Would moving to town work for you?
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
Dan Lee is so tired of fighting through commuter traffic that he's giving up his one-bedroom townhouse in Mililani Mauka for a studio condo in Kaka'ako, closer to work.
The move makes sense for Lee because he spends an average of 12 hours a day in town — working at HMSA on Ke'eaumoku Street, eating and shopping. To avoid getting stuck in traffic again on the way home, Lee usually hangs around even longer to exercise by running through Ala Moana Beach Park or Kapi'olani Park.
"By the time I get home," he said, "I have just enough time to relax and go to sleep. (By moving) I'll have at least an extra two to three hours to work out or vegetate or just relax or whatever. That would definitely be a luxury."
Trading a commuter's life in the 'burbs for a parking-challenged one in town doesn't make sense for everyone. Real-estate agents and people who have made the move — or who, like Lee, are in the process of doing it — say it means carefully considering all of the pros and cons because it's hard to switch back in Hawai'i's tight real-estate market.
"You have to give up space for convenience, but there are a lot of people who are ready to do that," said Sherri Kandell, an agent at Coldwell Banker's Kahala office, who also is on the sales team of the Keola La'i condominium rising on Queen Street. "A lot of people have seen quite an appreciation in equity, so they're saying, 'I can move closer to town and do well financially.' Yes, they also have to give up their space, but it's all about trade-offs."
MORE HOURS IN A DAY
Like many others who grew tired of spending hours shuttling back and forth between home and work each day, Cecily Barnes planned to use the time she shaved off her commute to work out regularly.
One year after she traded in her 1,500-square-foot, four-bedroom, two-bath, tri-level townhouse in Makakilo for a 900-square-foot, two-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath condo in Waikiki, Barnes readily acknowledges the increased-exercise part of her plan still needs improvement.
"I wanted to do more physical activity," Barnes said. "If I were to be honest, I'd have to say that I still need to do more of it."
Barnes also finds that she spends more money eating at Waikiki restaurants with her husband — and with friends who never visited when she lived in Makakilo.
"Locals don't normally go to Waikiki, but they come to visit me," Barnes said.
Especially since Barnes gives up her condo parking space to her friends. But that means Barnes has to search for an empty parking spot in Waikiki for her own car.
"You have to be really clever about it," Barnes said. "But you can find ample street parking."
For Barnes, the trade-offs are worth the move.
She can stay up later, sleep in longer, spend time in the morning with her husband and still get to her job at Hawaiian Electric Co.'s support services department by 7 a.m.
The drive from her condo on Lili'uokalani Avenue to her workplace on Ward Avenue takes Barnes all of seven minutes.
"When I moved to Makakilo in '94, it was a manageable commute," Barnes said. "Now it's exponentially worse. Moving meant a whole change in quality of life — simple things like sleeping in late. I wake up now and watch the morning news and have more time with my husband. Before, there was just so much pressure to get out of the house and beat the traffic."
Mike Golojuch often hears the wishful thinking of his neighbors wondering what life would be like if they could just abandon their commutes and trade in their homes for something smaller in town.
"Usually, at a gathering of some sort, that conversation comes up as a half-hearted joke," said Golojuch, a member of the Makakilo/Kapolei/Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board. "But I think most of the time they'd rather do it."
Not Tracie Mukai.
She grew up in Mililani and now lives in a three-bedroom, two-bath townhouse in Mililani Mauka with her husband, Kevin; their 5-year-old son, Andrew; newborn son, Derek; and their golden retriever, Kayla.
Before she took maternity leave to care for 2 1/2-month-old Derek, Tracie, 34, normally commuted into town and spent her days visiting clients as an advertising-account executive. Kevin, 40, still makes the drive six days a week to tend to their business, Yuri's Florist on King Street, where Tracie also works.
Some days, while driving home separately, Tracie and Kevin have found themselves calling each other to give traffic updates and alerts.
"I do spend a lot of time in traffic — just over an hour in the morning to get to work," Tracie said. "There's nothing you can do about it."
