow, the ACS shows way more volatile births than the CDC; they’re not directly comparable for a lot of reasonsBut we can at least see what effect controlling for marriage has on the ACS, and guess that it might be similar for Hawaii.Interactive.As you can see, chaining for marital status and age has a big effectMore than 75% of this is the independent effect of marital statusIf we assume that CDC would show a fairly similar effect of marital status if marital status data existed, we could probably, then, expect to get a slightly higher birth number againMy guess would be missing births are somewhere substantially north of 9,000 kids from 2007 to 2015, and, to the present day, it’s almost certainly at least 13,000 or 14,000 missing births.Given that Hawaii had over 2,000 missing births in 2015 alone, and that fertility has almost certainly fallen since then, it’s worth noting that Hawaii’s population decline was just 1,145 people.So what might Hawaii’s population trend have looked like with stable fertility from 2007?Interactive.The difference is substantialBy 2017, there’s about a 16,000 person population difference, even assuming higher births increase mortality and worsen net migration flowsWhile population growth still slows, it doesn’t go negative, though it’s likely it would become negative within a year or two anyways.So births are a big part of the storyWhat about deaths?Interactive.The above chart shows two different ways of thinking about mortalityThe yellow one shows the average index value of the crude death rate across 13 age groups CDC tracksAs you can see, most age groups have seen stable or falling mortality.The second measure, the “total mortality rate,” is just the sum of the annual mortality risk over time, excluding over age 85 mortalityAs you can see, it’s falling.So Hawaii’s death rate may have some kind of increased mortality story going on (opioids) somewhere, but, on the whole its headline mortality trend isn’t driven by a wave of deathIt’s driven, of course, by agingWe don’t have age-specific populations for vintage 2017 estimates from Census yet, but the 2016 ones shows that the over-60 share of Hawaii’s civilian population rose from 21% in 2010 to over 24% in 2016We can expect it to keep risingAnd as it rises, so will deaths.Photo by Christian Joudrey on UnsplashWhy is Migration Falling?The bulk of the change in Hawaii’s migration is in domestic migration, so I will focus on thatThe main question we want to answer about Hawaii is the “who” question: who’s coming, who’s going?Normally, this is fairly easy to answer: we would use the ACSThe trouble is that the ACS does not perform extremely well for Hawaii vsthe Census population estimatesHere’s the data:Interactive.ACS is extremely volatile, bouncing wildly from year to yearSo just keep in mind as I discuss it that much of the volatility should probably be seen as statistical noise worth smoothing out… but there’s not a straightforward way to do that and preserve underlying demographic detailSo, alas.So let’s look at age groups.Interactive.The teal and magenta lines are thicker so you can see them because they’re the ones I want to discussRetirees and college students are the two categories where Hawaii has been most hammered in recent years, though the 2016 drop was largely prime age people from 23–55But for retirees and students, there’s a real “trend” in recent years, an actual multi-year observable declineThe only group to get a real improvement, meanwhile, is 23 to 30 year olds, though in 2016, they barely broke even.What might drive away college students and retirees? Well, curiously enough, the amenities research on both suggests Hawaii should be wonderful for them: both groups are thought to be drawn by beaches, tourist amenities, warmth, sunshine, scenery, etcWhen we look at college students-age migrants, however, it’s not just that the net balance is falling: gross inflows are falling! From an average of about 11,000 18–22 year olds arriving each year between 2006 and 2011, inflows have now fallen to about 7,000Outflows have actually been stable, at around 9,000.The story is different for retirees: inflows of retirees have risen, from about 4,000 or so per year from 2001 to 2013, to about 6,000 per year more recentlyBut retiree outflows have risen more: from about 5,000 per year from 2001–2012, to about 8,000 per year since then.And where are all these folks headed? Well, I can’t give you a comprehensive map for every year, but we can at least look at 2016.Interactive.As you can see, Hawaii has big losses to to many of the western states, as well as other states around the union, while its gains are concentrated in the eastern U.S., especially the southeast and IllinoisI don’t know what drives these trends, especially the long-distance onesBut The People Demand Maps.Photo by Christian Joudrey on UnsplashLocation, Location, LocationOne possible explanation for Hawaii’s recent poor performance is costsHere’s Hawaii’s CPI over recent years vsthe U.Saverage:InteractiveAnd yes, I know that CPI ratios aren’t actually totally valid; but