Pandemic does little to slow down Big Island home sales

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A house is for sale on Halaulani Place in Hilo on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, home sales on Hawaii Island in 2020 increased from the previous year — the only island in the state where that occurred.

According to data gathered by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, there was a 6.2% increase in sales of single-family homes on the Big Island between 2019 and November 2020.

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Every other island had a decrease in home sales, ranging from Oahu’s very minor 0.7% decrease to Kauai’s 14.8% drop.

According to multiple listing service data, 2,286 homes were sold on Hawaii Island by the end of 2020’s third quarter, a general increase from the first three quarters of 2019. In addition, 54 more Big Island homes were sold in November than in November 2019.

“Our housing market has been very brisk,” said Kelly Moran, founder of Hilo Brokers Ltd. “It’s been surprising how busy we’ve been. We thought the pandemic would make people a lot more wary.”

Moran said he couldn’t comment on the markets of other islands, but explained that many of the people buying homes on the Big Island in the last year were pushed into doing so by the global COVID-19 outbreak. Many buyers had been toying with the idea of moving to Hawaii and were encouraged to pull the trigger when the situation worsened elsewhere.

“And affordability’s obviously a big draw for the Big Island,” Moran said, guessing that more people fleeing the pandemic might pick Hawaii Island over other islands because of its lower price points and greater space.

Rebecca Morton, general manager of Coldwell Banker Island Properties, said she had heard from fellow agents on neighbor islands and the mainland that their respective housing markets still did brisk business during the pandemic. However, she added, buyers of Hawaii Island homes have seemed more eager to close sales quickly, sometimes affirming a deal without ever seeing the property in person.

“People have realized they can work remotely and want to get here and lock something down as quickly as possible,” Morton said.

While home sales are higher on the island, condo sales are down everywhere in the state, with DBEDT data indicating drops of between 15% to 21% in condo sales on every island. Hawaii Island’s condo sales, which mostly occur on the Kona side, dropped by 17.5%.

Moran said condos have been leaving the market extremely quickly, but a lack of inventory is limiting the total number of sales.

Median sales prices for homes and condos have increased nearly universally across the state — only on Kauai did median condo sale prices decrease, and there only by 0.4%.

The average home price on Hawaii Island at the end of November was $458,000, an increase of 15% from the same month in 2019.

Both Morton and Moran said they predict a consistently strong market on the Big Island throughout 2021, although Moran noted that others in the industry have predicted otherwise for a while now.

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“Some people have been expecting a market correction for years, since we haven’t had one since 2008,” Moran said. “But we haven’t seen that correction yet, so I think we’ll probably have strong sales again this year.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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