sightunseen

Hawaii real estate agents report selling more homes sight-unseen than ever before

As a real estate agent, Catherine Pennell is used to taking a lot of phone calls. But since April, her phone has been ringing more often than during a typical year — she’s fielding two to three phone calls every day from people looking to move from the mainland U.S. to Hawaii.

“I think people are saying, ‘Life is short.’ It’s a lot of talk because they’re not here yet and they can’t get here yet, but I’ve done more sight-unseen sales than I’ve ever done during the pandemic,” said Pennell, who represents Kauai for KW Kauai Keller Williams. “I’ve done three in the last three months.”

Julie Peters, an agent with Island Boutique Realty on the island of Hawaii, said when wildfire season began in August, she was fielding at least one call each day from California residents wanting to escape the area due to smoke and fire danger. “One person wanted to come over immediately and rent in the meantime because she was so done with smoke,” Peters said. “The last five closings I did were sight-unseen. I had rarely done that before.”

Peters said many of her buyers this year were from the Bay Area and the bulk of them hail from the West Coast. From January to June 2020, California residents bought $587.6 million worth of Hawaii property, making up 41% of total sales during that period coming from the U.S., according to Title Guaranty, which owns and maintains the largest real estate database in Hawaii.

“Demand for Hawaii is always there. Everyone wants to invest, retire or vacation here, but it’s just grown exponentially this year,” Peters said. “A lot of people that were already looking toward retirement here sped it up, or people found out they could work from home. We got a rush

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