I could index them both and you’d see the same story, but you’d need to look at 2 lines instead of oneAnd since the ratio is about 1 in 2002 and 2003 anyways, the ratio of indexes would be about the same too.Since the early 2000s, prices in Hawaii have risen much faster than on the mainland.We can look at Hawaii statewide on a shorter timeframe as wellBEA Regional Price Parities consistently show Hawaii around 17–19% higher priced than the rest of the U.SSo it’s an expensive place, and it’s getting more expensive relative to the mainland U.Sover time.But that’s not a big deal if incomes riseLots of expensive places have positive net migration!What has happened to economic activity?It’s grown, but not by any means at stellar ratesSince 2006, the best that can be said is that Hawaii did about as well as the rest of the U.SSo with real economic output not outpacing the mainland and local prices high, is there any reason for workers to stick around?Here’s real compensation per worker for Hawaii and selected other states from 2008 to 2015:Interactive.But, hold on, that’s nothing new, right? Well, the ratio of Hawaii’s real employment returns to other Pacific states has fallen over time.So what drives Hawaii’s cost differential? Well, one is population growth in a place with very limited landBut we shouldn’t take that too seriously: Hawaii is the 19th densest state in the union, less dense than other island territories like Puerto Rico, American Samoa, or the Northern Mariana Islands.Of course, Hawaii has protected much of its land, and it is very mountainousIt’s possible it is at the border of developable density, as remaining land is mountainous or legally protected, though, again, Puerto Rico is quite mountainous and yet far, far denser.Thus, to the extent Hawaii is “running out of land,” that is almost certainly due to political choices about land use and protected areas, not a physical shortage of space to build onAnd indeed, if you look at a topographical map of Hawaii, you’ll see large, relatively flat plains at a safe distance from volcanoes in Maui, Molokai, and a fair amount on the big island of Hawaii as wellMore likely, the issue is land use rules, of which Hawaii has extremely strict onesThat drives up the cost of housing and commercial real estateLikewise, the booming tourism industry in Hawaii may be creating a wedge between the price of real estate for vacation-usage and for residential-usage, pushing residents out in favor of vacationers, as suggested in this pretty good WaPo articleAnother factor is the Jones Act, which restricts who can ship goods to Hawaii, thus driving up costs there.But this is a bit of a non-explanationCosts have been high in Hawaii for a long timeWhy now would they be biting?Well, here’s ratio between new housing units permitted in the last 5 years in Hawaii, and population change over the last 5 years, going back to 1980–1984:Interactive.That’s a big change! Whereas normally Hawaii permitted about 1 housing unit for each 1.5 to 2.5 new people, corresponding to typical household size, that fell sharply to 2000, meaning there was an oversupply of houses being permittedBut then it recovered until about 2006 or 2007But then, suddenly, housing permitting dropped off a cliff even though population growth was chugging along nicely… and so only 1 house was added for every 3, then 3.5, then 4, then nearly 5 people! The housing shortage allegedly created extremely high homelessness for Hawaii, though that was as of 2007, which is a bit early for this spike.So that being the case, there must be a really tight market for real estate in Hawaii, right? Here’s Hawaii’s vacancy rate (i.ethe share of housing units with no resident occupying them) compared to the nation on the whole:Hawaii’s vacancy rate is rising, and above the national averageThat is, from vacancy rates, if anything, we would have to conclude that Hawaii actually has a very loose housing market: it’s got a lot of vacant units available! This is not what we see in rapid-cost-escalation places like DC and California, though we do see it to some extent in New YorkOn the other hand, Hawaii’s real estate is not very much like Puerto Rico’s, another tropical island paradise with declining population.So what’s going on?We can look at the characteristics of these vacant units and see the reason for vacancyHere are the reasons given for each vacancy type:Interactive.If what’s really going on is that AirBnB is replacing residential units, it’s not totally clear what category the unit should fall underWould it be listed as “seasonal use”? Many AirBnB owners use a property for themselves part of the year, and list it on AirBnB the restOr would it be listed as “For Rent,” since it is, after all, listed for rent? Or would it be “Other”?My guess is, there’s no single classification for AirBnBIndeed, AirBnB is screwing with the data in a weird way: it turns residential property commercial without it ever showing up in housing or construction data as suchI can say this though: Hawaii actually does not have an unusually large share of its