Saturday, October 2, 1999

‘Young and loaded’
buyers snap up
homes on Big Isle’s
Kohala Coast

With the U.S. economy
booming, mainlanders are
on a shopping spree

By Corrie M. Anders
San Francisco Examiner


KAMUELA, Hawaii -- The vacationer wandering around a parcel of vacant lots at a monied resort community here was a high-tech millionaire from Silicon Valley. The subdivision plots were on a serene bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by warm beaches, pampered golf courses and coconut palm trees.

Hooked like a blue marlin for which these fishing waters are famous, the visitor headed down the bluff, walked into Tom Stifler's real estate office and scribbled out a down payment for a piece of land that cost $2 million.

"He just came to Mauna Kea one day, fell in love with it and decided to buy," said Stifler, principal broker at Mauna Kea Realty.

The buyer, an executive at a computer disk-making firm, began construction last month on a 15,000-square-foot home with six bedroom suites, a pool and spas which will cost upward of $6 million.

Stifler wouldn't identify the high-profile buyer or other owners, contending they favor the resort for its privacy and seclusion, but some nearby homeowners weren't as reticent. Their neighbors range from stock broker extraordinaire Charles Schwab, Microsoft's Paul Allen, the Gap's Don Fisher and Hallmark Cards' Don Hall to renowned Bay area neurosurgeon Ray Lagger (though his one-of-a-kind home is for sale with an asking price of $13 million).

Residential resorts along the Kohala coast of the Big Island have become increasingly popular. Flush with the largess of a booming economy and a ripping, high-tech-fed stock market, U.S. residents, mostly from the West Coast, have been on a shopping spree for expensive vacation getaways outside the mainland.

"You're talking about people who are very affluent: venture capitalists, the CEOs and the COOs of dot-com companies," said Carole Rodoni, president of Alain Pinel Realty in Saratoga, a Silicon Valley firm that recently established alliances with major resort brokerages in Hawaii and Mexico.

"It's not some old guy taking his last gasps on the golf course," Rodoni said. "They're young and loaded. They're buying or building huge entities."

Some California shoppers are also looking for tropical retreats in Mexico. On the Cabo San Lucas peninsula, for example, buyers are making deals for beachfront property on the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez, paying anywhere from $175,000 for lots in a gated community to $4 million for new custom homes.

"They can still get good deals here for beachfront property," said Debra Dodson of Cabo Gold Investment brokerage. "If you go to Malibu or Carmel, you can't touch it."

In today's wireless communications and click-a-mouse world, the five-hour Hawaiian flight is not much of a deterrent to long-distance pied-a-terres either. Consider Johnny Ribeiro's outing one day recently aboard his 65-foot yacht. The former Marin County residential developer, who owns a principal home in Las Vegas and a $1.2 million Mauna Kea villa, was talking on the telephone with a business associate when he was forced to hang up quickly.

"All of a sudden I tell the guy: 'Sorry, I've got to go. Got a fish on,'" Ribeiro said, laughing as he told the story about the interruption, during which a companion hooked and released a 416-pound blue marlin. "What more can you ask for? Doing work and being in a place like this is not too bad."

Ribeiro's neighbors, Bill and Marilyn Kravig Hoey, converted one of the four bedrooms in their $1.6 million villa into a home office. Now they're starting to spend more time at their second home -- with its patio pool overlooking the first golfing green -- than at their California house.

"One of the reasons people are coming here, as opposed to Napa and other places, is because we have a (computer) revolution," said Bill Hoey, a semiretired real estate executive. "I've got my computer, and I can run my business from here."

Of the 2,066 homes and lots purchased in towns and upscale resorts along the Kohala Coast during the last 12 months ending in August, 1,138 were bought by local residents.

Californians bought 504, the second-largest block, followed by 91 buyers from Washington and 58 from Oregon. Together, buyers from those states purchased three out of every 10 properties.

The percentage of Kohala Coast buyers from the mainland has been even higher at affluent resorts such as the Hualalai along with the Mauna Lani, Waikoloa and the Mauna Kea, which was the island's first upscale residential address.

Developed by Laurance Rockefeller in 1965, the guard-gated resort has grown to include two hotels, two golf courses and 100 or so homes tucked unobtrusively into the bluffs and ridges of the sprawling community. Resort employees indulge homeowners with daily housekeeping. They clean the living room, fluff the sofa pillows, wash and clear dishes, make and turn down the bed and change the sheets twice a week. The cachet, however, is privacy.

"You can come here and no one knows it. You don't have to hide out here; the property hides you," said Jim Dollens, president of Aeromark, a Seattle firm that leases and sells commercial passenger airplanes.

Dollens and his wife, Susan, own several homes around the world. They built a $3 million personal getaway, along with a separate guest house for friends, then decided three years ago to make it their permanent address.

"We got here, and we couldn't think of why we had to go anyplace else. It was the first time in our lives that we had had that feeling," said Dollens, 56. "It's kind of a strange thing. This is what happens when you get into your mid-50s."

He paused, then added, "Or is it some mystical power of the island?"

Most resort owners, however, spend only a few days or weeks a year at their home away from home. They spread their time over long weekends, while others enjoy more extended periods.

Such short visits can be an expensive proposition in purely dollars and cents. Resort caretakers figured out that it costs one well-known national business executive about $20,000 a night to stay at his art-filled, multimillion-dollar getaway, but Ribeiro, who shows up for six-week stints twice a year, said it was well worth it to have his own Hawaiian turf.

"You wake up in the morning and see all this," he said, looking beyond a floor-to-ceiling glass wall in the master bedroom to take in views of the golf course and ocean.

"And the sunsets are all beautiful, too," he said. "There aren't too many places like this."

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