Tuesday, January 31, 2012

High Season Happiness in Hawaii

It is high season now on Hawaii Island. Everywhere we go the sidewalks, restaurants, stores, and beaches are filled with visitors from the cold parts of North America enjoying the surf and sun in Hawaii. We enjoy watching the crowds gleefully frolic in the tropical climate while reading about the cold and snow in the places they are from.

Many of the visitors migrate to Hawaii every winter to escape their severe weather back home. Some own condos in our condo complex and can only return sporadically and others rent the same condo for a couple of months every year. Over the years we have come to know them and learned about their lives on the mainland. They arrive spun up and slowly relax over the months they stay in Kona. As they reach the end of their winter migration, they start to fret about having to go back before the warm weather has returned and get back to their work. We feel sorry for them having to go back and are so grateful that we do not have to.

One thing we love about our returning winter visitors is how much they enjoy and appreciate Hawaii. There are only a few that complain about anything and most enjoy every day with gusto. Their attitudes makes it a treat to spend time with such an upbeat and happy group of people dedicated to having fun and enjoying each and every precious day they have in Hawaii.

Yesterday, a group of winter visitors were lounging around the pool soaking up the sunshine and chatting happily about their morning snorkeling adventure. Another visitor observed the happy group and, assuming they were year-round residents, pointed to them and exclaimed when he retires he was going to move to Hawaii full-time and “be just like those people sitting around the pool all day doing nothing”.

His comment left us pondering about the effect of Hawaii on visitors during the high season. The people that are able to stay in Hawaii for a couple of months during the winter become so relaxed and happy that another visitor, only able to spend a few weeks, was envious. One of the unusual dynamics of high season happiness in Hawaii is that being on the islands longer is much, much better.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Monitoring Radiation in Hawaii

Since we posted about our radiation monitoring on the island of Hawaii, we have been getting a lot of emails from people wondering if it is safe to come to Hawaii for a vacation. The proximity of Hawaii to Japan has many people concerned that Hawaii has been contaminated by radiation from Fukushima and other nuclear power plant emissions in Japan and the questions we are getting are detailed and specific about their concerns.

Our detector measures milliREM per hour. A reading of .014 milliREM/hour, usually considered background radiation, translates to approximately 14 Counts Per Minute (CPM). Our radiation monitoring on Hawaii Island before March 2011 showed readings between .004 and .006 milliREM/hour (4-6 CPM), substantially below background radiation. Hawaii Island is blessed with protected air flow and isolated from most radiation sources so the levels have typically been low.

Just to keep radiation measurements in perspective, a reading of 100 CPM is still less than 1 REM a year and a worker standard (used for pilots and nuclear workers) is a max of 5 REM a year. These readings are for airborne radiation and not to be confused with ingesting radiation from food or water.

Since the Fukushima explosion in March 2011, our radiation readings reached levels of .016 microREM/hour (16 CPM). The levels settled to twice their previous levels in the .008 to .012 microREM/hour range in late March and April. In early May 2011 we did a video showing ranges of .010 to .014 microREM/hour in the areas around our condo with no signs of high level concentrations in drainage areas, as compared to videos posted on Youtube from areas around Tokyo.

In the past couple of weeks we have been suddenly seeing increased levels with spikes up to .024 microREM/hour (24 CPM). We took readings around our condo in the same areas as the May 9, 2011 video and the readings were slightly higher.

We were concerned that it might be due to air blowing from the ocean, but a trip down to the beach showed low rates on the sand and near the water, so the increased levels do not seem to be related to anything showing up in the ocean.

We have assumed all along that the higher levels of radiation being reported on the mainland and continued leakage of material from Japan would eventually get into our protected Hawaii air supply. The increase in airborne radiation may be the result of the slow build up of radiation around the globe. It may, however, be related to the recent increase in activity of our volcano and earthquake activity. Either way, the background radiation readings we are getting are still at levels that would be considered normal background on the mainland.

To compare our readings, check out Radiation Network a collection of real-time independent radiation readings (CPM) from around the country displayed on a US map.

Our personal view is that radiation contamination is a modern problem due to aging nuclear power plants around the world with questionable safety and unreported accidents and leaks. No place on the Earth is now excluded from radiation contamination. Our approach is to monitor the air borne levels for safety, have protection and a plan in case the numbers spike, live healthy, and take supplements to minimize cell damage from radiation.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Foreclosures in Hawaii

We follow foreclosures, short sales, and regular real estate transactions on Hawaii Island by watching the MLS, newspapers, websites like zillow.com, and attending auction sales. Recently, we have noticed a substantial change in the island’s real estate market from numerous federal organizations liquidating a large number of local properties.

Properties are being offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Department of Agriculture, and other federal organizations from their websites. Most of the organizations have rules as to who can purchase them, giving preference to owners that occupy the properties over property investors. Financing is offered, but has special requirements to qualify. In most cases, the properties we see are being offered at substantially lower prices than sales by owners, short-sales, and bank-owned property sales in the same neighborhoods and condo complexes.

The liquidation of properties by the US government agencies seems to be creating a secondary and somewhat hidden real estate market with lower prices than properties being offered by owners and banks. In order to get a handle on the real estate situation and prices on the island, we are dependent on real estate and federal websites to assess the number of properties on the market and the actual sales transactions. We find it disturbing to find conflicting data on various websites. For example, ushud.com shows 545 foreclosed properties available from HUD on the island of Hawaii whereas the official HUD website shows only 2 properties available. Some of the listings on websites “disappear” as you try drill into the data about the property or the price goes up dramatically. The website that we have found to be the most reliable is the homepath.com by Fannie Mae. Over the past 6 months, the website has listed up to 3 homes a day. In most cases, the properties quickly change status to “under contract” to buy. The fast turnaround may be why other websites are less reliable, because they cannot or are not willing to remove the listings as they go under contract.

Our best guess is that these are properties that went through foreclosure years ago, were sold by the banks to federal agencies, and are finally coming on to the market. Many people we talk to that are looking at real estate on the island are not even aware that these properties exist. Most of the buyers in the area are folks from Canada and Europe looking for ways to obtain assets with their local currency or boomers looking for retirement homes. Cash sales seem to be the most common transactions, so the lower valuations of properties from the federal house sales do not seem to be a concern or even noticed.

Though prices of real estate are lower than we have ever seen them, the fact that they are being purchased so quickly seems to indicate that the appeal of having property in Hawaii is as strong as ever. The question we have is how much inventory is there to go through. Since Hawaii real estate is a limited commodity, prices will most surely go back up once the federal inventory runs out.

Recommended websites:
http://www.homepath.com (Fannie Mae)
http://www.hudhomestore.com (HUD)
http://www.homesteps.com (Freddie Mac)
https://va.equator.com (VA homes)
http://www2.fdic.gov/drrore (FDIC homes
http://www.treasury.gov/auctions/irs/cat_Real7.htm (IRS sales)
http://www.sas.usace.army.mil/hapinv/haphomes.html(US Army Corp of Eng)
http://www.treasury.gov/auctions/treasury/rp (Treasury Auctions)
http://www.resales.usda.gov/ (USDA property sales)