housing units listed as vacant due to seasonal or recreational occupancy.But here’s the remarkable thing: other data confirms the story of a loose Hawaiian real estate market! We can look at the amount of inventory listed for sale (as reported by Zillow) over the last 12 months and compare it to populationHere’s Hawaii vsselected states and the nation.Interactive.As you can see, Hawaii’s housing inventory is actually stable or growing as a share of population and, while it used to have tighter inventories than the nation on the whole, it now actually has bigger inventories!Interactive.All of the cities shown here have below-national-average average time on the market… but some are much farther below average than others, and Honolulu, along with Atlanta, is getting much closer to the national average.So this is oddThe vacancy rate is rising, the relative time a listing sites on the market is rising, the amount of inventory on the market is flat or rising… and yet local prices are rising.Is AirBnB to blame for this? Well, AirBnB usage could explain a market with high vacancy and high prices, but it seems like smart AirBnB business owners would buy up more houses and list them tooBut maybe most AirBnBs in Hawaii are operated by folks who don’t want to manage a large number of propertiesMaybe.One last thoughtOne way we could look at this would be sub-state variationWhere is population growth slowest in Hawaii? We don’t have county data yet for 2017, but I’m going to take a guess at it based on the 2017 statewide estimates and the method used for back-year revisions, and guess that the population growth for each county from 2010–2017 looked like this:Interactive.The weakness is in HonoluluThe outlying islands are indeed having a growth-slowdown, but not as bad as HonoluluA sidenote: this is a really fascinating case where the core city has great climate, high density, beaches, a progressive government… and is shrinking, while the outlying islands, which can’t properly be considered “suburban” in any sense but are properly rural or micropolitan, are actually growingKind of weirdBut there’s good reason to think tourism may have agglomerative dis-economies.Also worth noting: housing costs in the outlying islands do seem a bit lower, according to Trulia’s maps of sale price per square foot.Let’s turn to a different story in greater detail: college-age migrants.Interactive.Kids These DaysThe most durable long-run worsening of net migration in Hawaii appeared to be in the 18–22 crowdUsing the Census 2016 population estimates, here is the 18–22 population over time in Hawaii:Interactive.That’s a sharp decline to 2016We don’t have 2017 age data yet, but when we do, it seems likely it will show a continuation of this fallLikewise, recent years have seen declines in the population between ages 40 and 60, with gains among those aged 23–40, and 60+.Some of this is just a cohort effect, but much of it isn’tHere’s the change, controlling for cohort size, of 17–20 year olds, so basically college-freshman-age:Interactive.It was growing at a good clip via migration, then the pace of growth began to fall, then it went negative, and since 2012 it has been quite negativeThis, of course, includes international migration as well; you can imagine domestic migration being much more severe.So what’s happening? Well, the first place we should look is in college recruitment dataAnd thankfully, we can get full-sample recruitment data from all the colleges in Hawaii about where their incoming freshmen lived before coming to collegeHere’s smoothed inflows into Hawaii of college freshmen from other states, total smoothed inflows of 17–19 year olds from other states, and the difference between those two.Interactive.So inflows of 17–19 year olds fell even as college admissions from the mainland roseSo these are lower inflows of non-college-student 17–19 year olds.Who could this be?Well, what sorts of things do 17–19 year olds do?They work at restaurants (not bars)They work in manual labor jobs throughout the hospitality sectorThey work in agricultureThey sit on the beach and surfThese are all basically lower-wage jobs, or hobbies that don’t take much money beyond rent (which is rising!).So what happened to Hawaii’s low-wage sector? Well, one thing that happened is the minimum wage went up, starting in 2015, though recent research suggests effects from the minimum wage actually materialize as soon as the bill is passed, not when the wages are implementedIn many states or cities with higher minimum wages, it is easy for workers displaced by lost work to find jobs across a jurisdictional line, or the economy is very diversifiedBut Hawaii has an undiversified economy heavy on low-wage hospitality jobs, and workers absolutely cannot shop across jurisdictions unless they are mer-peopleIf there’s anywhere in the country that a minimum wage could create a population response, it would be in Hawaii.Conveniently, we can look at the population of college-age people broken out by school and work status!Interactive.The blue lines show employed 17–19 year