Tuesday, April 23, 2002

This house on Kaumakani Street in Hawaii Kai is one of several that Japanese billionaire Gensiro Kawamoto is planning to renovate after flying in for one day to look over some of his properties. This house was pulled off the market, while dozens of others are still for sale.

flies in for a day,
promises repairs

The billionaire pulls several
properties off the market while
they undergo renovations

By Tim Ruel

Gensiro Kawamoto has struck again.

Upon reading a Star-Bulletin article last week that said sales for some of his Oahu homes were falling through because of their disrepair, the eccentric Japanese billionaire promptly boarded a plane and came to Honolulu on a one-day trip to verify the condition of the properties, said his attorney, Carol Asai-Sato.

After looking at one particular home in Hawaii Kai that is marked by peeling paint and overgrown with weeds, Kawamoto was "appalled" and immediately pulled the home off the market. "To look at it from the exterior, one can understand why," Asai-Sato said.

Kawamoto plans to repaint and renovate the home, as well as a couple others, before listing them for sale again, Asai-Sato said.

Kawamoto had no idea that some of the homes were in such bad shape, Asai-Sato said.

"He hasn't really gone around to look at the homes one by one in a long time," she said. "He's looked at some of the homes and some of the condos but not every one."

"This was totally unplanned in the schedule," Asai-Sato said. "He's full of surprises."

The sales process has also been slow because Kawamoto lives in Japan and it's been hard to sign documents, a Realtor said. During Kawamoto's impromptu trip last week, he signed a bunch of documents, and four sales closed on Friday, Asai-Sato said. Nearly 40 homes are now in escrow.

Kawamoto first turned heads in Hawaii in the late 1980s when he rode around town in a white limousine and bought more than 170 residential properties, some of which weren't even for sale.

When Kawamoto was criticized for worsening an already problematic housing market, he halted his spending spree and proposed that he would develop several affordable housing projects, none of which were built.

Kawamoto put approximately 60 of his Oahu homes up for sale in February, drawing a flurry of blind offers from people who thought they might get a deal.

No sales closed for the first two months, records show. Five or six deals fell through because potential buyers walked away after they made a formal inspection of a home.

For the past decade, Kawamoto has been renting out his homes, many of which are now more than 30 years old and badly in need of maintenance.

More recently, Kawamoto caused an uproar in California when he gave 30-day eviction notices to nearly 600 residential tenants who were living on month-to-month leases.

Kawamoto has since agreed to give tenants 90 days to move out, but not before he had helped to renew calls for tougher state laws to protect the rights of renters.

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