More Koreans investing in island real estate
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Top real estate professionals from the U.S. mainland were in Hawaii this week scouting deals for their South Korean clients.
New Star Realty & Investment Group, a real estate firm that caters to the Korean market, hosted a three-day conference to showcase Hawaii's potential for a few dozen of their top producing colleagues on the U.S. mainland.
While South Korean investors have been active in Hawaii real estate for some time, the market is expected to expand significantly over the next several years.
A stronger Asian economy combined with a lessening of Korean bank restrictions and continued weakening of the U.S. dollar has already positively impacted the market.
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Anna Choi, the top Southern California real estate agent for ERA New Star Realty & Investment, was in Hawaii this week along with a few dozen or so other top producers from the U.S. mainland to scout the islands for possible real estate investments for Korean clients.
Choi, who looked at condominium properties from Waikiki to Turtle Bay, said she could end this buying trip with 30 deals. Among her clients, Choi said, Hawaii is the third-ranked real estate investment market behind New York and Los Angeles.
"Koreans are very interested in Hawaii," Choi said. "This is a safe destination with good weather and a great environment and it's not too far for them."
New Star Realty & Investment Group, a two-year-old real estate firm in Hawaii that caters to Korean investors and second-home buyers, organized the three-day conference to show Choi and her counterparts on the U.S. mainland the potential that Hawaii holds for this niche market.
"We are focusing on Korean investors from Korea and relocation referrals among Korean Americans in the U.S. as well as the local market," said Susan Cassell, New Star Realty's principal broker.
South Korean investors have been active in Hawaii for some time as evidenced by the purchase of 1391 Kapiolani Blvd., 1631 Kapiolani Blvd. and a 3.53-acre tract off Keeamoku Street, Cassell said. However, Korean real estate buying in Hawaii is expected to expand significantly in the next several years, she said.
A lessening of Korean bank restrictions that took place last year has positively impacted the market, Cassell said, adding that her firm closed $10 million in sales to Korean buyers this month alone and expects to see sales volume grew by 200 percent in the next several years.
"They tripled the amount of money Koreans can take out of their country without restrictions," Cassell said. "They can now take out $3 million."
In addition, the number of Koreans visiting Hawaii could soar once U.S. Homeland Security develops an electronic tracking system to accompany its proposed visa waiver program. A new law, signed by President Bush last year, is expected to help travelers from countries like Korea obtain easier access to the U.S.
"We had 54,000 visitors from Korea in 2007, but that could easily double or triple once the expanded visa waiver program is in place," said State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.
While travel officials haven't been given a definitive answer on when the new travel program will take effect, it's certain that once the program's in place Korean tourism and investment in Hawaii will improve, Wienert said.
"Once they have a strong desire to visit here, they'll have a strong desire to invest here," she said.
As the country's economy improves and its exposure to the islands expands, so will its investment portfolio, said developer Peter Savio.
Further weakening in the U.S. dollar could also bring more foreign investment to Hawaii, said Harvey Shapiro, research analyst for the Honolulu Board of Realtors.