But there's no way Tracie would trade the commute for the life she has in Mililani Mauka surrounded by other young families, lush parks, soccer practices and plenty of room for dogs and kids.
"You sit in traffic every day and you think, 'This really sucks,' " Tracie said. "But I don't know if I can live in town. (In Mililani) the school is right across the street from our house. My parents are here (Tracie's mother, Annette Nishikawa, is principal at Kapolei Middle School) and Kevin's family lives in 'Aiea. So it's easier to visit the grandmas and grandpas. And I can ask them to pick up the kids from school or the sitter. Mililani's just so easy. There's everything we need."
But Craig Bunkley has seen street traffic getting more snarled around his home in Kapolei.
"Try going to the grocery store on a Saturday afternoon," Bunkley said. "Traffic's definitely getting tough in Kapolei."
Bunkley nevertheless loves his neighbors and the schools for his 18-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son.
Bunkley and his wife, Terry, consider Kapolei "the best place to live," Craig said.
Still, there is Craig's daily drive to work as the general manager of Kincaid's Fish, Chop & Steak House at Ward Warehouse.
"If you have to be there at 4 a.m., it's an easy shot, 30 minutes, door to door," Craig said. "But if there's an accident, I don't want to go to work. When it gets backed up, it's bad."
TIME FOR A SWAP
Sue and Scott MacKinnon had been talking about selling their 2,500-square-foot, four-bedroom, three-bathroom house in Kailua and downsizing into a much smaller condominium closer to Scott's work as an attorney in town and Sue's volunteer work.
Their plan was to make the move in three to five years when Scott, 57, would be closer to retirement. Sue, 56, also wanted to have plenty of room to accommodate their children's visits.
Then Scott bought a 1,500-square-foot, two-bedroom, two- bath condo in the Hokua complex between Ward Centre and Ala Moana Center.
It was intended only as an investment property. But during the walk-through in October, the MacKinnons suddenly realized they were ready to swap lifestyles.
"We both said at the same time, 'We can see ourselves living here,' " Sue said. "All of a sudden, we started moving toward that idea. It was a surprise for us to walk into Hokua and realize, 'Why rent it out when we could live here?"
Their Kailua home is now on the market for $1.39 million. But regardless of whether they sell it soon, the MacKinnons will be leaving the Windward side on Friday to move into town.
They hope that Scott will be able to get back to running every day. Sue has begun making plans for tennis and walking groups with her friends who live in town.
And together, they might begin attending the Honolulu Symphony, Diamond Head Theatre, and University of Hawai'i games and matches that they've neglected over the years of living on the other side of the island.
"There have been all kinds of things we don't do anymore because it means going back over the hill again," Sue said. "It seems like we always canceled out or gave our tickets to someone else. Now it'll just be more convenient for everything."
For Lee, his upcoming move to town means gladly giving up hours wasted in traffic.
And Lee, a former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, knows traffic.
"During normal, average, everyday travel, where there's nonpeak hours, it's only half an hour," Lee said. "But during rush hour, it turns out to be more like an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half."
A fender bender, a cop giving a ticket or even somebody changing a flat tire will cause Honolulu drivers to rubberneck and clog up freeway traffic even more.
So last week, as he found himself nudging his way back to Mililani Mauka in his 2002 To-yota Tacoma truck, Lee's thoughts turned to a new life in town without a commute.
"It's a waste of time to sit in your car in traffic," Lee said through his cell phone. "I'm not giving up anything by moving to town. But I'll be gaining free time."
Scott can resume his regular running workouts and dramatically cut his commute to work in his downtown law firm. Sue plans to spend more time with friends who live in town. Both hope to resume attending the Honolulu Symphony, Diamond Head Theatre and University of Hawai'i sporting events. "It seems like we always canceled out or gave our tickets to someone else," Sue said. "Now it'll just be more convenient for everything."
Reach Dan Nakaso at email@example.com.