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Surf’s Up: Luxury Homes on the North Shore

When the winter season arrives on Oahu’s North Shore, it brings big waves, surfers and vacationers who seek a tropical retreat.

The North Shore may be surfing’s mecca, but it is also an ocean lover’s paradise, with humpback whales in the winter, sea turtles all year and beautiful, uninterrupted stretches of sunny beaches. While many residents are indeed surfers, there are also artists and nature lovers, kama’aina and tourists who came and stayed.

“The buyers for oceanfront and luxury homes on the North Shore fall into two distinct groups,” explains Orion Barels, a coastal property consultant, REALTORTM and Fine Homes Specialist at Prudential Locations. “First, are the second-home owners looking for a tropical and relaxing vacation home. Whether a local surfer or snow bird, they like what the North Shore of Oahu has to offer, which is a quintessential Hawaiian experience: beautiful white sand beaches, blue skies, warm breezes, and world-class waves.

The country is a special place for this.”

The other big group of buyers is owner occupants. “Many North Shore residents moved here to be away from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu and enjoy an outer island-like lifestyle, but love being able to drive 45 minutes and have all of the services, arts, and amenities of a major metropolis,” Barels says. “I didn’t coin it, but I’ve heard it called the ‘outer island you can drive to.’

The lifestyle is quite diverse, says Barels, who is a long-time resident of the North Shore. “The biggest misconception here is that everybody surfs. Many people are drawn to the area because of its diving, equestrian, kite boarding, hiking, golf, mountain biking and healing arts activities such as yoga. It’s a culture of low stress, being healthy and active and eating well.”


The North Shore has something for everyone, whether you desire a full-time residence, vacation home or weekend get-away.

“Sunset Beach is the most surf-centric,” Barels says. “The prevailing offshore trade winds make for great surfing conditions all day long. Sunset Beach Colony has some of the largest luxury homes and lots – it’s where some celebrities have chosen to own. Mokuleia is quieter, more private, with side-shore winds. The hillsides offer spectacular views and peace.”


The North Shore tends to trail slightly behind market trends for the rest of the island. So prices are seeing an uptick, but haven’t reached the peaks seen in 2005-2006.

“For newer homes on the ocean you’re looking at $2.2 million and up,” says Barels. “Luxury homes off the water start around $1 million, but each North Shore location has a different price point .”

Sales and prices on the North Shore have been rebounding since hitting a four-year low in 2009. Inventory levels remain high in certain price points, with seven months of inventory remaining for single family homes, indicating a market that still favors buyers (six months is the turning point).

The days on market, or the time it takes from list date to contract date, has dropped to 66 days since it peaked at 108 days in 2009.

You don’t have to be a millionaire to get into the North Shore. Barels says some of the best oceanfront deals today are condos in Waialua. “Prices are practically at the lowest levels we’ve seen in the last six years. Prices doubled from ’02 to ’05. You can get a luxury remodeled ocean-front condo for just under $500,000,” he says.

Because the market is rising, buyers and sellers are faced with a common challenge: the appraisal. Barels describes a recent sale in which he represented the buyer that illustrates how an experienced and knowledgeable agent is critical in getting an accurate appraisal.

“We just closed on a gorgeous oceanfront house in the Kawailoa area at $2.5 million. I was able to provide detailed information and insights about the individual property and comparative recent sales to show why the property should be valued at this price.”

Barels explains that both buyers and sellers can benefit from working with real estate agents who specialize in unique properties such as oceanfront homes.

“There’s an important difference in value between an oceanfront property that’s next to a public beach access versus an equivalent property that’s far from it and more private. There’s a value difference in equivalent-sized lots if one has more linear ocean frontage than the other. As a seller or buyer, it’s imperative to have someone proficient and informed on your side, to lend their expertise and fight for you,” he says.

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