Editor’s note: Our frequent commentator, Mejask, recently provided a detailed Comment about what it is like to retire in our 50th State. There was so much good information that we decided to republish it as its own Blog article. That way a lot more people will have a chance to read it. Thanks Mejask!
May 18, 2018 — Here is further information some of you wanted on Hawaii. A little about me so you have some gauge as to my views. I grew up in Illinois, lived some time in Washington state and the Southeast and then most of my career in Connecticut. I moved to the Big Island in July 2015. I have been to the Honolulu area on Oahu but not to Kaui or Maui which are the other islands people may choose to locate. My input on the islands that I haven’t visited will be brief and is mostly from what folks here have told me.
Maui, Kaui and Oahu are much smaller in size than the Big Island and their land mass could easily fit inside the Big Island with room to spare. All of these islands are more expensive than the Big Island. The biggest expense difference is real estate. Each island is a county of Hawaii. You will not find typical adult retirement communities in Hawaii like you will in Arizona or Florida. There may be something similar on Oahu.
Oahu of course is where Honolulu is located so over 90% of the population lives on Oahu. If you want to retire in Hawaii and want continual access to urban living then Oahu is where you would choose to live. There are communities outside of Honolulu as well as urban living. I briefly considered getting a condo in Honolulu so I could mostly walk to things and enjoy the urban life style. I have a friend who just moved here from Oahu a few months ago. They lived there several years and enjoyed it but were tired of the faster paced life style.
Maui and Kaui have been extremely popular tourist destinations and I have been told that Maui is getting over crowded now.
The Big Island is the most diverse geographically and as mentioned has more territory to cover so you may not feel restricted as much. This island has just about any climate and geography you want. They say it has all the micro-climates of the world but one. I could take you places here that you would never guess you were in Hawaii if you didn’t already know! The active volcano is here and there are four other identified (mainly dormant) volcanos. You need to be aware of that when looking at places to live. We also experience earthquakes here. Most of them you don’t feel or if you do it isn’t anything major. Years and years ago one happened that did knock things off of shelves I am told. If you are looking for urban living or a shopping mecca this is not the place to live. Folks here do sometimes take a weekend in Honolulu to get their fix.
Climate and Locations on Big Island
First let me say that Hawaii’s weather is not like Florida. It can get somewhat humid here and that depends greatly on where you live but it is nothing like Florida humidity. Also, we generally get trade winds that make a big difference.
I live on the Kona (dry / leeward/ west) side of the island. This is where most tourists visit and stay. There are places in Kona, to the south and further north are the resorts. There are locations north of Kona where folks choose to live. They vary in the climate, terrain and facilities available. Waikoloa and Waimea are the two larger areas but there are others. Hilo is the largest town and is on the wet/ windward/ east side of the island. It has its own charm but is not as popular with visitors as it rains more often. There are retirees that love it over on that side and there are many smaller places beginning to become popular. It is less expensive to buy real estate on that side of the island. The other main area is the south side of the island. This is generally more rural and you begin to get closer to lava flow zones that are riskier. I could go on and on about details of places but this gives you some sense of things.
The other aspect of location is elevation. I live at 1500 feet and am about a 10 minute drive to sea level. There is up to a 10 degree difference in the temperatures and generally precipitation and afternoon cloud cover. There are places at higher elevations where it can get into the lower 40’s at night. So, many choices.
Real Estate and Property Taxes on Big Island
Cost of real estate is expensive. However, compared to many places in Connecticut, other East Coast locations or say San Francisco it is not. I won’t venture an ‘average’ cost as that is misleading. It depends on the life style you want. Rentals can be difficult to find but are available. I built a home and while I was purchasing the property and then construction was underway I lived in a furnished condo in south Kona (Keauhou) for a year. Housing prices continue to increase here and the Big Island is becoming more and more popular. Condos are an alternative but you will find that condo fees run from $500 to $1200 or so a month. It may be a good trade off, you just have to do the math. Also, many condo complexes on the west side of the island are available and used as vacation rentals so you need to really understand what it will be like if you choose condo living. Again, too many details to write here but that is a bit different than what you might be use to in your area. Property taxes here for full time residents are very low and there are breaks for seniors. If you live in a high tax state you should find this a big cost savings.
