By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
KANE'OHE — A four-bedroom, one-bath house sold for just $5,000 along Kamehameha Highway last week.
The low price came with a catch: The new owner has to cart the house off the property.
Alvin Lum sold his boyhood home to make room for a new house for his sister. By selling the house, Lum not only pocketed the $5,000 but avoided paying the more than $11,000 it would have cost to tear it down.
Lum and his sister are two of hundreds of Hawai'i residents who have found creative ways to avoid buying property in the state's overheated real estate market. So they've latched on to the idea of moving houses: Moving them away. Moving them within the property. And even moving them up.
As the median price of a single-family home on O'ahu has jumped to $615,000, more families are turning to L&R Trucking. The Waipahu company moves two or three houses per month, at a cost of about $25,000 to $30,000 each.
Lately, it's found a booming business in jacking up houses for $10,000 to $15,000, so the homeowners can build new, ground-story levels underneath that are capable of supporting a two-story structure.
L&R has been "lifting" an average of two houses per week, twice as many as last year, said company president Lloyd Kawai.
"We do move houses," Kawai said, "but mostly we're lifting up. People want to add on because they've discovered that property's too expensive to buy."
Ray Munos, his wife and their two children, ages 13 and 7, initially wanted to buy something else to replace their 830-square foot, two-bedroom, 1 1/2-bathroom home that they're outgrowing in Kaimuki.
But after reeling at the price of single-family homes on O'ahu, Munos decided instead to raise the house he owns and add 900 square feet below.
"The kids are getting bigger, and we need a bigger house," Munos said. "But everything's so expensive. We decided this house was still good."
Munos, who works in construction, has seen similar projects and decided he can do most of the work himself to give his family a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home with a large living area.
"I looked into all kinds of different options, like the cost of building a new one," Munos said. "I figure I can do most of my work myself."
Munos had the house jacked up two weeks ago, and the family continues to live in the raised house, while Munos begins his new project.
He has no timetable or even cost estimate.
"I'll just pay as I go," he said. "I've got time since I'm doing a lot of the work myself."
Jimmy Lee's Coralco Corp. demolishes houses for homeowners who want to build something new. But if he can, Lee prefers to work with L&R Trucking to find a family that might need the home and be willing to pay to move it.
They have to own a piece of property, such as a state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands homestead parcel.
"I'm always looking for homes for people who need a home to live in," Lee said. "The home is free because we're going to demolish it anyway. The big problem is you can't move a house unless the person has a lot."
Finding a house to be moved might be the easiest step in the process.
Houses typically have to be cut into two or more pieces that will be reassembled later. And L&R Trucking's Kawai often cuts off the roof to avoid having to move overhead utility lines along the route to the home's new location.
Using a trailer to move a house on state or city roads and highways means getting approvals from various transportation agencies and hiring off-duty police officers to help with traffic control.
Then things get more complicated, Kawai said.
The city department of permitting and planning essentially treats the relocated house as a modern-day structure and wants to see architectural renderings and plans. Inspectors also need to make sure that the plumbing and electricity meet current codes.
"It can take two months," Lee said.
Crazy Shirts founder Rick Ralston warns homeowners not to take too long to move their house.
In the late 1970s, Ralston paid $1 for the historic-but-deteriorating Katsuki House at Ke'eaumoku Street, makai of the H-1 freeway. The landowner wanted to develop the property but couldn't demolish the Queen Ann "gingerbread"-style house, because it was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, Ralston said.
Over the years, vandals made off with doors, plumbing and various other parts. And as it continued to sit vacant, the mansion became a refuge for homeless people, Ralston said.
"I watched it sit empty for a couple of years and (people) took up residence," Ralston said.
Ralston planned to move the Katsuki House to property he owned at the back of Manoa Valley and had the home cut up in preparation for a move.
But on May 6, 1978, a massive fire broke out, sending flames shooting 70 feet into the sky. Fire investigators later determined that the fire was intentionally set in the kitchen.
Today, Ralston has advice for anyone planning to move a house:
"Try not to leave it vacant," he said. "Put in some security."
Last week, Lum unlocked the back door to the old family home that he lived in from the time he was 4 to age 39, when he got married. He walked the dark pine floors to the corner bedroom that Lum shared with one of his brothers, the same room that once contained 27 cages holding breeding canaries that Lum raised.
At one point, 12 brothers and sisters, Lum's father, Lum Chan, and mother, Yong Kiam Lum, all shared the four bedrooms and one bathroom.
"It was easy," Alvin Lum said. "We were small."
City property records show that the 1,246-square-foot home was built in 1941. The 9,750-square-foot lot has an assessed value of $355,900, according to property records. The house is worth only $43,100.
The last occupant, Lum's older brother Reuben, died in April at the age of 73.
Instead of selling the home and land after Reuben's death, the surviving brothers and sisters decided to turn it over to one of their sisters, who plans to build a new home on the property.
So Alvin Lum got an estimate to demolish the house. But his wife suggested that he place an ad in the newspaper to see if anyone would buy it for $5,000 and take it away for the family.
In less than a week, Lum received nearly 30 calls. Several people asked if they could buy the house and just leave it on the property, essentially giving them rent-free land.
"I get plenty calls like that," Lum said.
The eventual buyer wants to move the house to a farm in Waimanalo, where he plans to use it as a home for his workers. The buyer asked not to be identified.
Lum, whose parents, brothers and sisters once worked taro fields along the Windward side, likes the idea that the old family home will be put to good use for farm workers.
And he's the glad that another member of his family can now use their land.
"We would not even think of selling the property," Lum said. "We keep it in the family."
Reach Dan Nakaso at firstname.lastname@example.org.