I’m writing this piece from my new home city of Austin, Texas. I’m staying at an Airbnb as I begin my “Second Chapter” while getting settled into the rhythms of this vibrant city.

I’ve decided to call this my second chapter for a few reasons, and perhaps the most significant reason would be that I just left a life behind, of 30 years in Hawaii.

I’ve had quite a few journeys around the sun thus far and I feel the journey ahead will be one of my best yet.

I wanted to contribute to the conversation, which Civil Beat started a year or so ago, regarding the cost of living in Hawaii. It’s really something that is getting way out of control. I never thought I’d join the ranks of those leaving the islands. Yet, I have done just that.

Here is a little of my story — I think some of you will be able to relate to it, especially if you are nearing retirement.

I officially moved to Hawaii in April of 1987. I had a brother who had moved to Hawaii in the early 1970s, due to his service with the military. He lived in Hawaii until he passed away in 2017, raising a family and building a local family owned business over all those years.

Austin, Texas. Cheaper than Honolulu, and with good Mexican restaurants. Chad Blair/Civil Beat

I had initially moved to Hawaii during those early years, while my brother was stationed at Schofield Barracks. I came out my sophomore year of high school and attended Waialua High School. I fell in love with Hawaii then, yet wasn’t able to make the move permanently until 1987, as an adult. I have lived in Hawaii until now.

Hawaii casts a spell upon you, most certainly. Especially if you are a lover of the water and all the various forms of recreation, that beautiful ocean has to offer. It most definitely is a special place on the planet in many ways.

Yet, after 30 years of a very blessed and abundant life, I knew it was time to leave the islands. The reason being: I wanted to retire sooner in life rather than later. It was not an easy decision, nor one that I made quickly. It took me several years of contemplation and assessing what the new life I envisioned, would be like.

I was very fortunate career-wise, during my years in Hawaii. I was able to own a single-family home, which as a single individual isn’t the norm in the islands. And I never had to hold more than one job at a time to make ends meet either.

I was a bit creative, as most local home owners are, when I decided to buy. I knew I wanted a home that I could create and an “ohana” portion, to help offset the mortgage expenses. I found long-term tenants easily, which worked out quite well. Some of them are dear friends until this day. Yes, this was before the days of Airbnb and if I were to do it again, I’d do it just the same.

Professionally, I was in marketing and advertising for a large national company that provided a living wage for the cost of life in paradise. A rarity, unfortunately, in Hawaii. Eventually that company dissolved during the recession of 2008-2009. I had a choice to make, either scramble and find a couple of positions that would provide an equal compensation or sell the house and redefine my life. I chose the latter. I am very grateful that I did.

During this period of time, there was a marketing campaign that Patagonia retail was promoting. The slogan was “Live Simply.” It resonated for me on so many levels. Perhaps because I’m an example of what is happening to the working middle class in our country. Or perhaps, was it on some level due to my age and stage in my working career life? I knew I was wanting to simplify my life without having to compromise the lifestyle I was accustomed to either.

Real Estate Games

I was able at that point in my life; a very young 50-year-old female, without the responsibility of a family, to take a year off and discover my “Plan B.” And I did just that — I explored the planet, visiting 22 countries in that year’s time. I gave a considerable amount of thought to becoming an expat, yet in the end I knew as a single female, I wanted the freedoms I treasure in the United States of America.

There is a lot we take for granted in our country. Living abroad and going out of your comfort zone, you learn to appreciate those freedoms even more. I am extremely grateful I was able to learn those lessons while I was away. In the end I returned to my beautiful island state of Hawaii.

I then began a new career in real estate. I wanted to be able to help people create wealth for themselves and the freedom of choices, I was able to do for myself, as a homeowner. Ownership provides so many benefits one would never realize as a tenant, since in essence you are helping the landlord pay their mortgage.

When I returned from my travels, I knew I wanted to own property again in Hawaii. Only this time, I wanted to simplify my life and I chose to buy a town house instead. It took me a year of looking at the market and inventory before deciding where. I found just what I wanted, within my means financially.

I left Hawaii because I wanted to retire sooner in life rather than later.

Fast forward, 10 years later. I’ve sold the town house. I’m in a great position to buy what I want in Austin, although I’m not in a rush to do so yet. I’m giving Austin and myself time to get acquainted. I have a beautiful extended family I can always return to visit in Hawaii. Yet my cost of living has been reduced considerably by moving to the mainland and my retirement goals seem within reach finally.

I’m still an actively licensed real estate agent in Hawaii, so I can assist my wonderful past clients and friends that live there. The islands are a solid financial investment for anyone that wants to be a homeowner or an investor. High prices have always existed in the Hawaii market. It is a very sound investment, in more ways than one.

You’ve got to get in the “game,” though. If you don’t or think you cannot, it might not be as difficult as you think. Sure, it isn’t easy. But if you are willing to work hard to reach that goal it can be done. I’ve helped many first-time home buyers over my years in real estate, achieve that very goal.

Options are becoming available but unfortunately our legislation doesn’t make it easy to make affordability a reality. Organizations like Hawaii Appleseed helped pilot the new Accessory Dwelling Unit legislation. Depending on your neighborhood and your lot attributes, it is an option worth exploring. The city Department of Planning and Permitting is trying to streamline the process. Here is a link to great information on how to get started: Hawaii ADU. There are many options to consider. It just boils down to your particular financial situation and what are your goals and needs.

We have a voice. Let it be heard. Get involved!

The only way we can keep our “paradise” from being lost, is to make some noise to those in a position to affect the changes we need. I am very grateful Civil Beat is taking a stance on this issue. I’ve lost my piece of paradise. I stand here now though, with a new chapter before me, as this Baby Boomer defines her life once again.

And I know in my heart it will be another excellent adventure — even with paradise lost.

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About the Author

  • Carmen Gonzalez
    Carmen Gonzalez was a Hawaii resident for the last 30-plus years. While in real estate on Oahu, she was actively involved with the Housing and Homeless Task Force from 2013-2016, working to end homelessness via the “Housing First” initiative. She is a native of Panama City, Panama, having lived the first half of her life in Louisiana, where her father retired from military service.