North Kohala Land Sales 2023 – Niuliʻi to Kaiholena

This 2023 real estate market report covers North Kohala land sales from Niuliʻi to Kaiholena, meaning from east of Kapaau to west of Hawi and down the coast a bit but not including the lower North Kohala gated communities. This year, because we had several significant conservation purchases close, I am also including ownership transfers that did not appear in the MLS.

A year ago I wrote that whereas the Kohala residential real estate market frenzy began in 2020, the rush did not spill over into vacant land until 2021, as buyers who could not find a suitable home for sale switched to the idea of buying land to build. My prediction was that the market would be constrained by lack of inventory (supply of lots for sale) in 2023, much as what we saw to be the case in the 2023 North Kohala (Hawi and Kapaʻau) residential market.

That turned out to be accurate, further evidenced by a number of “sold before print” sales in both residential and land markets, meaning there was a buyer lined up before the listing was even released to the MLS.

oceanfront acreage for sale on big island hawaii

This oceanfront parcel is one of nine parcels of oceanfront and agricultural land, a total of 412 acres – one of the large land listings for sale in North Kohala MLS 665113

North Kohala (Niuliʻi to Kaiholena) Land Sales Stall Out in 2023

There were only twelve sales of Kohala vacant land parcels (excluding the lower North Kohala gated communities) reported in the MLS in 2023. This compares with 23 sales in 2022, a peak of 27 land sales in 2021, and 19 sales in 2019. Of these, two were conservation purchases, one by the County of Hawaiʻi through their PONC program, and one by the National Park Service, which means only 10 properties changed hands to private buyers.

For the most part, this was due to relative lack of inventory. To a lesser extent, rising prices for desirable parcels dampened demand, particularly for smaller building lots.

The buyers of vacant land parcels are a mix of individuals and families already resident in Hawaiʻi, and out-of-state newcomers, with most being newcomers. This is true at all property sizes and price points.

Smaller Lots Sold in North Kohala in 2023

  • A 10,000 sq ft residential lot in the Hanaula Village project sold for $350,000. Last year, a similar lot sold for $230,000, consistent with prior sales over many years.
  • The lowest priced sale was a 1.41-acre lot in Makapala, a buildable but overgrown lot sold before print for $315,000.
  • A half-acre lot on Kynnersley lot received multiple offers and sold for the $400,000 asking price.
  • A 4-acre parcel along Hawi Road sold for $770,000, very close to asking price.

Larger Acreage Parcels Sold in North Kohala in 2023

Most of North Kohala, outside of gated subdivisions which rezoned as part of the subdivision process, is zoned Ag-20a, meaning lots cannot be further subdivided into parcels of fewer than 20 acres in size. These parcels are sometimes purchased primarily for privacy and ocean views, with homes built on them to similar quality that would be required by CC&Rs in gated communities. Sometimes, they are purchased for buyers intending to actually farm or ranch as well as live on the parcel.

Note that $/acre does not scale, as it might for true for pure farm or ranch land. Thatʻs because with the Ag-20a zoning, whether you buy 4 acres or 39 acres, you can still only build one primary residence (here is some old guidance on additional farm worker dwellings), and cannot sell of part of your land later. Price per acre also depends on other factors such as the degree of ocean view, whether the property is overgrown with invasive species or cultivated with orchards or crops, and whether there are any improvements such as installed utilities or ag buildings.

  • Three agricultural parcels sold along Kynnersley Road, at prices ranging from $775,000 to $1,500,000 – two of those sales worked out to similar price/acre, $25,595/ac and 26, 939/ac. One was almost triple the other two at $1,495,000 for 20 acres, $74,750/ acre. However, this property was cleared with a border of pine trees for windbreak and privacy, a large metal barn and other ag structures, catchment water tank, and big ocean views.
  • Only one lot sold at Puakea Bay Ranch, the gated horse-friendly subdivision of 10-acre lots just west of Hawi on the dry side, compared with a record of five lots in 2022. Prices held steady at $450,000 for a 10-acre lot.
  • Two lots that had been listed for over a year sold in the Kaiholena subdivision farther down the coast. There is neither County water nor public electric service to Kaiholena, so it takes a buyer truly committed to off-grid living to choose these lots of 20-acres with outstanding ocean, sunset, and Maui views. The lots sold for $750,000 and $825,000.

