EXCLUSIVE: High end condo flipping

Realtor Sachiko Trillo gave a tour of a two-bedroom, two-bath condo at the 15th floor of One Ala Moana, the new high-rise built atop the Nordstrom parking garage that boast sweeping ocean views and luxury touches.

The unit's owner is a Japanese investor who reserved the 1,200 square-foot condo two years ago with a down payment of roughly 20 percent of the $1.9 million pre-construction price.

Now two months after closing, he's looking for a new buyer, asking $500,000 more than he paid.

"Looking at the numbers, it's appreciated from 25 percent to 50 percent," said Trillo, a Realtor at LIST Sotheby's International Realty.

"Even over 50 percent, we have buyers. That's the market."

At least 14 of One Ala Moana's 206 units have have been put back on the market by investors and two of those units have already been sold.

Even more are likely to be resold over the next few months. That's because 20 or so of the units were acquired by the employees, relatives and close friends of the developer and its exclusive broker.

"The truth is the high end is oriented toward off-shore demand, which is pretty inexhaustible," said real estate expert Ricky Cassiday.

"Where we are right now, the demand is exuberant so we're seeing one of the healthiest markets in the world."

One Ala Moana was built by a team that included local developers the MacNaughton Group and Kobayashi Group and Victoria Ward's Dallas-based owner Howard Hughes Corp.

When it went to market in 2012, it was sold out within two days, with buyers that reportedly included Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and video game pioneer Henk Rogers.

Prominent local buyers include former Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism Director Richard Lim.

The developers note that the project's resales account for less than 10 percent of the overall units and that most of the buyers are owner-occupants who plan to hold on to their properties.

Cassiday said investors play a crucial role in getting a project built.

"From an economic view, it adds liquidity to the developer," he said.

To be sure, the investment game is hardly for the faint of heart.

Two years ago, when the One Ala Moana sale was announced, many buyers waited in line for hours to put down a 20 percent deposit -- or roughly $400,000 for a two-bedroom unit.

The first buyers had to wait through the two-year construction period. At completion, they paid the rest of the purchase price --  or about $1.5 million for a two-bedroom unit.

And only now, are those units being put back on the market  at a 25 to 50 percent premium. That represents a profit of $500,000 to $1 million.

For investors in the early stages of a boom like today, investors make out with huge profits. But the deals get riskier as the economic cycle approaches its peak, and begins to turn.

"There is a perceived dark side to speculation, which is what is known as flipping," Cassiday said.

"At least half of them get whipsawed when the market turns on them."

Area residents fear the speculative investments that are driving luxury construction will leave no room for the middle class.

"We all see people getting rich. It's like a gold rush out there. Prices for these new developments are so far out of reach for the normal person that it's kind of hard to watch," said Ariel Salinas, a member of Kakaako United, a residents group that sued over the development of the 801 South Street project at the Ewa side of Kapiolani Boulevard.

"They're just pretty much destroying the livability of the area. There's so much traffic there already. There's not enough infrastructure."

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