Most of us are still in complete shock over the loss of the town of Lahaina on the west side of Maui, Hawaii. The gravity of the fires on August 8th, 2023 was so extreme, that it’s hard to comprehend this level of devastation. It’s not just the loss of life, the loss of homes and businesses, and the loss of possessions and jobs; but the loss of a one of a kind town that can never be replaced. Lahaina town was a piece of history and full of Hawaiian cultural significance. Lahaina is a very special place, I think all Maui residents have some special memories of what Lahaina means to them.
In 2012 when I was in my 20’s I lived on Front Street at the Channel House condominium complex. At the time I was working towards buying my first place, and I came incredibly close to buying a condo next door at Lahaina Residential. At the time those units were going for around 180k, but that was a lot of money to me at the time and after negotiating with the sellers of a few different units that were listed on MLS at the time I decided to walk away because I was worried that prices could drop again. I always regretted that decision, since we all know that 2012 was one of the best times to buy real estate in our lifetimes. But now I empathize with the buyer that came in after me and made it their home.
There are so many memories of walking on Front street. For me, some of my best memories were surfing at breakwall and harbor surf spots early in the morning before going to work. Sometimes after work I would walk out with my paddle board, across front street, and enter the water in the same spot that we saw footage of victims getting into the ocean to escape the flames.
Anyone that lived or worked in Lahaina suffered devastating loss, but personally I feel like nothing (in terms of property loss) compares to those that have lost multi-generational homes. I’m talking about the homes that your grandparents built 50, 75 or even 100 years ago – nothing can replace the significance behind a property like that, and unfortunately Lahaina town is full of those types of homes. So many memories lost, so many sentimental items that can never be replaced. Our hearts are broken for our neighbors in Lahaina.
The Challenges Around Rebuilding Lahaina
However we will need to rebuild, and I have some serious concerns about how that it going to happen. The biggest concern that I have is Maui’s broken permitting system. If you’ve never applied for building permits on Maui take it from me; our system is not just broken… it’s an absolute train wreck.. it’s a complete s–t show. Pardon my language, but there really are no words strong enough to describe how dysfunctional our permitting system is, and I cannot believe that I haven’t heard anyone talking about this yet.
How Long Does It Take To Get Building Permits In Maui, HI?
To put into perspective for our mainland friends, I have been working on building a cottage at my personal home in Pukalani for 2 years now. We applied for permits over a year ago and there is still no end in sight. We’ve gone back and forth so many times, and keep making the changes that each of the departments requests, only to find out that it triggers a new problem with another department. It really is an archaic system, even with the new “MAPPS” (Maui automated planning and permitting system), it doesn’t appear to be any better. A lot of the contractors we work with came from the Pacific North West and we’re always hearing about how they would drop off plans in the morning and then pick them up after lunch with permits approved. So what can be done in 1 day is taking 1-2 years+ here on Maui.
This is the main reason Maui has such a huge problem with unpermitted structures. Maui residents don’t want to build illegal/unpermitted structures; but going through the county to get building permits is just out of the question for most people in terms of the amount of time it takes and the amount of money it costs. For our cottage, we have spent over $20,000 just on plans and revisions, and we haven’t even started any work. Keep in mind, we have a ton of relationships with contractors and are probably much more efficient at this than the average homeowner.
I feel as though this has been a massive problem for Maui’s housing crisis, even when times were good. But how on Earth can the residents of Lahaina ever expect to rebuild if it takes 2 years to get permits in good times?? How long is it going to take to get a permit approved once all of the Lahaina victims start submitting their plans and the county has hundreds of new permit applications to process??
I really would appreciate if Josh Green and Richard Bissen would explain to the residents of Lahaina how this is going to work. Or at least tell them that they are working on some type of plan to expedite permits for victims of the fires.
Here’s another interesting article from Time.com about the housing crisis on Maui and how the wildfires could exacerbate the problem.
How Long Will Displacement Insurance Cover Fire Victims?
Thankfully I believe that most homeowners in Lahaina did have insurance, except a small portion of homes that were paid off. This is the one way having a mortgage could be a blessing, because banks will always require the homeowner to carry insurance.
In this kind of disaster having displacement coverage (or loss of rental income for rental properties) is very important. This benefit will help the homeowners to be able to make their monthly mortgage payments while they are renting a temporary home and waiting for permits to be approved. Most homeowners should have displacement coverage, the question is how much coverage do they have? From my experience, it seems like most insurance policies will include 12 months of displacement coverage. Meaning they will pay the cost of reasonable accommodations (like an airbnb or a long term rental home) for you to stay in while you are paying your mortgage and rebuilding. In most cases this is totally adequate, but due to Maui’s broken permitting system, I suspect that 3-5 years is probably the soonest anyone in Lahaina can expect to have their home rebuilt. I really hope I’m wrong!
Other Challenges Lahaina Residents Could Face When Rebuilding
Other challenges that I’m worried about are the supply of materials and the availability of construction workers to meet the demand once homeowners do receive permits. Where are we going to find all of the manpower it’s going to take to rebuild hundreds or even possibly thousands of structures all around the same time period?
So What Do We Do To Prevent These Problems?
My goal of sharing my thoughts and concerns is not to scare anyone or paint a negative picture, but just to be realistic and hopefully to start this conversation, since again I have not heard anyone else talking about this and I think it is going to be a MAJOR problem and possibly cause a very rude awakening for any of the victims that might be thinking they could be back in their home within a year or two.
I appreciate that Josh Green has been stern about blocking developers from preying on our community. But what I would really like is to hear from our elected officials, Governor Josh Green and Maui Mayor Richard Bissen, about how they plan to address these problems so the victims of the Lahaina fires can afford to rebuild their homes and are not forced out of Lahaina. Because if we don’t fix our system, I’m afraid that many homeowners will end up selling to foreign investors/developers once they eventually run out of the funds needed to get through this process.
Please help spread the word about these problems. You can help by sharing this article, or just sharing the message in your own words. You can also write to your elected officials to ask them for solutions to these problems to be provided to the victims of the Maui fires. If you’d like to contact Governor Josh Green, you can send him a message here at the contact the governor page. It’s short and only takes a moment to send a message.
If you have other concerns about how we can successfully rebuild Lahaina and keep our residents at home on Maui please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can email me at Greg@mauihomebuyers.com
NOTE: We are currently not looking to buy property in the Lahaina region. We’re not apposed to discussing it if you have carefully considered it and feel 100% sure that selling is the right decision for you and your family; but we’d like to see the county of Maui provide the opportunity for the residents of Lahaina to keep their homes and rebuild. I strongly encourage the residents of Lahaina to do everything they can to keep their property. The first thing I would do is call your bank and ask for forbearance on your mortgage payments. If your bank will pause your mortgage payments until you can rebuild that would make the process significantly easier and less stressful, and much more financially feasible. I’d like to think that most banks should have enough compassion to do this, at least I hope! If you own a home in Lahaina and have questions that we might be able to help with please don’t hesitate to contact us. My direct cell number is 808-359-3121 or you can reach us through our website here. I would be more than happy to use my experience in this business to help in any way that I can.