The Folly Of Hawaiian Real Estate

      • Last night at work (before I got thrown out for being massively ill) the conversation turned to disaster shows, and specifically to Hawaiian volcano eruptions. The conversation touched on people weeping seeing their expensive houses they built on the side of a volcano burn up in a lava flow, then turned to the sort of people with enough/little money/sense to buy land on the side of a volcano, then to real estate agents who would consent to sell the land in the first place.
  • Anyway we ended up with a couple questions we didn’t know the answers to: if your house burns down/your property is covered in a lava flow, do you still own the land? Can you go back and rebuild?
  • If so, does anyone do this? A couple guys seemed to remember cooled lava as being extremely hard, compared to your average garden-variety rock. -And we guessed that the land wouldn’t have any more dirt on top, unless you brought more from somewhere else and spread it around.
  • Which leads to: why does anywhere in Hawaii have any dirt? It should be a solid rock sticking out of the ocean, shouldn’t it? - DougC

Hawaii used to have some odd real estate laws, I think they’ve changed in the last 10 years or so. When I lived there, I don’t believe the average person could own land as such. If you bought a house you owned the house but the land was under some other goofy law.

The islands have been there a Long Time, and volcanic soil is among the richest, esp. in the broad valleys and is suited for pineapple, coffee and other crops. Hawaii rich, red soil. Sure, a new lava flow is barren but within months there are tiny plants finding a foothold in the nooks and crannies.

Ok, since I grew up in Puna. . .
I was still in high school when Pu’u O took out Kalapana and Kaimu. Too young to rememeber Kapoho, which was taken out in 60’s I think-- now it’s just this plain you drive through and see the tips of old stop signs poking out of the rock. Most of the houses down there were not “nice”.

These subdivisions were built in the 50s-60s; the current vents opened up somewhat unexpectedly on the bad side of a ridge-- earlier vents had flowed in a different direction. The entire island is "on the side of a volcano." Statistically, these people aren't being chumps-- they're just unlucky. And in Kalapana the residents were typically not wealthy mainland haoles, but locals who'd been there in the village for some generations. Rich people don't generally live on that side of things-- Puna is mostly 19th c. lava flow and not terribly lush or nice. People with cash live in Kona.

Dirt: Ahem, erosion. Older islands like Kauai do have dirt for the same reason the mainland has dirt-- dirt develops over time. Puna side, on the other hand, is largely rock and a lot of dirt has to be brought in.
People don’t rebuild on that land quickly for obvious reasons. They rebuilt the main road down there. . . and 3 months later is was covered again. Then they rebuilt it again. . . now they’ve given up finally and those who live on the back side of that road have to drive about 100 miles to get to school instead of 20. You would have no soil, no road access or utilities or grid, and be in danger of having the new house covered again rather quickly.
But the “good” thing is that since black sand is just exploded lava rock, when the new lava hits the beach it just makes now beach sometimes (sans trees or access, etc). So now there is a Kalapana beach where Kalapana beach used to be.

 I know don't if this is correct, but I've heard that fire insurance doesn't apply to lava flow on the big island.

This isn’t meant to be snippy but informative. Coming from Puna you get a bit touchy about mainland assumptions about Hawai’i being the playground of the rich.

Each to their own, I guess. I was just vacationing on the Big Island and I stayed in the Puna district ( stayed in Kapoho, mostly ) and found it prettier than Kona-side :slight_smile: . Also lusher and milder in temperture ( not surprising considering it gets far, far more rain, which I like ). Can’t really get much lusher than Tropical Botanical Garden north of Hilo ( pricey to visit, but worth it at least once, if you like such things ).

  • Tamerlane

Oh and I forgot to add that it was a very inexpensive and laid back vacation, which is quite easy to do ( vacation rentals are both reasonable and pleasant, sometimes even quite spectacular ). No swimming with the dolphins and sneering at the “quaint locals” :smiley: . Hell, considering the god awful real state prices where I live, buying a home and retiring in the Puna some day seems quite tempting.

Frankly you couldn’t pay me to spend a couple of weeks in tourist-soaked Honolulu.

  • Tamerlane

DougC, when you talk about hawaii are you talking about the main island or all of them? I went to Maui & from the plane you can see it looks like a volcano & you can see the lava on all the beaches. They have been there a long time, thus there is soil but still has a lot of lava. It was tricky just finding a beach with plenty of sand.

Something we mainlanders usually forget is that there are eight main islands, six of them significantly populated, with the majority of the state’s population on Oahu. The only active volcanoes are on Hawaii (the Big Island).

Your likelihood of getting caught in a volcanic eruption is significantly higher in Seattle than in Honolulu.

This is only true of land owned by the Bishop Estate (a very powerful force in Hawaii, here is an interesting newspaper series on them), and the Bishop Estate owns a lot of land (no pun intended). With such things you lease the land, but own the improvements. So essentially there are two kinds of real estate purchases in Hawaii: “land lease” and “fee simple”.

When I was on Maui, my deaf friend said the state would give deaf people free land, but it was on lava & they have to live there & put their house there.too.