The Highest Priced Kohala Land Sales Once Again Were Oceanfront Conservation Purchases

people walking down a dirt road

County, State, Federal and non-profit landowners are working together to design appropriate recreational activities for the public along the protected Kohala Leeward Coast. Photo credit: Mike Frailey

Although there are numerous instances where property owners of land with conservation values choose to donate them for preservation, in most cases the owners are sellers. Sellers getting market price as verified by appraisal when selling to conservation entities, or sometimes choosing at their discretion, to make a “seller contribution” and agree to a lower sales price.

I have described in other posts what conservation values are, and the mechanisms for acquiring or protecting land via conservation purchases or conservation easements.

There were four significant conservation sales in North Kohala in 2023, two of them on properties not currently listed in the MLS.

Two of the sales, one an MLS listing and one off-market, completed the protection of the entire Kula Iwi o Kamehameha corridor named as the #1 priority in the Countyʻs 2008 North Kohala Community Development Plan.

On the other side of Kauhola Point, the oceanfront also is in non-profit stewardship. I failed to note this property transfer in my 2022 review, as it was a donation rather than a sale. New Moon Foundation donated the approximately 2,400-acre ʻIole ahupuaʻa to Hawaiʻi Community Foundation. This is a potentially visionary opportunity to steward land, rather than only steward funds, in support of HCFʻs mission to “inspire generosity, advocate for equity, forge connections and invest in community to create a better Hawai‘i.”

Since the first the Hawaii County Open Space Priority list, North Kohalaʻs Leeward Coast has ranked multiple parcels near the top, due to the significant concentration of historically, culturally significant sites along this corridor, and the possibility of view plane protection along the Kohala Coast.

Two conservation transactions in 2023 create an uninterrupted stretch of protected coastline from Kaupalaoa to the south through Mahukona and the adjacent Kapaa County Park on the north. The landowners, including the State and County, have already met several times to discuss how to create a coherent set of recreational and educational opportunities, while protecting the archeological and biological resources of the coast.

  • A 35-acre parcel had been listed as a “development opportunity” surrounded by state land. This parcel actually lies between a previously purchased parcel that was added to Lapakahi State Historical Park, and on the other side of state land, a 2010 purchase by the County of Hawaiʻi of a parcel at Paoʻo. The National Park Service stepped up with funding for a $2.5 million purchase of this important parcel, through which the Ala Kahakai trail runs.
  • The single most significant conservation sale that closed just before year end was the purchase of the Mahukona navigational complex by Hawaiʻi Land Trust. I have written extensively about this important site, which will be stewarded for HILT by Na Kalai Waʻa and lineal descendants of the area. Hawaiʻi Land Trust raised over $18 million for acquisition and stewardship of this important place.

Current Vacant Land Listings in Kohala

aerial view of parcel of land near ocean with with lot lines

This 13.3-acre parcel near Kapanaia is around the median price for active land listings in Kohala. Walk to the shoreline public access trail from MLS 667617

There are 26 active listings in Kohala, ranging from $299,000 for a residential lot with a teardown home that will need to be removed, to $22 million for the 412 acres shown in the first photo above. The listings include the full range of possibilities, from smaller residential lots to large farm and ranch opportunities. There is also a decent selection of listings in both Puakea Bay Ranch and the adjacent Ranch at Puakea.

There are two large land opportunities where the total opportunity is not immediately apparent, because each appears as multiple listings. Both are in the Kukuipahu area, although not contiguous nor the same owner. Along the coastline are two parcels comprising 345 acres listed for a total of $24.6 million, part of an even larger holding.  On the mountain side above are three listings currently part of a larger working cattle ranch, a total of 1,325 acres listed for a combined price of $17.7 million. I describe both of these larger opportunities in more detail in this post. Conservation easements might be a strategy for a buyer of either holding.

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