Gentry Homes sales agent Cyndie Smith walks through the sales parking lot as she checks on her clients, some 11 families, who have been camping out since Wednesday. Ewelynn Nakanishi sleeps in the back of an SUV as she holds a place in line for her family.

Camping out to grab
Ewa homes pays off

Prospective buyers at Ewa
by Gentry wait for days to get
a shot at their first new house

By Sally Apgar

Walter Caraang, 27, is an auto parts salesman with two small children and a wife with a job in accounting who wanted their first home so badly that he camped outside a Gentry Homes sales office in Ewa for four days this week in a Ford Bronco stocked with blankets, sunscreen and a cooler of Heineken beer.

Caraang was second of about 16 people who camped in line this week for a chance to buy one of 11 new single-family homes in Las Brisas, the newest neighborhood in the sprawling master-planned community Ewa by Gentry. In the last 10 years, Gentry has built about 5,000 homes here.

Eighteen people got on the coveted roster for the 11 homes, which are designed as two-story 1930s island-style bungalows.

Hopes among the encamped group of anxious first-time home buyers soared when one of the early groups pulled out, which meant everyone who stayed moved up one on the list.

"This should be called 'Survivors Las Brisas,'" joked Heather Peet, No. 7 in line, referring to the popular television shows in which contestants make gains when others are weeded out.

With interest rates low and the starter-home market tight, these determined campers are one small but colorful indication of how difficult it is for young, first-time home buyers to buy their piece of the American dream on Oahu.

Housing experts say that rental rates have increased in recent months and vacancies have shrunk, which has pushed some families with enough for a down payment into the real estate market. After the down payment and the tax advantages, the monthly housing payment is close to what they paid for rent.

But when they start to house-hunt, according to the campers, they find a tight market with starter homes attracting several bids.

"It's really competitive out there," said Justin Bennett, a 22-year-old database analyst who has been searching for a home with his wife, Sharon, for more than five months. "There are just a lot of other people out there looking for the same thing."

Sharon Bennett, also 22, and a student at Hawaii Pacific University, said, "We've looked at a lot of real dungeons."

Rick Hobson, director of sales and marketing for Gentry Homes, said that ever since November when the first batch of homes was ready in Las Brisas, they have had camp-outs of people because the homes are sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

Hobson said homes in Las Brisas are popular because they are stand-alone, single-family homes -- not condominiums -- that have three bedrooms, central air, two-car garages and new appliances, priced beginning at about $209,000. He conceded a tradeoff is that the fenced-in yards are small, but there is a community pool and recreation center.

Hobson said that resale homes at the same price tend to be about 10 years old and do not have spacious master bedrooms, walk-in closets, new appliances or Corian counters.

When the Gentry sales office opened early yesterday morning, Caraang, Peet, the Bennetts and others who had been camping since Wednesday and Thursday, were ready. By 10:30 the Caraang family had signed the paperwork for a spanking-new three-bedroom home with central air and a two-car garage for $241,000.

"This is a really, really good deal," said a proud Caraang as he strode out of the sales office waving a fistful of papers at the other campers, who cheered and clapped. Every time a couple emerged form the sale office with paperwork, the others cheered and sometimes even joined a quick tour of the model they had chosen.

"Most definitely it was worth it," said a beaming Caraang. If all goes well, the Caraang family could move into their new home in July.

Most of the campers had never stood in line for concert tickets. But they were so intent on getting a new house, they camped for several days with complete strangers sharing life stories, bug spray and a single portable outdoor toilet. Some grilled steak and chicken teriyaki while others did McDonald's, Domino's pizzas and Coors Lite. The campers will most likely become neighbors.

"We had some major bonding going on here," said Caraang.

Heather Peet, 32, is about eight weeks pregnant and managed to camp out of her van with her 16-month-old daughter, Reilly Kate, for three days. Fighting morning sickness and mosquitoes, Peet, who is married to an Army officer, also said it was worth it.

"We've been looking a long time," said Peet wearily. "I've looked at houses I can't afford and dumps that I can. Every house that was halfway decent was out of our range."

Peet said at first she didn't like the small fenced-in yards, but the tradeoffs were worth it.

"It's brand new and everything works," said Peet. "I got so tired of looking at places that needed lots of work. Here I don't have to repair, spackle or lay new tile."

Monaco Vales, 27, and her husband, Gamaliel, also 27, a police officer in Pearl City, rushed to camp out Wednesday night. They borrowed her parents' white van and came with rations of kim chee and rice, ready to grill teriyaki steak and chicken in a small barbecue. They were No. 3 in line, angling for a three-bedroom model called the "Paloma," priced at $234,900.

"We've been looking for three months," she said, "but everything was too expensive or too old. And here, it's brand new and the price is better."

Kathyrn Fujioka, 25, an instructor at Leeward Community College, got the first spot in line with her fiance, Shane Imai, a salesman at Macy's.

"We're tired and grouchy but definitely happy," said Fujioka minutes after signing for her new home.

Gentry Homes


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