Five Years Later: Lessons Learned About Conservation Property in Hawaii

In January 2023, I had the privilege of being invited to speak about Hawaii Lifeʻs Conservation and Legacy Lands practice to the Realtors Association of Maui. Almost 300 real estate professionals attended the meeting, despite epic storms that morning. At the last minute, our Principal Broker Matt Beall joined me on stage as we recapped the reasons for starting this practice, what we have learned over the past five years, and why we continue to believe conservation in Hawaiʻi is a matter that concerns all of us, real estate professionals and our customers and clients.

Here is a summary of what we said, with some links for reference.

Work day at Alakoko Fish Pond

Volunteering at a conservation project site is one of the best ways to understand viscerally how conservation matters to all of us in Hawaiʻi

Why Hawaiʻi Life Created a Conservation and Legacy Lands Practice

As we explain in this video created in 2018 for the launch of Hawaiʻi Lifeʻs Conservation and Legacy Lands practice, both Matt and I had developed substantial knowledge of how conservation transactions and easements work, and relationships with the broader community of conservation organizations and practitioners in Hawaiʻi. We wanted to share that expertise with agents, customers and clients of Hawaiʻi Life, but also make it available to other brokerages and potential conservation donors, sellers, and buyers.

Key Lessons Learned in Five Years Leading Hawaiʻi Lifeʻs Conservation and Legacy Lands Practice

Ironically, in our video we and the other speakers make all the points that became key lessons as I discovered their real meaning working on conservation projects during these past five years.

#1 Itʻs 90% stewardship and 10% transaction. Initially we were focused on the aspects of conservation transactions that are different than what we as real estate professionals encounter in our usual residential or commercial practice. While it is true that conservation transactions typically take much longer and require specific understanding of the players and tools, that is not whatʻs hard to do in a successful conservation scenario where a property or conservation easement is sold to a conservation entity or donated to a non-profit.

What really matters is who will care for the property once it is protected in perpetuity. The solution to that turns out to be what (now Hawaiʻi State senator) Tim Richards says in the video: preservation with purpose. If there is a community of practice or a family of lineal descendants of a place willing to commit to its stewardship, that is when we can best step in to facilitate the transaction.

Matt Beall, Patti Solomon and Shorty Bertelmann at Mahukona

Hawaii Life CEO Matt Beall at Mahukona with the late Patti Ann Solomon (lineal descendant) and pwo master navigator Shorty Bertelmann

#2 The conservation consideration should be a part of every transaction we do as Hawaiʻi Life. As a specialized area of real estate practice, Conservation and Legacy Lands focuses on places with environmental, agricultural, or cultural conservation values (or sometimes all of these). These are properties that should either remain entirely undeveloped or whose unique values present a need for conservation through highly sensitive development – which may sometimes be mandated by Hawaiʻi legal and regulatory frameworks.

But on the other hand, as a statewide, 100% Hawaiʻi owned brokerage, we say “We are Hawai‘i Life and so we have an obligation to understand this place, the culture and people.” When we support the protection of distinctively Hawaiʻian places through our practice, we support the preservation and restoration of a thriving Hawaiʻi — place, culture, and communities. And this is something all of us who live here and love Hawaiʻi can be proactive in supporting.

If you are looking for opportunities to learn about Hawaiian places, to volunteer, or to contribute to preservation efforts, check in with our Hawaiʻi Life Conservation and Legacy Lands website. We are going to be featuring these opportunities across the state.

In the meantime, here are two of my favorite preservation efforts to check out:

On Kauai, Malama Huleʻia (the photo at top) is in need of donations and volunteers to continue to restore and protect native fishponds.

On Hawaiʻi Island, Hawaii Land Trustʻs efforts to protect Mahukona (second photo) are going. Donate or participate in one of their talk stories on the land to learn more.

If you have a conservation or restoration effort you support in Hawaiʻi, please feel free to post it in the comments!

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