Our Second Year in California
August, 2014
Aloha Nui!

Time flies when you're busy, and busy we have been. Again, my apologies for not keeping up the Updates during the year, but then not a whole lot in Hawaii has changed (aside from a major hurricane) enough to make good “Update” reading, and the big thing of interest to the Affordable Living enthusiasts is that the cost of living here on the Mainland just keeps going up, up, making Hawaii even more affordable in comparison.
Our cost of living is easily double now from what it was in our Beautiful Hilo Town. And along with the costs here, the population keeps growing, the roads, highways and communities get more jammed with people, everybody is more in a hurry and getting everywhere slower, and, well, you get the picture, right? That's why you're either yearning to live in Hawaii or already happily doing so.

We've fallen into reluctant step with our new California lifestyle. Sort of. The only thing that makes it even doable at all is that we were lucky enough to find this place here, deep in the redwood forest, with streams and rivers here and there, and small villages of cabin-like homes scattered along the length of the Russian River from where we are, about 15 miles from the ocean. It's really quite beautiful, and the pace of life here is considerably slower than even in Santa Rosa, our closest city. At least it is during the week. The Russian River is the easy-access vacation destination of choice for thousands of Bay Area residents, and they're up here every weekend during the summer months.

Do we miss Hawaii? On a daily basis. We find ourselves going through the thousands of photos we have of our Hawaii environs, talking to friends there, some of them visit here and we can reminisce, and since I still have an interest in reporting any pertinent changes in Real Estate values, I'm on several Big Island Web sites at least once a month.
As I reported in the last update, my feelings have not changed about the affordability of Hawaii compared to most places on the mainland. Everything here seems to cost more than in Hawaii. Real Estate taxes here are huge here, especially since houses cost more, too. You can still find cheaper homes on the Mainland, depending on where you're interested in living, but since it seems that the majority of the folks I've talked to who moved over from the Mainland came from either the West or East coast, it is fair to say that home values are comparable.
Prices are way more stable on the Big Island (and have been for a few years) than they are here, at least here in California. For example, when we bought our house here in 2011, we paid $330K for it, and that was high for the area. We only bought it because it needed no repairs and was to serve until we found our special little house for half that amount, and that's what little houses were going for then. Well, we waited too long, and now those little houses have all been snapped up by “flippers,” and are back on the market for more than we paid for ours. Our house has appreciated in value along with the rest of the market, and in this scary, volatile market, that could all turn around again in a heartbeat.
If we were in a position to move back to Hilo right now, we could sell our house here and buy a really nice Hilo property and end up with lots of change. In addition, our taxes would go from the $4300/year we're paying now back down to the few hundred dollars we would have to pay there.
Hawaii folks complain about 4% Use Tax, and here we pay 9.75% sales tax on everything. If you buy a $10,000 used car from a friend here, you'll even have to pay $975 sales tax on it before you're allowed to register it. Oh yeah, and our 10-year-old pickup costs $155/year for the license. And every two years you get to take your car in for a $70 “smog inspection and certificate,” and often the inspection will lead to hundreds in “repairs” before the car will pass.
Our utilities here continue to cost as much, or more, than they did in Hawaii. Yes, Hawaii's electric rates are higher, but that's only until you use a certain amount of electricity. Then they soar. In addition, it costs us about $300/month for gas to heat this house in the cold, rainy winters.
Check out my last Update for the rest of the story of comparisons. Get this: Some friends were over here a few weeks ago from Puna and stayed with us for a very fun week. They were blown away that gas prices were LESS in Hilo than here in California. And we live about an hour's drive from one of the biggest refineries (ugh) on the West Coast. So shipping is no long a valid excuse for the disparity in gas prices, is it?

We also ate a lot better in Hawaii. Fresh veggies were somehow so easy and natural there. Here, we find ourselves heating up a frozen pizza or some other packaged, processed thing. It's just so “California.” There are lots of “farmers markets” here, but many sell produce shipped from other states or even countries. We go to the ones where we know for sure we're buying local, organic produce, but then we also have to pay double the grocery-store prices. Like $4/pound for apples or tomatoes.
I yearn for some of those 5-for-a-dollar papayas from the Hilo Farmer's Market! Here you pay $5 for ONE hard-as-a-rock papaya that will rot before it ripens.

I've said this before, but it bears repeating. I have to qualify this discussion by saying that an average income will not support you if your idea of living in Hawaii is Honolulu. Or Maui. I've received lots of flak about that in Amazon Reviews. People write a nasty review saying that my title is misleading because the book doesn't say how one can have an affordable life on Oahu or Maui. Well, had I written a book on “Affordable California,” it would certainly not have been about Beverly Hills or San Francisco. Rather, it would have given the reader all of the best places in California that are still affordable. The Big Island (a.k.a. “Hawaii”) is the only part of the State of Hawaii that is affordable. And in the humble opinion of this writer (an opinion shared by many), if I had the opportunity to live on any of the Hawaiian Islands again and even if cost was no object, I would return to the Big Island. Camille and I love the BI with all our hearts, and it was a Huge Deal for us to come back here. It's all about those sweet grandkids, and we do love having them a part of our lives now. We would love to kidnap them and move back to Hawaii! They'd love it, too. Too bad their parents don't like it there . . .

OK, that's about it for now. The bottom line is that Affordable Paradise, the 4th Edition, is still very much up-to-date in Real Estate values. There are always exceptions, as with very unique properties that will always command premium prices, but we're talking average prices. The cost of an average, decent house is still about what it was back in 2009-10, and in some cases, even lower.
Thanks for listening, and if you have any questions or other thoughts you would like to share, please feel free to email me!

With abundant aloha always,

Skip & Camille
We wish you all the best, and never forget to
Please Live Aloha!
Mahalo for "listening."
Skip Thomsen & Ohana
Updated 1/20/2013