Retire affordably in Hawaii

Condo community for retirement

Condo community for retirement

Carol Forsloff — Several websites have published and republished the list of the 10 Worst Places to Retire, but if you use the list to make your decisions about where to retire, you may be following the proverbial lemming to the wrong direction.  Many folks who do these lists of the best and worst get their information from travel articles and information as well as statistics. The information in this article, however, is provided by a long-term resident, of 28 years who worked, and has retired, in Hawaii; so it addresses many needs and concerns that often come up during discussions about retirement and the cost of living in Hawaii.

Retirement for each person is different, and what one individual or couple may want or need in their leisure years may not fit the general profile that travel writers sometimes use to help people make a decision about where to live when they are no longer working full time.

Small towns are often selected as best places along with cities that have cold weather, both of which will automatically create difficulties because of transportation issues. Small towns rely on driving, likeNatchitoches, Louisiana, often selected as one of those best places; but it has no public transportation.  Many cities in the mid section or the East, will likely have a bus or train, but the task of sitting in the cold and waiting for one is surely daunting for someone age 65 and more.

So let’s discuss Hawaii, as an example of a place with potential for retirement, as it hit the worst list some years ago and remains one of those places people dream about but where they never think they could retire.  If one casually looks at the real estate ads, the grocery store aisles and the entertainment venues in Waikiki or downtown Honolulu, the financial details will surely create consternation. But that’s the reason why looking inside the numbers and interviewing people, or better yet living in Hawaii, and getting around to the nooks and crannies on the back streets or country roads, is the best way to decide about whether or not this place deserves to be on the “hit” list for retirement or a place where one can live well and be happy.

The average housing cost of more than $2000 – $2500 monthly for a house payment would reflect, at 4% interest, or less, a home of $600,000 and likely more, given down payment requirements, which for a home of that price would at 20%, $120,000, make the total about $720,000. That can get a full size home in many areas on the islands, some near a golf course, and completely updated.  It can also represent the new condominiums in the downtown area, advertised as “affordable.”  But don’t let the front page news fool you, for there are places to live in Hawaii that are close to mainland prices.  In fact, what is surprising to those who make a good adjustment to the culture, and learn how to shop and where to shop for everything from clothes to household gadgets, that an individual can retire on approximately the same budget, or less, than they could in a city on the West Coast of the United States.

The reality is that many elderly folks live in apartments, and these become smaller as folks age, because the price physically and economically for a larger, detached home becomes prohibitive over time. The average size apartment in Hawaii is approximately 500 to 800 square feet.  That is the mini size folks discuss in some places, but it turns out to be ample when you don’t want a yard to mow and have to pay the cost of extra utilities for rooms you don’t need.

Retirement on two Social Security incomes is possible in West Oahu, for example. Shop local, clip coupons and join the lines with the local folks and eat likewise, vegetables, fruits, fish and rice. A reasonable rental is $1200, and a condominium can be had for less than $250,000 in some places. Choose the country, and you can find one under $200,000. Don’t listen to the rumor mills about which area of the island is best, as ethnic groups often have their own biases. Hawaii Kai is the place for the millionaires, long-term residents who have traded up, and those who do home sharing, as it is customary in many places for several people to collaborate and purchase a home together.  Others will rent a section of a home in order to pay the costs of that larger home.  On the other hand, most seniors value privacy because they have special needs.

So the best place to retire might not be an area where the prices are higher for homes and where the merchants cater to those who have the funds to live in an expensive area.Kailua on the Windward side is on its way to being the haven for some of the rich and famous.  There are also many long-term residents who have added extra rooms, or even extra living spaces by way of small detached housing arrangements, to accommodate that occasional visitor or an adult child returning home.  So it can be expensive to live there, because just like Hawaii Kai the retail prices are somewhat higher than one can find for goods and services in other areas of Oahu.

The outer islands of Kauai, Maui and the Big Island are also potential places to retire.  The biggest barrier, however, is that there is virtually no public transportation on these islands, so the areas are very car-dependent.   On the other hand, the retired elder who has grown children or who has family on any of these islands may fare well, given the fact that in the rural areas of Hawaii people often reach out kindly, with that spirit of aloha, to help one another.

Despite the talk about crime on West Oahu, the area now finds fancy homes popping up along Farrington Highway, the main road leading through the Waianae Coast after weaving through Kapolei, the new city on the Leeward side.  That new city offers affordable shopping and entertainment, as well as homes that are less expensive than one finds on the Windward side of Oahu or some of the other areas near Honolulu.  Furthermore the new Disney resort and Ko’olina offer golf, entertainment, and formal dining, just a few miles from Kapolei and not far from fairly inexpensive housing in clean, well-kept areas.

It is further out on the Leeward coast where one can find real bargains.  It offers the retiree comfortable housing with swimming pools on the grounds, easy access to golfing and the ocean with all its wonders nearby.

Popular golf course in Makaha Valley, 1/2 mile from condo living

Makaha Valley rests at the furthest point on the Leeward Coast and was once an area that Hawaiian royalty used as private places for respite.  That’s because of the mountains that shelter the valley from many of the storms and uncomfortable heat that comes with summer, where many places to live have no air conditioning and rely on the trade winds for cooling.  The trade winds, however, have lessened with climate change, so many retired people, who need a moderate temperature for optimum health, will find real bargains in resort or semi resort areas with condos under $150,000 – $200,000 in some places, entirely livable, complete with swimming pools and near those golf course areas.

Makaha Valley Towers, with condos under $200,000 and many with ocean views

Want to retire to Hawaii? Go and live there for a month, live on the outskirts of Oahu, and travel into town, not the reverse. Go to the nightspots and grocery stores and compare. Ask the local people in the local areas, not Waikiki, where they buy food and follow the lines to Zippys and other restaurants where people know good food can be had for less.

The list of the best and worst offers the writer’s personal choice, often tinged with ideas of those people much younger than the retirement age. It pays to look inside the news, like one should do with any piece of information that is to be used wisely. In this case, Hawaii can be a great place to retire. 28 years of living there, and several extra years of traveling back and forth, and this retired journalist gives a thumbs up to a great place to live.

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