My Turn: Real estate greed eclipses the aloha spirit

I’ve had a love affair with Hawaii Island since I was a little girl. My roots run deep — my great-grandparents are buried in Hilo, where my grandmother was born and raised. It’s always been my dream to own a piece of paradise. But I never imagined a global pandemic could put that dream out of reach.

When COVID-19 hit, a rush of folks from out of state snapped up single family homes in my neighborhood. A year later, these same folks are trying to sell their property back for 30% more than what they paid — or flipping them into overpriced rentals. Meantime, my landlord raised our rent $200 per month to reflect market value, which pushes our monthly payment to $3,100 per month with utilities. And just before Christmas, I entered a bidding war for the home of my dreams — but even after offering way above asking price, the buyer’s agent pressured us to cut our two-week inspection period short because she had cash offers to consider. We caved into the pressure and the home fell out of escrow.

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Are the aforementioned actions legal? Absolutely. Do those actions align with the aloha spirit? Absolutely not. The trifecta of low inventory, high demand and rock bottom interest rates has spiraled people into a frenzy of greed, sending rent and housing prices skyrocketing to the point where locals may truly be priced out of paradise.

My grandmother was a savvy real estate investor who always said, “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.” When tenants faced hard times, she waived their rent. She sold a property to my father for a mere dollar so he could focus on his family. When her friend became infirm, she cared for her so well that she named my grandmother the recipient of her house in her will. My grandmother embodied the aloha spirit that is sorely lacking in today’s real estate scene.

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My kids often ask, “When are we getting a home of our own?” The truth is, I don’t know when or if that will happen, given the state of things. But one thing I know for sure is that no matter what, the island of Hawaii will always be my home.

Catherine Hopkins is a resident of Waimea.