April 7, 2007
On the Big Island, a Place for Price-Sensitive Home Shoppers
PUNA is not the most obvious second-home paradise. It has a lot of rain, harbors a host (at least) of mosquitoes and is hard to reach from the mainland. Then there’s the hard-to-ignore fact that much of its lava-encrusted land sits right in the flow zone of an active volcano, Kilauea.
Even so, there is a magical quality here in this craggy, tangly, jungly region of the Big Island’s southeast. The sometimes lunar-like landscape, dolphin-frantic shores and back-to-the-garden vibe consistently seduce the most casual visitors and turn them into starry-eyed homebuyers.
Paul Fishman, a Jungian analyst from San Francisco, first stayed in Puna in the late 1980s, visiting the earthy-crunchy Kalani Eco Resort. When he and his partner, Mike Kurokawa, who is a massage therapist, visited the black-sand beach of Kehena, they were smitten.
“We heard drumming as we climbed down the rocky cliff at sunset,” Dr. Fishman dreamily recalled. Dolphins frolicked in the distance. “We at once felt so at home,” he said. “So welcomed by the community, by nature.”
After visiting for years, they bought a half-acre on the lava in 2003 for $40,000. Last August, they finished building on it: a small, modern screen house set in a grove of monkey-pod trees.
Elizabeth Ziff also had a transforming experience while on a yoga retreat. “I saw a whale breach about 50 feet away,” she recalled, “and that was it.” Last year Ms. Ziff, co-executive producer of “The L Word” on Showtime and a guitarist-vocalist with the band Betty, bought a one-room wooden house on a half-acre lot.
“I love Puna because there are no resorts, and it has Hawaiian culture that hasn’t been utterly destroyed,” she said, speaking from her home in New York City (she also has a home in Vancouver). “I like the energy. I go there to heal.”
But there is another, very grounded, reason to buy there: Price.
“Puna is the cheapest real estate statewide,” said Denis Fuster, an agent with ReMax Island Surf Realty. While prices shot up more than 20 percent from 2005 to 2006, he said, the market has leveled. Buyers can still find plenty of acre plots in the $60,000 range, and the median price for a single-family dwelling was $269,000 at the end of 2006. Those figures attract people from the mainland, but also those who live on Hawaii’s pricier islands.
“Although we do own a nice home on Oahu that we love, it’s getting a bit cramped, and traffic is often a problem,” said Michael Tatzber, a massage therapist who is in the process of buying a second home on the Big Island for $250,000 with his partner, Cassandra Holmes, a graphic designer. They also run Punaguide.com, a Web site that offers advice to potential buyers.
“If you love peace and quiet and a natural environment,” Mr. Tatzber said, “then Puna is the place.”