Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cost of Living

     I grew up in Hilo, in an upper middle class neighborhood, in a three bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom house with two long hallways, dining room, family room, kitchen, separate living room, and two-car carport.  Located at the end of a cul-de-sac, the lot features a large yard that surrounded two-thirds of the house, a long driveway, and landscaping throughout.  The entire cost was $15,000, which was a lot of money in the mid-1960's, but Hawaii Planing Mill, which acted as the general contractor, provided an architect who drew up blue prints to my parents' specifications.  Through the years, my dad, an elementary school principal, paid the mortgage off plus college  educations for my two siblings and I, my mom having worked part-time, then full-time only much later at little above minimum wage.
     Fast forward forty-plus years to present and such a redwood house with oak floors throughout built to spec in a comparable neighborhood in Oahu would easily top $2,000,000.  Though I have saved diligently over the past twenty-plus years—ever since I started working—I can not afford any such house, not by a long shot.
     Though the nation's housing bubble burst in 2008, Oahu's housing prices apparently barely nudged downward.  My real estate friend recently estimated the median three bed, two bath home price at about $600,000 (barely ten percent down from the peak price pre-2008).
     So I have been (and will likely remain, if I continue to reside in Oahu) a lifetime renter.
     I tell myself it suits my personality.  I'm not into maintaining, repairing, and replacing—I struggle and resist doing so for the sole used car we own.  The thought of doing so for an entire property and house conjures images of termites, leaking roofs and pipes, cracked foundations, dry rot, dishonest repairmen, demanding yard work, property insurance and taxes, etc.  My parents, up to a decade ago, had maintained their house and property immaculately, but now that they've slowed due to old age and health issues, the house at times slips into gross disrepair.  Even if neglected for two years, it seems to age ten, due in large part to Hilo's incessant rain and humidity.
     Although I have often desired a house (and even had occasional fanciful notions of building one myself), I don't feel the least bit cheated out of one.  It’s a matter of could of, should of, would of.  The timing wasn't right when I could have.  Then, the sudden extreme price rises that seemed unreal and unsustainable—they still do—priced me out of the local market in just over a year.  Had I known in advance of this impending price rise, I probably should or maybe even would have bought earlier, breaking my own policy of, “Don't even think of buying unless you plan on living there for at least the next twenty-five years.”
     In response to the squeeze between ever-rising costs (of rents, utilities, food, fuel, etc.) and stagnant salaries, I've looked longingly, on occasion, to the outer islands, U.S. Mainland, and even some foreign countries.  Right now—right now!—we could afford a fabulous house (comparable to what I grew up in, say) in an exciting, memorable, and fun locale.  But I've concluded, it's not best for my family and I.  After all, there's more to life than having cool stuff and good fun. 
     And I've also concluded there's something about Hawaii, and more specifically Oahu, that's kept us here.  Relatives.  The people.  Local food and culture.  Nice weather.  Kid-friendly schools and activities.  It's important to us that they know our heritage.  Also, God has given us a purpose and meaning here, and our positive (albeit small) contributions have led to so much fulfillment.  Oahu has given us just enough excitement, but not too much, and plenty of stability.  A guy could do a lot worse than living in a decent rental in Honolulu, right?  The cost of living in paradise is high, but not too high for us, at least not for now.

No comments:

Post a Comment