Story by Diane Haynes Woodburn
“I’m selling a lifestyle,” Mary Anne Fitch tells me, “not real estate.”
Fitch has been one of the most successful realtors in West Maui luxury real estate for twenty-five years. This year, she received the prestigious Top Realtors Award and was inducted into the Hawai‘i Realtors Hall of Fame. Fitch has twice been named #1 Realtor on Maui by Hawai‘i Business Magazine. Who better to ask:
What trends do you see for the Maui real estate market?
I feel Maui is at the brink of becoming a truly global community. We are undervalued for the quality of life here. I don’t know of another resort community in the world that offers year-round fantastic weather, gorgeous scenery, pristine ocean, and a stable economy.
International businesspeople find that they can buy a home here for family vacations, and with the same investment, provide an attractive location for business meetings year-round. Even though Maui is far, it’s midway between Asia and Europe—the perfect middle ground. And it’s part of the U.S., making it an attractive home base as well.
Have prices hit bottom?
We are past that. Paul Brewbaker, one of Hawai‘i’s most respected economists, says we hit bottom in late ’09/early 2010. Data from the Hawai‘i Realtors Association shows that through June 2013, residential real estate dollar volume on Maui was up 27 percent from last year, and the dollar volume for condominium sales is up 14 percent. Even more interesting, vacant-land sales are up 49 percent from a year ago.
Why is the increase in vacant land sales significant?
Diminishing home inventory. An increase in vacant land sales means home inventory isn’t meeting the demand, so people are building their homes. It also means more construction, more people going back to work, and an overall healthy pulse in the economy.
Correspondingly, the visitor industry has been showing a steady increase in hotel occupancy and room rates over the last three years, according to the Hawai‘i Hotel and Lodging Association. This is good news for investors interested in a second or third home that might also provide rental income.
Maui property proves year after year to perform well in the rental market. This is partly because there will be no new development of oceanfront projects—with the exception of the Andaz in Wailea and the relaunch of the Residences at Kapalua Bay.
How does diminishing oceanfront inventory affect the buyer?
One effect is that prospective buyers are more open to looking at properties throughout the island, whereas, in the past, buyers were either west-side or south-side centric. And even though the economy is on an upswing, buyers are still looking for maximum value. They tend to be doing their homework, analyzing their options, and considering potential growth of their investment. With less inventory to choose from, the buyer is willing to consider all options.
What has surprised you most over the past few years?
What has both surprised and pleased me is the trend of much younger families relocating here and becoming part of the community. My client base in the past was almost exclusively second-home owners. Now I am seeing a happy shift to families moving specifically to raise their children here. One of the factors making this happen is Maui Preparatory Academy. In fact, some of the families who made the decision to move to Maui were responsible for the grassroots organization that created and now sustains this wonderful school. I’m a huge supporter as well.
What does the coming year hold for real-estate growth?
I am bullish on the investment that Larry Ellison [cofounder of Oracle Corporation] is making on Lānaʻi. I think his vision for that island will make a huge impact in drawing a more international market to Maui County, and affect sales on Maui’s west side, where buyers will find a more action-oriented lifestyle.
Additionally, the fact that Montage is now managing The Residences at Kapalua should have a very positive impact, particularly on the California markets from Laguna Niguel and Beverly Hills, where the brand is well known. Currently, approximately 40 percent of our buyers are from the West Coast, including British Columbia, California, Washington and Oregon. This could change, however, as direct flights from New York by Hawaiian Airlines are making Maui far more accessible to East Coast visitors.”
If you have been considering buying on Maui, seize the moment now!