Hawaii Military Life: How to Buy a Home in Hawaii

Hawaii Life's Military Clients

You’ve finally received those coveted orders to Hawaii and you’re looking forward to enjoying this island adventure for as long as the military will allow. Your dreams of sandy beaches, blue skies, and warm ocean waters are your reward for enduring long assignments in much less attractive locations. One of the first decisions you’ll make is where to live. Many people reject the long wait lists and fishbowl atmosphere of base housing and instead choose to buy a home. Set yourself up for success when you arrive by following the instructions below.

Before You Arrive

1. Google it. Exercise your typing fingers and do some research on moving to Hawaii. Connecting with a Realtor can provide all kinds of useful information. I often answer questions for service members, not only about neighborhoods and homes, but also about commute routes, school options, climate differences, temporary housing, activities and attractions, and shipping pets. Many Realtors on Oahu are former service members, “speak the language” of PCS, and understand your situation.

2. Determine Your Parameters. What base will you be assigned to and what length of commute can you tolerate? Oahu isn’t as small as you might think. Use Google Maps to check the commute time from your duty station to various points on the island during rush hour. If your spouse is going to be working, check that commute also, and use that information to narrow down areas. Many people are surprised to learn how varied the neighborhoods on Oahu are in price, traffic, construction style, age, nearby amenities, and setting. Have in mind a list of preferences for your home and lifestyle.

3. Determine Your Budget. While online mortgage calculators are a first step, you should speak with a mortgage lender to set a budget and be pre-approved for a loan before you visit homes. Many service members value their relationships with military oriented banks, such as USAA or Pen Fed, but there are some Hawaii quirks to be aware of when choosing a lender. Keeping open the option of using an on-island lender will be valuable in certain situations. Ask your Realtor for a recommendation, and if they’ve heard about any special incentives or better interest rates. The VA loan, up to $721,050 without a down payment, is an amazingly valuable opportunity on Oahu, and most service members use these funds to buy a home.

4. Preview Properties Online. The local real estate board’s Multiple Listing System is the most current and accurate source of listings. Ask your Realtor to set up an Auto-Email, which will send new properties meeting your criteria as they’re listed in the MLS. While third party sites like Zillow and Trulia are handy in some locations, they often generate confusion for Hawaii buyers because they can incorrectly reflect a property’s availability status.

5. Preview Properties by Video. You may find a home you love before you even arrive on Oahu. If you don’t want it to slip away or if you want to minimize the time you spend in temporary lodging, your agent can video tour the home with you using tools like Skype and FaceTime, to help decide if you want to make an offer.

Upon Arrival

1. Meet Your Agent. Sitting down with your agent face to face makes everyone more comfortable with the plan to move forward. You should re-visit your budget and home requirements, and receive an update on the ever-changing market conditions. Your agent may also ask you to sign a Buyer Representation Agreement, the document by which you actually hire a brokerage to work for you.

2. Tour Homes and Neighborhoods. Along with opening the doors and turning on the lights, your agent should provide useful information about the neighborhood you’re viewing, such as commute routes, points of interest, shopping locations, and lifestyle tips. In the end, you’ll find “the one”.

3. Negotiate an Offer. Once you’ve found a home you want to offer on, your agent will write a purchase contract and negotiate between you and the seller’s agent until an agreement is reached. After, you’ll proceed together through the transaction milestones such as submitting a deposit, inspecting the home, reviewing any homeowner’s association rules, title documents, or disclosures about the property, and submitting your loan application. At the same time, your Realtor will provide information about setting up utilities, changing locks, and preparing for the move-in day.

4. Close the Transaction. Once all parties have fulfilled their commitments according to the contract, you and the seller sign your closing paperwork, which includes loan and deed documents. The escrow company will record those documents with the local government offices, then you will receive keys to your new home.

5. After the Closing. By this time you’ll be thrilled to receive your household goods shipment and begin setting up your new home. Even after the closing, know that you can still rely on your Realtor to answer any questions that arise.

If you’re considering buying a home on Oahu, please feel free to ask me any questions you may have about the preparation or the process.

Aloha, Alison