Obamas rent beach home in low-key Hawaii town

KAILUA, Hawaii (AP) -- While on vacation in Hawaii, the Obama family is staying in a $9 million single-story oceanfront home in a laid-back neighborhood over the mountain from downtown Honolulu where the president-elect grew up.

The five-bedroom wood frame house sits on almost an acre of land fronting Kailua Beach, a favorite spot for windsurfers, kayakers and dogwalkers.

The white sand in front of the house is public land, just like all beaches under state law. The Obamas may see neighbors out for a walk or jog.

Martha Burke, who has lived several houses down from the property since 1972, said she is thrilled and honored to have Barack Obama nearby.

"I'm sure he wants a lot of privacy, so I hope we can restrain ourselves from waving at him. But I doubt it," Burke said, laughing.

Don Dymond, owner of Kalapawai Cafe and Kalapawai Market, said it is particularly thrilling because Obama "knows enough about the state and the island that he would know if there's a better spot."

He added, "The community is lucky that he picked here. And hopefully over the next eight years, he'll pick here some more."

Obama's vacation home sits on a dead-end road with few other homes. The street is wider than most of the narrow lanes leading to Kailua Beach, so the Secret Service has plenty of room to drive and park its SUVs. Upon the Obamas' arrival Saturday, agents set up a security checkpoint blocking off public access to a stretch of the road.

The home was originally built in 1934 for Harold K.L. Castle, the landowner who developed much of Kailua after World War II. It was renovated in 2005.

Photographs from a 2007 real estate listing show a stone-encircled swimming pool and an open-air sitting room with views of a grassy lawn and the ocean. City tax records show a Houston man bought the property in January for $9 million.

The home is listed on a vacation rental directory, http://www.hawaiisbestrentals.com

City spokesman Bill Brennan says the house has not been cited for any violations of Honolulu's strict prohibitions against renting homes on a short-term basis without a permit. Until a recent crackdown, illegal vacation rentals proliferated in Kailua, angering some residents who complain it is disruptive when tourists stay in residential areas.

The home is among the most expensive on a block where shoreline lots go for a minimum of $3 million and nonbeachfront properties easily top $1 million.

The figures outstrip the median single-family home price on Oahu, which stood at $594,500 in November.

Despite the pricey real estate, Kailua is a quiet, laid-back, and sociable place. Residents frequently stop and talk to each another while walking their dogs. They pass sugar over the fence so a friend next door won't have to run to the store for a forgotten ingredient.

It's also politically friendly territory for the president-elect: 62.4 percent - or 716 of the 1,145 voters - in the Kainalu Elementary School precinct encompassing the home went for Obama last month. That's less than the statewide average of 72 percent but more than the 52 percent national vote.

The home is less than a mile from another beach house where the Obama family stayed during their weeklong vacation in August.

Kailua is about a 30-minute drive through the Koolau mountains from Honolulu, where Obama was born and spent 14 of the first 18 years of his life. He briefly mentions Kailua in his memoir, "Dreams From My Father," saying he went spearfishing there as a child with his grandfather and one of his grandfather's friends.

Mary Carter, manager of Island Treasures Art Gallery, said Kailua has more of a hometown atmosphere than Waikiki, which is dominated by high-rise hotels and apartment buildings.

She predicted Kailua residents would "for sure" give the Obamas space to try to enjoy their vacation as a normal family. "They're here to relax," Carter said.

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On the Net:

Kailua Chamber of Commerce: http://www.kailuachamber.com/

Kailua: http://www.ourkailuatown.com/

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