Real estate figures may mask underlying trends

At first glance, it isn’t readily apparent how Maui County’s reviving economy is affecting the islands’ real estate market, which struggled through the recession with low prices and a glut of foreclosed properties.

Statistics released recently by the Realtors Association of Maui show flat sales with 77 single-family homes sold in April, three less than in March and two less than in April 2012. The median price of a home in April was $500,000 – 1.9 percent less than a month earlier, but 6.6 percent higher than April 2012.

For condominium sales in April, sales volume was up significantly, with 143 condos exchanging hands – 41.2 percent higher than March’s sales of 101 units and 10.9 percent more than the 129 units sold in April 2012. But prices were relatively unchanged: The median price of a condo was $370,000, or 1.3 percent less than March’s $375,000 and 7.2 percent less than last year’s April price of $399,000.

Year-to-date figures (comparing Jan. 1 to April 30 this year with the same period in 2012) show sales volume down somewhat while median prices have risen for homes and condominiums.

The number of sales of single-family homes in the first third of this year has fallen 1 percent to 286 residences, while the number of condo sales dropped 6 percent to 408. The median home sale price increased 15 percent to $513,250, while the price of a condominium went up 6 percent to $369,900.

For single-family sales in the first four months of this year, Pukalani saw the most additional homes sold, eight more to 22 by the end of April, for a 57 percent increase in sales volume. Median home prices in Pukalani went up 1 percent to $485,000.

The reverse was seen in Makawao-Olinda-Haliimaile, where there were eight fewer homes sold, down to 10, for a 44 percent decline, statistics show. Median home prices in that area rose 18 percent to $400,000.

The most home sales in any region in the first third of this year was in Central Maui, where 79 homes sold, six more for an 8 percent increase over the 73 homes that exchanged hands in the first four months of 2012. Central Maui home prices went up 8 percent to a median price of $397,979.

For condos in the first third of the year, sales volume in Kihei dropped 18 units, or 12 percent, from 150 in 2012 to 132 this year. The median price of Kihei condos rose 25 percent to $299,500. Condo unit sales also fell 21 percent from 84 to 66 units in the Napili-Kahana-Honokowai region. There, median prices increased 9 percent to $322,500. In Kaanapali, the number of condo sales slipped 8 percent from 60 units last year to 55 in the first third of this year. Median prices in Kaanapali jumped 48 percent to $679,900.

What isn’t seen in the statistics is the behind-the-scenes activity of property buyers and sellers.

Following a national trend, groups of investors are quickly buying lower-priced properties because they have the greatest potential for appreciation, according to Terry Tolman, chief staff executive of the Realtors Association of Maui.

These properties include those in foreclosure, and anything “they can get their hands on,” he said last week. “Everything is trending up.”

The number of days a property remains on the market is a key indicator that Maui properties are selling faster, Tolman said.

Single-family homes in the first four months of this year are averaging 121.5 days on the market, the association’s statistics show. That is 16 percent lower than the average of 145 days on the market for the years 2010 through 2012, and it’s 25 percent lower than the average of 162.8 days in 2008 and 2009.

Also, inventory is down for homes, condominiums and land in Maui County, statistics show.

As of May 15, there are 623 homes on the market, 16.8 percent less than the 749 homes in the same month a year earlier, and there were 860 condominiums available, or 19.3 percent less than the 1,066 condos a year earlier.

Prices are not showing the vitality of the market, Tolman said, because the higher number of low-end properties are pulling down the median price.

When asked for his overall assessment of Maui’s real estate market, Tolman said that it depends on whether it’s from the seller’s or the buyer’s perspective.

With prices likely to move upward, a property owner needs to think about the right time to sell to break even, make some money or sell to buy another property, he said. A buyer needs to move quickly before prices go higher and while loans remain inexpensive.

The trend of the last few years of people owing more than they could get to sell homes is reversing itself, Tolman said.

The number of “upside-down” property owners is “going away as the market accelerates,” he said.

Meanwhile, the island’s foreclosed properties, which have been a drag on the market, are “slowly trickling on to the market,” Tolman said, predicting they’ll be absorbed “kind of naturally.”

* Brian Perry can be reached at