Colony Surf Illustrates that In Hawaii, Views are King

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Honolulu’s Gold Coast at the foot of Diamond Head crater

Last month I wrote an Oahu market update detailing the prior year’s slight price appreciation.  I also pointed out that it takes hard work to lose money in Hawaii if you have time. In other words, don’t buy high and sell low as the Dallas Police and Fire pension funds did.  But all those number-y things get confusing, so here’s a concrete example of how two units in the same building have performed over time (spoiler: GREAT).

Before the late 1990s, the Colony Surf had been a building with two personalities.  There was the condo side and a hotel operation.  You see, back in the early 1960s the concept of a condo was new and people weren’t as condo-happy as they are today.  Projects like Colony Surf and the cross-town Ilikai (below) weren’t selling well.  To snatch some victory, the developers assembled the unsold condos and turned them into hotel suites and rented them by the day.  The Ilikai, built by Chin Ho (really), continues as a combined (though completely separate) hotel and condo operation today.

Jack Lord stood on the Ilikai roof for the opening credits to the original Hawaii Five-O

Just prior to Y2K, the Colony Surf filed for bankruptcy and the buyer sold all the units in the oceanfront building, keeping the much smaller Kalakaua Avenue building as a hotel. It was then that 35-ish units out of 172 hit the market at the same time.

Colony Surf during dreary weather

In early 2000, unit 107 was listed for $100,000. The first floor side units are the least expensive in Colony Surf.  They face a fence masking a volleyball court (no view and noise) and at the end of the hallway (at unit 109) a security door opens onto the parking deck. The upper deck and first floor corridor is also where tradespeople come and go.

Today, unit 109 is for sale for $795,000 or $940 per foot. It’s the same 845 square feet as unit 107 and is considered a one-bedroom unit.  I say “considered” because there are no walls, so it’s really more of a large studio. By comparison, in 2000 unit 1009 was for sale at $295,000 and is also for sale today at $1.35 million, or $1,597 per foot. Both have been fairly equally renovated. The price difference illustrates how much difference a view makes.

But if you’re considering the element of time, it also shows that buying the worst home on the block, or unit in a high-rise, reaps the best rewards.  While unit 1009 increased a “mere” 4.6 times since 2000, unit 107 smashed that by increasing 7.95 times in value. Had 1009 increased that much, it would be selling for $2.3 million.  No need to be greedy, I’m sure both owners are happy with their gains.

While the building is oceanfront, the agent is honest about the view

Unit 109

The best option for getting into this building is Unit 109 listed with Sachiyo Braden with Pacific Century Properties.  Sure, unit 208 is also for sale, but it’s 540 square feet and is listed for $715,000.  An additional 300 square feet is worth $80,000 difference and the views from the second floor aren’t much better.

However, once you enter the unit, you’re greeted by a bright, new kitchen with a gas range. On the left edge you can see a pull. There is a pantry for additional storage that runs about 10 feet long, floor-to-ceiling.

While you’re prepping a meal, you look out over the rest of the apartment.  Engineered, “hand scraped” flooring is throughout the unit except the kitchen and bath areas. The line of windows is masked by plantation shutters and offers cooling breezes.

Here you can see the rest of the unit.  As I said, it may be called a one-bedroom, but it’s really a large studio.  Before you think that’s bad, I think it’s great unless you’re a couple prone to fighting.  The large space gives great window space and an open feeling that’s perfect for entertaining.  I’ve been to parties in this building with 30-40 people that didn’t feel very crowded. The door on the right is the laundry closet.

The bathrooms in these units are very large, regardless that it was built in 1959. The right-side mirrored wall is actually a full wall of closets and the large window brings in lots of natural light.

Unit 1009

As you can see, moving up 10 floors really changes the view.  Unit 1009 has a tidbit of history. It was owned for a time by Evelyn Bell who was in vaudeville as a child and knew the Gumm Sisters. Judy Garland’s real name was Frances Gumm. Today, unit 1009 is being marketed by John Peterson from Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties.

Just as in unit 109, you enter and pass the kitchen.  While this kitchen is larger, it’s the same overall space as 109.  So as the kitchen pushes out, the dining area gets smaller.

Instead of engineered wood, this unit used limestone for a cool-on-your-feet feeling in a warm climate.  As you can also see, the larger kitchen makes the breakfast bar and dining area less spacious.  But that’s how priorities are dealt with in smaller spaces. The wall of mirrors is supposed to make the space appear larger, but I’ve never been a fan.

While a different style, the bathroom is just as spacious as 109’s.  You can take your pick of styles.  Note, behind that “door” at the end is actually a floor-to-ceiling louvered (jalousie) window.  For some reason, even though it’s pebbled and etched glass, some people want more coverage.  But this unit is at the end of the hallway, the only passersby are on their way to the fire stairs. Does that make me an exhibitionist?

The Colony Surf is one of two buildings on the Gold Coast that allows 30-day rentals (others are either a year or no rentals at all). This means that those wanting properties that help pay the mortgage but still allow some personal use will find Colony Surf to their liking. The only question is whether the better view is worth $555,000.


Remember: When I’m not stirring up trouble in Dallas, Texas or Honolulu, Hawaii for and, I’m off scouting interesting locations for a second home.  In 2016 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors has recognized my writing with two Bronze (2016, 2017) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. If you’re a Realtor with second home clients who’d like me to feature their journey, shoot me an email