Home Buyer Strategies for the Hawaii Real Estate Market

As a buyer, how do you choose which neighborhood to buy on Oahu, especially when you’re new to the island? Dealing personally with a lot of buyers who are relocating, I can empathize. To best prepare you, I believe that education is key.

Home Calculation

The obvious advantage that buyers have if they know the island and have lived here for awhile, is they will likely have a clear understanding of the pros and cons of each city, and even the different neighborhoods in those cities. They are also inclined to have friends, family, and co-workers to probe for advice on where to buy.

But What If I’ve Never Been Here Before and Believe that Buying is Better than Renting?

If you have not moved to the island yet, I would highly recommend making a house-hunting trip about 2 months prior to your arrival date. One week is sufficient to get you familiar with the island, including viewing properties in the different areas you are interested in plus taking some time to go to the beach or attend a luau.

Inventory has always moved rather quickly here, so unless you are prepared to make an offer if you like a property, use this time to decide about areas where you like and don’t like. Many of my clients who choose to make offers are happy that the schedule works perfect to close on the transaction near the time they relocate. This way they avoid moving their household goods twice or the need for renting storage or temporary lodging.

Where Do I Start the Process?

The easy part is knowing what areas are desirable to you, but the more challenging aspect for many is figuring out where to buy once they find out their budget parameters. So, the first step in the buying process is to get pre-approved for the financing. There are different types of loans that can be offered depending upon credit score, down payment amount, monthly payment desired, and area of purchase.

Once you get that maximum loan amount from a loan officer, mortgage broker, or lender, property searches in various areas can be set up to learn the markets you are thinking about buying in. I recommend the listings search be set with your minimum criteria so you don’t miss the right home because your search was too narrow. Also, I suggest going only $5,000 – $10,000 higher than your pre-approved amount vs. $25,000 or $50,000 higher. In a seller’s market with a new listing in a desirable neighborhood, the trend is that the seller will get multiple offers of full price or even higher, so I prefer keeping the search realistic.

Understanding how much house you can buy in a particular area is key, because this will ultimately affect where you concentrate your search. For most buyers, compromises will need to be made on your list of wants and needs. Sticker shock is common for folks that compare what they can buy elsewhere for the same price…but then they remember that we’re on an island, and a very desirable one at that! Prioritizing this list is critical, but I also believe that after seeing several homes, you will know when you’ve found the home you’d like to buy. Yes, you can search island-wide if you could live anywhere, but this will be a longer, harder process compared to a more specific search in a few areas.

Is this a Safe Neighborhood?


One of the hardest parts of being a Realtor is educating buyers about the pros and cons of buying a certain property in a certain area. What many buyers don’t realize, is that Realtors are bound by State and Federal laws regarding Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity that prevent discrimination based upon race, sex (including gender identity or expression), sexual orientation, color, religion, marital status, familial status, ancestry, disability, age, or HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection.

Therefore when a buyer asks, “is this a good neighborhood?” or “is this a safe area?” we have to guide them to do their own due diligence because we are not allowed to make statements such as “there’s a lot of poor people living there” or “there’s high crime in that area”. The power of Google becomes an invaluable tool for buyers to research what’s important to them. Researching the Honolulu Police Department for neighborhood info is key, in addition to websites with school reviews or census data.

Location, Location, Location…

Here’s where it’s all about preference…Most buyers want a nice, move-in-ready home, but be prepared that you may not love or even like the color of the kitchen or bedrooms…and you may not like the carpet…or worse yet the appliances are old. What I like to stress is that you can paint walls, put in laminate flooring, and even buy new stainless steel appliances, but you can’t change the location of the property or the neighborhood in which it sits. You may not be able to afford the new appliances yet, but you will eventually.

Home Falling down

A little harder situation is when the layout is not functional for you, or it simply does not appeal to your needs. You could consider moving walls or building an extension, but that will take much more time, work, and money. This is where you need to trust your instincts and possibly consult a family member or friend about whether you should pursue that particular home.

What’s My Exit Strategy?

Every buyer should have one. Will you live in this home forever? For 3 years? 5 years? Who knows? Do you want to hold on to it and eventually rent it out? Depending on your answers to this question, it may or may not make sense to pursue that property. Keep in mind you will likely sell the house one day and your prospective buyers will go through a similar thought process about location, condition, and layout.

What Do I Do Next?

This is not meant to be an all-comprehensive guide to buying a home, but more like a starting point or guideline to follow. If you’d like to become a Hawaii homeowner, contact me for your specific questions or for a free consultation.

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