olds, the red lines non-employedThe dotted lines show school-enrolled 17–19 year olds, the solid lines show non-school-enrolled.The key to note here is that since 2010 or so, our period of greatest interest, there’s basically no difference in trend between the school-enrolled and the non-school enrolled, when you control for employment statesBut for the employed young, population is stableFor the non-employed young, population fallsFor some reason, starting around 2011 or 2012, it became harder for young Hawaiians to get a job.But that’s too early for the minimum wage increase to be the direct cause, though it could be part of the steepening after 2014.Maybe it’s something sectoral? Well, the first thing to do is to look at the macro-indicators: does Hawaii have lots of jobs generally? It’s unemployment rate is very low, among the lowest in the nation, but that can disguise a lot, so I’ll look at employment-to-population.Interactive.So Hawaii is having some very real employment strength since 2009, with the share of the population that had a job rising much faster than in the mainland, nearly reaching pre-recession levels.But is that because population growth is slowing down, or because employment growth is speeding up? Well, we can look at employment and population growth rates in Hawaii and the US.Interactive.A few things are worth noting hereFirst of all, Hawaiian employment has been more volatile but, broadly, has basically tracked with the US on the wholeSure it contracted in 2012, but it had seen substantially above-average growth in 2010 and 2011, and again in 2014 to 2016On the whole, Hawaiian employment growth has done about as well as the U.Sgenerally.Rising employment-to-population, and falling unemployment, then, is not about a booming demand for workersThe demand for workers in Hawaii over the last decade has been quite similar to on the mainland“Improving” labor market conditions reflect a growing number of people leaving the island.This is also part of what gives farm-states super-low unemploymentIf you don’t have a job in rural South Dakota, you don’t stick around to look for oneA reasonably intelligent person in South Dakota can look at their skills and look around them and make a decent forecast of how many job openings there will be in their field for several yearsSo non-employed people leave South Dakota, giving it and other farm-states very low unemployment (plus, farm labor draws people in).But if there’s employment growth and a falling supply of workers, wages should be rising, right? Well, here’s average hourly wages for non-supervisory workers in retail and hospitality industries (likely industries for low-skilled workers) in Hawaii, as a ratio of hourly wages for the same on the mainland.Interactive.Wages are indeed rising! Hawaii’s sector-specific wages have risen sharply vsthe rest of the nation since the early 2000s.But what does that look like in real terms? Well, using BEA’s RPPs since 2008, here’s the difference in real wages (before 2008, I back-cast RPP the above-mentioned CPI ratio, calibrated to the 2008–2015 RPP):Interactive.You see it turns out, as fast as wages are rising in Hawaii (much faster than on the mainland!), prices just spiral upwards even fasterReal wages in the leisure and hospitality sector have been falling since 2013, and, while retail wages have risen, retail workers in Hawaii still make about 5% less than on the mainland, in real termsAnd in 2017, even retail wages fell.So this is a case where we’re back to housing costsWe tried to escape local cost of living by pivoting to college-age decline… but it wasn’t among college students! It was among non-enrolled young people! So we had to look at their work, and, lo and behold, their employment growth has been more-or-less average, and Hawaii’s rapidly-rising cost of living has gobbled up any wage increasesIndeed, it’s possible that legal wage increases have even accelerated local price increases.Photo by George Kedenburg III on UnsplashWhich Retirees?Before I conclude, a note on older-age migrationJosh Zumbrun at the Wall Street Journal suggests:I discussed the college-age group… what about these other groups?Here’s migration for four groups (smoothed): 60–70 year olds (early retirees), 71+ (very aged), early career (25–35), and late career (36–59).InteractiveSo it’s hit-or-missMigration did fall noticeably among earlier retirees, especially in 2012 and laterSo as people plan for retirement and figure out where they money will allow them to live once labor income ceases, they are increasingly selecting away from HawaiiVery-aged migration became negative for a while, but had a strong year around 2014, which popped it back up, but it has since declined again.But early-career movers (the teal line) have seen increasingly strong migration since 2008People in their 20s and 30s are moving to Hawaii more and moreThis may be due to job growth, or it may be that, as more people delay marriage and childbearing, their preference are shifting more towards individualistic amenities like scenery and climate, instead of proximity