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Buying Oahu Real Estate Sight Unseen

Buying a home on Oahu sight unseen doesn’t come without its risks and challenges. Whether you are a military service member, kama’aina returning home, a retiree, relocating for work, or just someone making the move to Oahu, you may want to find and secure a property before your arrival to Hawaii. In this post, I’ll cover how with the help of a knowledgable Realtor, you can plan, find, and secure a great Oahu property, sight unseen.

Sunset View

First Things First

Although most prospective buyers start their search online (over 50% in 2018), the first thing you should do is to figure out the financing portion. Are you planning on paying cash? Awesome! If not, reach out to a mortgage professional and have them get you pre-qualified and then pre-approved. Doing this will set your expectations and parameters correctly as to what you can afford; maintenance fees and HOA costs should be factored in if you plan on purchasing a condo or in a neighborhood with an association.

There is great value in using a local lender, meaning one that is based here on Oahu. For one, they can tell you the ins-and-outs of Oahu real estate. Aside from the time differences, I once had a mainland-based lender send me an urgent email because he was worried about our proximity to volcanic eruption. Fortunately, we are 250+ miles away from the nearest active volcano (not in lava zones 1 & 2; not even on the same island) and were able to get it sorted out.

new construction

Doing some reconnaissance over a client’s new construction home in Ewa Beach.

The Hunt

So you’ve got your financing squared away and ready to begin the fun part: looking for a home! First, begin by outlining your goals and intentions with the property. Will it be an investment? Long-term? Fix and flip? Forever home? After deciding this, you can begin to lay out your strategy with an Oahu realtor you know, like, and trust. Absolutely make sure they are well versed in handling remote transactions. You also need to have a very open and transparent line of communication. This will be important throughout the process.

Your Realtor will work with you to narrow down what is important to you in an Oahu property; commute times, proximity to attractions/beaches, and the overall lifestyle you hope to live. If you’re familiar with Oahu, this tends to make things a bit easier. If not, no worries because your Realtor will help you wrap your head around Oahu, it’s micro-markets, areas, and neighborhoods. A great thing for buyers to do is to utilize Google maps to check out the neighborhood via street-view. This will give you an idea of the neighborhood’s vibe, curb appeal, etc. Just be aware, Google maps may not be up-to-date.

As you begin to funnel the property search down, via process of elimination and market education, a great Realtor will visit properties of interest on your behalf, take videos, pictures (or Skype/FaceTime) to make sure you don’t miss out on a hot property. This takes some of the pressure off of the ‘sight unseen’ purchase. Not all Realtors will offer this, so it’s imperative you set expectations and procedures beforehand. Once you find the perfect home, your Realtor will help you draft the offer and get it submitted right away.

ka iwi shore

The road to closing can be full of twists and turns.

The Escrow

You found the perfect property and got it under contract, sight unseen (virtually, but still). Now the fun part: home inspections, surveys, termite inspections, final walkthroughs, and all of the negotiation in-between.

When it’s time for your home inspection, and you’re off-island, the best way to do things is to attend remotely/virtually. Your Realtor will go out to the property, meet the inspector, and when it’s time to review the results, your Realtor will video chat with you while the inspector is there. This way, you (the buyer) can ‘walk’ through the property with the inspector as he points out his findings, asking questions whenever you need clarification. If you didn’t do this, you’d still get the entire report, but being able to ask questions to the inspector on the spot is invaluable. During the final walkthrough, the same video-calling method is used between buyer and Realtor to make sure everything checks out.

Negotiating and writing contracts should be facilitated by your Realtor and easily done online. Electronic signing is fine for the contracts; however, when it’s time to do the actual loan signing, you’ll need to sign in person (wet ink). This is where your Realtor and the title/escrow company will arrange a notary to meet you. I’ve seen clients sign contracts in Middle America and the Middle East. With a good team working for you, location doesn’t matter.

Rules and Regulations

This information is not a comprehensive list on relocating or buying property remotely. Please do research or reach out to me if you have questions about the legality of your plans. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Buyers using their VA loan benefits must verify they plan to occupy the property and do so within 60-days of closing. There is an exception for those who are deployed or whose spouse will be occupying the property. Read more here: VA Lenders Handbook.

Going with a conventional mortgage? Here is some info from Fannie Mae to make sure that breaks down occupancy in more depth: Fannie Mae – Occupancy Info

swing view

Disclaimer: If your new property has a swing, I’ll swing on it.

Recap

Buying a property on Oahu sight unseen isn’t ideal for most home buyers, but sometimes it is necessary. With the right agent, strategy, and execution, you can have a home secured by the time you’ve moved to the island. The methods and strategy I’ve laid out in this post briefly touch on my methods for facilitating remote purchases. This is not standard practice with every agent. If you have questions and think I might be the agent to work with, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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Dave Sochocki

January 16, 2020

Yeah, I did it. Flew here and met a realtor, had a sit down of my wants and needs. arranged the property inspection service, opened a bank account and got preapproved. I had the luxury of my son living here to go with the realtor and send me back video of walk-throughs until we found the right one. I was on the East Coast, the seller was on the West Coast, and the realtor was on Oahu! I didn’t see my purchase until I owned it two months!

Ben Puccetti

January 17, 2020

> Dave, that’s great! Very helpful that your son was living here and able to be there during the process. Thanks for sharing your story!

Yvonne Ahearn

January 16, 2020

Nice article!

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