Life Style, Shopping, Taxes, Health Care, Costs etc.
Life style here is pretty laid back. If you are an impatient person you will struggle here. In general people are very nice and will give you any kind of information or help you need. However, the culture is such that people may feel it rude to assume you need help so you need to ask. There is plenty of diversity here and if that is uncomfortable for you then you need to rethink coming here. You will find little pretense or anybody even asking about your background, job, etc.
If you need a shopping mecca this is not the place to be. But we do have the big box stores like Target, Walmart, Kmart, Macy’s and Costco, Pier One, Home Depot, Lowes, etc. There are also furniture stores, drug stores, all the type of things you expect including options for groceries as well as farmers’ markets or friends who grow fruit! But you won’t find shopping malls like on the mainland unless you go to Honolulu. Things are somewhat more here and you have to remember we are on an island so most things are flown or shipped in. Amazon prime is great!
There are cinemas and there are local theater groups and many other local volunteer or activity groups. Ocean activities, golf, biking, hiking, walking, beach, gardening, senior group, on and on. You will need to reach out and join in though. I currently volunteer one day a week at our local snorkel beach helping visitors understand reef safety and identify sea life. I meet all kinds of interesting folks from all over the world. It is actually easy to avoid tourists if that bothers you but even doing ‘tourist’ activities I haven’t found that a problem. I suppose if you frequent the resorts you will feel more of that. And tourists are a big contributor to the economy so we like to have much Aloha spirit toward them!
Health care could be an issue if you have any major ongoing health needs. Nearly all the coverage here will take you to Honolulu for any major surgery etc. I am fairly healthy and utilize the HMO here so I am happy. You just need to understand your situation. If you need constant care for some critical condition I would not move to the Big Island.
Income taxes are high here for wage earners but for retirees can be pretty good. There is no tax on Social Security and almost all pensions are not taxed (regardless of what some websites seem to indicate). Anything you contributed to, like IRA or 401k, will have some tax liability upon withdrawal. But depending on how much you withdraw you could end up with a minor amount of taxes.
Generally, insurance rates are not more than I found in CT for home or automobile. But if you require hurricane coverage or earthquake cover that will be more. There are storms here and have been tsunamis…mostly on windward side… but devastating storms are very infrequent. I would be more worried in other areas of the US than here.
Electricity is expensive and water can be expensive. If you can use solar you will greatly reduce electric costs. I guess you have to know your usage and understand what trade- offs you are making. I don’t have air conditioning or heat like I did in Connecticut. I pay more for electric and water but I save way more on property and income taxes.
It would be wise to look at your overall picture when it comes to costs. As everyone has said on this blog you need to consider each aspect of what you want for retirement. I love it here and think overall my costs are at most even with Connecticut, maybe less and Hawaii and Connecticut are two very different places!
Some issues you find here: Vog – produced from the volcano…it bothers some…does diminish the views on occasion. Homelessness is a problem constantly being addressed in Hawaii. The biggest crime issue is theft. I haven’t experienced an issue but you have to use common sense….really like anywhere.
There is a community website called KonaWeb.com that has a forum for visitors and residents alike. Folks just ask a lot of questions about many topics. You can’t search it but I look at it every day to see if there is anything I am interested in or can help with. If you sign up on the site you can email someone who asks a question or just answer on the site. I usually email through the site if I can provide any detail.
I’m sure I forgot something. There is so much detail that could be provided but hope this gives you some information to consider. Best of luck to all of you. Aloha, Mary Ellen
Editor’s Note: Wow, thanks Mejasj, this is very helpful and interesting. We know many of our Members will find it useful. We just love inside reports like this – thanks!
Comments? Have you retired to Hawaii or are you thinking about it? Please share your thoughts and questions in the Comments section below.
For further reading:
2 Great Mountain Choices for Baby Boomer Retirement
Flo’s North Carolina Road Trip