to family, and they may have little need for a large living spaceLate-career migration was about stable.Photo by Buzz Andersen on UnsplashConclusionHawaii’s population is decliningThis has happened before, and it always bounced back rapidly, and it may againHowever, a rapid recovery is becoming less likely because, this time, Hawaii faces higher mortality and lower fertility than during previous episodes of negative migrationTo maintain the same growth, Hawaii needs more and more inflows, because its birth rate is fallingIn 2017, Hawaii had its lowest rate of natural increase on recordFurthermore, there is little prospect for international migration to suddenly boom and give Hawaii a boost either.The proximate cause of Hawaii’s worsening migration is the escalating cost of livingThe timing of Hawaii’s outflows is closely associated with worsening real wages and a sudden worsening in the rate of housing permitting compared to population growthEmployment growth rates are now declining, and have converged with the national averageIn previous episodes of population decline (late 1990s/early 200s), Hawaii’s job growth rate rose during the years of steepest declineToday, Hawaii’s job employment growth rate is falling in tandem with population (and indeed, the decline in population growth rates preceded the decline in employment growth rates).Furthermore, it is difficult to reverse high housing costsEven if factors driving up prices are alleviated, it may take a long time for mainland costs to equilibrate with HawaiiAlternatively, a sudden price crash could reset costs, but would probably create a negative local demand shock via wealth effects, only incompletely compensated for by induced demand from the mainland.As such, this decline is probably not going to be followed in 2018 by a strong bounce-backI don’t think this is the last year of growth Hawaii is going to see; that’s far too pessimistic for a state that still has a positive balance for natural increaseBut I do think it’s likely that the 2020 population will essentially be at or below the 2016 state population level.Check out my Podcast about the history of American migration.If you like this post and want to see more research like it, I’d love for you to share it on Twitter or FacebookOr, just as valuable for me, you can click the recommend button at the bottom of the pageThanks!Follow me on Twitter to keep up with what I’m writing and readingFollow my Medium Collection at In a State of Migration if you want updates when I write new postsAnd if you’re writing about migration too, feel free to submit a post to the collection!I’m a native of Wilmore, Kentucky, a graduate of Transylvania University, and also the George Washington University’s Elliott SchoolMy real job is as an economist at USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, where I analyze and forecast cotton market conditionsI’m also a Research Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, a Senior Contributor at The Federalist, and an Advisor at Demographic Intelligence, the nation’s leading producer of rigorous national- and regional birth and marriage forecastsI’m married to a kickass Kentucky woman named Ruth.DISCLAIMER: My posts are not endorsed by and do not in any way represent the opinions of the United States government or any branch, department, agency, or division of itMy writing represents exclusively my own opinionsI did not receive any financial support or remuneration from any party for this research.MigrationHawaiiHousingEconomicsPoliticsOne clap, two clap, three clap, forty?By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.88215BlockedUnblockFollowFollowingLyman StoneGlobal cotton economistMigration bloggerProud KentuckianAdvisor at Demographic IntelligenceSenior Contributor at The Federalist.FollowIn a State of MigrationPeople MoveI Ask Why.882Never miss a story from In a State of Migration, when you sign up for MediumLearn moreNever miss a story from In a State of MigrationGet updatesGet updates .u-accentColor--borderLight {border-color: #219797 !important;} .u-accentColor--borderNormal {border-color: #219797 !important;} .u-accentColor--borderDark {border-color: #2B8181 !important;} .u-accentColor--iconLight .svgIcon,.u-accentColor--iconLight.svgIcon {fill: #219797 !important;} .u-accentColor--iconNormal .svgIcon,.u-accentColor--iconNormal.svgIcon {fill: #219797 !important;} .u-accentColor--iconDark .svgIcon,.u-accentColor--iconDark.svgIcon {fill: #2B8181 !important;} .u-accentColor--textNormal {color: #2B8181 !important;} .u-accentColor--hoverTextNormal:hover {color: #2B8181 !important;} .u-accentColor--textNormal.u-accentColor--textDarken:hover {color: #2C7675 !important;} .u-accentColor--textDark {color: #2C7675 !important;} .u-accentColor--backgroundLight {background-color: #219797 !important;} .u-accentColor--backgroundNormal {background-color: #219797 !important;} .u-accentColor--backgroundDark {background-color: #2B8181 !important;} .u-accentColor--buttonDark {border-color: #2B8181 !important; 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