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HAWAII – Real Estate in the Current Housing Market

Paradise Deferred - S. Elliott If you’ve ever thought about getting away from it all and moving to paradise, you’re not alone. The dream of perfect weather and carefree living has inspired many of us to toss out our ice scrappers and head for the islands, but living in paradise these days may require some patience, adjustment, and sacrifice. Honolulu is the seventh most expensive American city in which to live. The median value of single-family owned and occupied housing in Hawaii is more than twice the national average. Buying a home in Hawaii is an expensive proposition, but never more expensive than in the current lending market.

Beautiful beaches, glorious weather and the laidback lifestyle make living in the islands a dream come true. But that dream is becoming a reality for fewer and fewer people who apply for loans, particularly in markets like Oahu where the median home price is over $400,000. As a result of Wall Street’s current cautious approach to real estate, Hawaii is suffering a disproportionate share of the fallout. Current reluctance to buy even well rated loans in the AAA range has had a profound short-term impact on the jumbo loan market. Jumbo loans, those exceeding $400,000, have skyrocketed by more than a full point, leaving many buyers unable or unwilling to take the plunge.

Hawaii, with its highly valued real estate, is in the middle of this quagmire. Lenders hoping that the higher premiums will jump start Wall Street, are concerned that the failure of this strategy will result in more than just a brief financial hiccup. Disturbing new trends are reflected in lenders escalating rates on jumbo loans to a point and a half above conforming loans. Historically, the premium spread is about a half to three-quarters of a point. This new disparity is setting off alarm bells across the country, but nowhere more than in Hawaii, where it is fueling fears that a large number of motivated buyers and sellers will be crippled by the inflated price of these loans. The current turmoil in financial markets can be attributed to the failure of two elements of the lending equation: One revolves around the criteria that lenders use to determine which borrowers are most likely to repay their mortgages. The second encompasses the pool of money available to lend. Because of many recent loan defaults, banks are stockpiling cash as a precaution against further losses from bad investments; they have become much more cautious about how and to whom they lend. Traditionally this has been called a "credit squeeze", but the fear is that, without an end in sight, we are headed toward a shortage of liquidity, a situation in which consumers have inadequate access to loans. The prospect of a shortage of liquidity has far-reaching, global ramifications, potentially slowing economic growth on a global scale.

For Hawaii, this could be devastating.


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