It was an overcast day in Kaneohe, a small city on the Windward side of Oahu. We walked out of our third open house of the afternoon and were instantly hit by the humidity. The place we had just looked at was a decent sized condo tucked tightly in its community, with lush green plants surrounding the walkways and nestled under the Ko’olau Mountains. It was in good condition, the features in the kitchen and bathrooms were a bit dated but we could definitely make it work if it ended up being ‘the one.’
While house hunting, I was constantly imagining how my life would fit into each empty space. How we’ll arrange our furniture, what it would feel like to cook dinner in this kitchen, what the view will be outside our bedroom window. Each house or condo we visited held different variations of the life we could potentially be living. And honestly, as a first time home buyer with very little experience, I was just looking for the right feeling, the happiest version of my potential future self. I liked how interesting the layout of this condo was, but I couldn’t shake the combination of dark cloudiness and damp humidity that hung around me. I couldn’t see this place as being one that would spark joy during my long days alone.
Just for fun, we drove over to another condo on the bay that was way out of our price range. We had seen just about everything within our price range on the Windward side of Oahu, and were now just delaying the inevitable: picking out one and putting down an offer. We obviously couldn’t live in the hotel on the military base for our entire 3 years here, and knowing that we’d only be reimbursed for so much time spent in the hotel, the pressure was on to find a place and get escrow started as soon as possible.
After playing pretend, imaging a life in that way-to-expensive condo with the marble floors, granite countertops, and an incredible view of Kaneohe Bay, we walked back to our car and called our realtor, Jill. She understood the urgency of our position and had previously agreed to meet with us when we were finished looking around, with the intention of picking out one of the 12 places we’d looked at and writing up an offer. I called her and told her we were ready.
“Great!” she replied, “Where do you want to meet?”
She listed a couple of nearby coffee shops, then threw out the idea of meeting at one of the open houses, maybe any one in particular that had stood out to us. I looked down at the list I had made that morning of all the open houses in the Kaneohe/Kailua area. As I quickly scanned the list, none of the places really jumped out to me. I realized they were all just ok. Sure, all of these could work, but I wasn’t in love with any of them. Instead, my eyes drifted to the end of the list…to the only property we hadn’t gone to. It was an actual house, not a condo, but at the very top of our budget. We’d have to absolutely love it in order to consider it.
It was too much, but I realized in that moment that if we didn’t check it out, I might end up regretting it. “Actually there’s one place we haven’t gone yet, could we possibly meet there?” I described the property and the address, still not completely convinced, and I’m sure she could hear my hesitation in the question.
“I’m actually near there,” she said, “Let me drive by and let you know if I think it’ll be worth it.”
A few moments later came her reply: “Oh my goodness, you need to come over here now!”
With a nervous excitement, we began the short drive between Kaneohe and Kailua. As we crossed under the H-3, everything suddenly seemed brighter. The clouds disappeared and the sun shone brighter. This may sound like I’m making this up to prove that we were about to find ‘The One,’ but after several years of living on the Windward side, I know that it’s typical for Kailua to be sunny while Kaneohe can be more overcast because of its position along the Ko’olau Mountains.
We parked on the street and walked up to the house, met by our realtor and the seller’s agent. They let us explore on our own, waiting in the kitchen for us to come back with our questions. It didn’t take long to look around — the house was only 600 square feet. After looking at a dozen condos in person and many more online, we knew this was to expect for our price range. However, up until this point I had believed that there was no way we could afford our own stand-alone home on this side of the island. Everywhere else, I had imagined future-potential-me living packed in a townhouse or condo building with many other residents — I hadn’t yet gotten to picture myself in my own house.
We walked around the house and the yard, and I just knew. I was probably certain that this was the one before we even arrived, but Curtis needed a bit more convincing. I pointed out that he could actually have a garden here, and that we would do better having more of our own space.
He was beginning to agree with me, but it was likely because of my confidence that we acted so fast in putting down our offer. Yes, it had to be a shared decision — it was our first home after all. But I knew that with his job in the Navy that this would really be my home. I needed a place to feel comfortable and safe when he was gone, whether that be standing duty overnight or away for weeks or months at a time. I wanted a place that was cozy but bright, that would make me feel safe but also inspired.
After two years of living here, I can honestly say this place has been exactly that for me. I know that joy isn’t found in a home, but there are so many aspects of this place that inspire me and make me happy. I wake up to the sound of birds chirping in the mango tree outside my bedroom window, the rising sun lighting up the house. The cool, original wood floors creak under my feet as I walk into the front room and see the sunrise through the large window. The cool breeze blows through the windows and makes living without any air conditioning tolerable. I walk over to my kitchen sink, look out the window and see Konahuanui, the highest point in the Ko’olau Mountains. We’ve enjoyed getting to know this island by spending lots of time at the beach or hiking in the mountains, but this little house is truly my favorite part of the island. My own little slice of paradise.
When we leave, I think what I’ll miss most about this house is its simplicity. I don’t feel the need to decorate or find ways to fill this space because what we already own is more than enough. I have learned to live consciously, and how to make each little corner serve a purpose. I love how it makes me feel connected to the world outside while simultaneously giving me a place to be alone. I love how living in a small house allows Curtis and I to always be close together when he’s home. The process of moving to Hawaii was an incredibly stressful 6 months full of challenges and complicated logistics, but the day we moved into this house was the day that all that stress washed away, and I began to enjoy the beauty and good things about island living.
If you’re looking into buying a home on Oahu, we loved our realtor and would absolutely recommend her. Here’s her website if you’re interested: https://www.jillward808.com