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The Big Island has more development because it is the largest, so houses are more affordable there. Kona is the high-end spot, where billionaires flock to bake on the beach (and where Michael Dell, the CEO of Dell computers, just bought a triple lot). Lanai, which is actually part of Maui county, has two markets: high-end by the Four Seasons Manele Bay, and affordable up near the Four Seasons lodge, where a 900-sq-foot plantation house goes for $250,000, although reportedly sales are slow all over. Molokai is small and has a stagnant economy - the Sheraton on the island closed a few years ago.

Side trips
On Oahu, many people rent a house or go to the hotel for weekends on the North Shore, what Honolulu residents call "the country". "All the original shaved ice places are out there and the great burger and Mexican joints with long lines of people waiting out front," said Stewart. For a long weekend, people head to Kona on the Big Island or to Maui. You can hike anywhere, but real enthusiasts go to Kauai where the best and the most famous trails are.

Flights from Honolulu International Airport take roughly the same amount of time to go to Los Angeles as to Tokyo, about five and a half hours. Nonstop flights to New York are about 11 to 13 hours.

Practical info
The overall market in Hawaii is stable and on the rise. Oahu has suffered less than the other islands from the housing market freefall in the US, although there was a 10 to 15% drop in sale prices. Unlike the 1990s when the Japanese recession brought doom to the Hawaiian housing market, now there is a diversity in the buyer profile: mainly Canadians, Chinese and Californians.

Oahu has some built-in insulation, being the capital and business centre, so it has not seen the same foreclosures and short sales as the other islands. "The neighbour islands are truly for the second-, third-, and fourth-home buyer," explained Fox. "So they are the first to fall off in terms of sale prices and volume."

On Kauai, the economic downturn has had an effect. "Properties are priced a lot lower than they were in 2006 and 2007 at the height of the market," said Forman. On Maui, the market is up overall, pushed by the strong surge by Canadians this past winter. "Usually they don't go into debt, but come with cash and bargain," said Fisher. "But now I'm seeing them coming in with loans." There have also been a lot of enquiries from Chinese buyers.

Before you buy on any island, be sure to talk to your agent and get a feel for which island would fit your lifestyle. Do you want amenities? Culture? Just to lay on a white-sand beach? Or to hike and snorkel all day long? Wherever you land, you are sure to feel like most islanders do. "It's just such a privilege to live in a place like this," said Stewart.

Further reading
Honolulu Magazine: Features and reviews covering all the islands
Hawaii Luxury: The good life on Hawaii
Hawaiirama: Blog about goings on and going out
Honolulu Weekly: For the local scene, listings and events

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