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  • Ryan O.


As a child, I would sit at my Great Grandma Tom's kitchen table. "Taipo," as we affectionately called her, lived next door to me. Since I often complained about the food my parents cooked, I would find myself at Taipo's house frequently.

While sitting at the table, Taipo and my Uncle Sonny would start telling stories about "the olden days." Uncle Sonny, Taipo's oldest child, was the keeper of all the family stories and secrets.

"Eh, Ryan," said Uncle Sonny as he adjusted his eye glasses. "Back in the olden days, we were poor. Taipo didn't go past the 6th grade and I never graduated from high school."

There I was sitting at Taipo's kitchen table in the Kaimuki home she owned. Maybe I was too young to comprehend the stories that Taipo and Uncle Sonny told about their histories, but when I was a child, I thought they were Warren Buffett rich because they owned their own home.

Taipo grew up dirt poor in the streets of Chinatown Honolulu. She was one of over ten children. Uncle Sonny, Taipo's eldest child, was born before Taipo's youngest sibling. Let that sink in.

Over the years, Taipo found a way to make it work on her own. My Great Grandpa Tom -- not to discredit him -- was not much financial help to family. After both his parents died while he was young, Great Grandpa was "adopted" by someone only referred to as the "haole guy." Apparently, this "haole guy" really watched over my Great Grandpa, until one day, the "haole guy" got drunk, drew his revolver, and started to shoot. Thankfully, the bullets missed. From then on, my Great Grandpa was on his own, hustling to survive. While he overcame great odds and was beloved by his family, he did not contribute much to the family's financial security.

Taipo, however, did. She opened a restaurant, which was eventually converted into a bar and then into a pool hall. Legend has it, Taipo would run craps games, and she was bootlegging, too. This grit and financial savvy allowed her to purchase her own home.

Around World War II, Uncle Sonny stumbled on a duplex property. It was an all dirt road, and he claimed there were feral chickens roaming in the tall grass. That home was purchased by Taipo; I believe she was one of the first owners on the street. A few years later, Uncle Sonny subdivided the lot and built his forever home.

I am fortunate to have grown up in these homes; I am fourth generation.

As I reflect back, I ask myself, "What was the meaning behind all those stories that Taipo and Uncle Sonny told me about growing up poor?"

Was it to save and invest? Study and work hard? Be grateful for what I have? I think those are fair answers.

However, through the lens of a real estate broker, I have realized through those stories that owning real property, as Taipo and Uncle Sonny did, is a wise investment because supply is low and demand is usually high. There is a misconception that you have to be rich to be a homeowner. Yes, I will acknowledge that home prices on 'Oahu are higher than in some other cities. However, you do not have to be a millionaire, as illustrated by Taipo and Uncle Sonny. In addition, as a real estate broker, I have represented numerous millennial and Generation Z first time homebuyers who are not millionaires.

Although there is probably some algorithm or statistic that can predict the housing market, maybe the best strategy is to keep things simple. Rather than waiting on the sideline for the "best time," it might be beneficial to jump with two feet into the market.

As a homeowner, especially during a pandemic, my home provides me a safe place. When I feed my son in his highchair, it brings back memories of me eating a home-cooked meal at Taipo's kitchen table. Despite their humble beginnings, Taipo and Uncle Sonny realized the value of owning real property, not only for the financial worth, but for the safety and security afforded to the family as well.



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