The Wild Side of Luxury

An interview with Courtney Brown, R(S), vice president of Island Sotheby's West Maui.

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Story by Diane Haynes Woodburn

Kapalua Maui Real Estate

Courtney Brown joins me for coffee at one of Kapalua’s favorite lunch spots, and greets me with her signature smile and her comfortable and friendly composure. A fifth-generation kama‘aina (born in Hawai‘i), Courtney has an almost innate understanding of the island, and with a degree from Smith College and twelve years’ experience in the West Maui real-estate market, she is a wealth of knowledge.

How would you define the luxury market in Kapalua?

In other markets, luxury may be equated with extravagance. Here, it’s associated with natural and architectural beauty.

Is there a median where most of the sales fall?

In Kapalua, prices can vary dramatically, from a condo just over $500,000 to private beachfront homes that top $20 million. We currently have a large inventory in the $3 million to $5 million market, particularly with the addition of The Montage Residences Kapalua Bay. First offered pre-recession, The Residences were taken off the market in 2009. Now, under new ownership, they’re being offered again and are the largest luxury condos in West Maui, with pricing beginning at $3.4 million. 

Do you see the market as stable now?

Compared to the dramatic spikes we were seeing between 2004 and 2007, it’s very stable. Kapalua Resort has had a relatively secure ownership base, with fewer foreclosures and REOs than the majority of U.S. markets. It appears the bottom was in 2012, with fewer sales occurring in 2013 and 2014, but increases in average and median sales prices. Last year we had only fifty-three sales, with an average sales price of $1,745,000. However, when we look at 2014 we will most likely see a significantly higher mean, with sales at The Montage leading the market in the latter half of the year.

Is the profile of the buyer changing?

In some ways, yes. I believe the majority of buyers are people who have vacationed here year after year. In the past, the market was primarily retirees or second-home buyers who visited once or twice a year. With the establishment of Maui Preparatory Academy, [a private preparatory school for children preschool through high school], we are starting to see younger families buying. They are attracted to this area of vast natural beauty, and of course, a lifestyle removed from the stress and danger of most cities.

Kapalua is incredibly gorgeous, with a wild side many visitors never really see, but residents seem to instinctively embrace.

Wild? I know you aren’t referring to the nightlife.

Not the traditional nightlife. For me, the nightlife in Kapalua is about nature. I try to go on walks every evening; my favorite is the coastal trail that leads to Hawea Point [below Kapalua Bay Villas and The Residences]. The shoreline there, under the stewardship of the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, is a sanctuary for one of Hawai‘i’s largest colonies of wedge-tailed shearwaters [known in Hawaiian as ‘ua‘u kani, or “moaning birds,” because of their ghostly night songs]. You have to wait till the sun is just about to set; then the birds arrive and circle the point. It’s a spectacular sight, serene and peaceful, and during whale season, it’s even more dramatic.

Kapalua is surrounded by nature preserves, from the rainforests and Pu‘u Kukui watershed, to the Maunalei Arboretum, and the many marine conservations districts in Honolua and Mokule‘ia. Even the golf courses are Audubon sanctuaries. There are miles and miles of trails through wild forests and protected drylands.

What if you can’t afford $3 million to live here?

There is definitely a local market in West Maui, from Launiupoko to Ka‘anapali and Napili. I’m working with clients now who have decided to make a huge change in their lives and move here full time. They are considering Napili or Kahana, where the prices are not as high, yet the area is just as beautiful and nature just as accessible. They love the school, preservation areas, and water sports available to their children.

A lot of realtors tell me the market is bouncing back now. Does it feel more robust to you in the luxury markets as well?

The feeling is fairly positive among buyers and sellers in the resort, particularly because of Montage coming in to manage The Residences. People know Montage is one of the few brands that could come into this luxury market and be up to the standards expected from our clientele.

Is it about amenities, or about place?

Overall, I’d say it’s about place. But quality of life for our clientele does include amenities such as world-class restaurants, golf courses, spas, quality schools, and natural beauty. And it’s a close-knit community. People care about each other. That’s a difficult package to beat. When I was younger, I never understood why people come back year after year to the same area. Now I do. Here they relax, unwind, create memories with their families, make lifelong friends. It’s about creating a lifestyle for themselves, and leaving something cherished and lovely for their families. That’s why people eventually buy here — to come home to Maui.

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