Buying Advice

Thinking of Getting a Home Built in Hawaii? Read This First

–The Question–

Should You Build or Buy a House in Hawaii?

Should you build a new house in Hawaii, or should you purchase one that’s on the market? The answer to that question is a complicated one that must take into account not just financial and time commitments, but personalities as well.

Are you a do-it-yourselfer? Do you enjoy tackling large projects that will consume a significant amount of time and resources? Do you have the patience to deal with the byzantine process of getting your new house permitted in the state of Hawaii? Having a house built in Hawaii can be a stressful process — in fact, I encourage people to view it on the same level as getting a second job. Things will go wrong, materials will be unavailable, the weather may change in an instant and cost you both time and money.

Whether you should build a house or buy an existing one is not a question I can give a firm answer on, but I can at least impart some information that might make it easier for you to answer the question for yourself.

building a new home in hawaii

–The Cost–

How Much Does it Cost to Build a House in Hawaii?

If you decide to build, the cost per square foot for a custom house can run anywhere from $160 to $250 according to Local experts that I’ve spoken to have told me to expect closer to $250 per/ft. That’s to hire a builder; a do-it-yourselfer will find the monetary cost lessened at the expense of a higher time commitment.

Because Hawaii is an island state, every piece of construction material from drywall right down to tenpenny nails need to be shipped in, and that raises the costs. Unless you’re shipping your own supplies over from the mainland, you can expect to pay 1.5 to 2 times as much for materials as you would on the mainland.

Also, if you decide to build the house yourself, you’ll find your choice of building materials more limited due to the same shipping issues. Many of the less-common materials may be unavailable in Hawaii — Yellow Pine lumber, for instance — so take that into account. And be aware that these costs will increase if you’re planning on hiring a contractor to do the work. It’s always cheaper — at least in monetary values — to do the work yourself.

time versus money when building a home in hawaii

–The Time–

How Long Does it Take to Build a House in Hawaii?

There’s an expression you’ll hear often in the islands; it’s ‘Hawaii Time’, and it means ‘expect it to take longer than you think it will’. Things move slower on the islands, partly due to culture, partly due to bureaucracy. Workers may show up late as a matter of course, the government may have miles of red tape to cut through, even the process of pulling the required permits will take longer than you might expect.

I know one couple who, when building their house on the Big Island, expected to be finished within a year. In reality, it took them nearly that long just to pull permits on the property. Of course, if you’re building the house with your own two hands then you are master of your own hours and can work as many or as few as you please. But if you’re contracting out the work, you’ll need to do some research to find a good contractor who won’t wind up on ‘Hawaii Time’.

–The Reasons–

What are the Benefits of Building a New Home in Hawaii?

So if it takes more time, and there’s all that stress, why in the world would anyone build a house from the ground-up rather than just buying a house on the market? Simply this: The house becomes yours. There’s an old film starring Cary Grant titled ‘Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House’. In the movie, the titular Mister Blandings spends far too much time and money building a house that gives him nothing but trouble in the process, but at the end of the movie, despite everything it cost, the house is HIS.

There is a depth of satisfaction in seeing your dreams come to fruition that few things in life can match. You’ll have a brand new house, not a ‘used’ house with problems you might not know about. You’ll be in YOUR home, not a house that someone else built and you moved into. No house you purchase on the market will ever give you that feeling to that extent.

building hawaii dream home

–The Answer–

What’s Best For You?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of Build or Buy. The best pieces of advice I can give you are these; know what you want, and find someone to help you get it. If you’re excited about having a house built and feel like you can handle the stress of building in Hawaii, then do it. If you don’t want the hassle and don’t mind living in something that might not be the ‘perfect’ house but gets pretty close, then do that. Whichever way you decide, you’re going to need a good Hawaii realtor to help you find the land or the house you’re looking for.

Want to Know More?

Whether you are new to real estate or you’ve been doing this for a long time, Hawaii is different than most other states. Getting help from an industry expert is really the best way to go. If you ever have a specific real estate question, just send me a quick email, call, or text. I love talking real estate, and I’m happy to help, no strings attached.

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Béatrice Brunot Cohendet

February 3, 2021

Bonjour Tom,

Je vis déjà sur une île, j’y ai fait construire ma maison et je connais tous les ennuis et contraintes qui s’y rapportent. C’est pourquoi je souhaite m’installer à Hawaï dans un appartement avec 1 ou 2 chambres. Je vis avec ma fille de 8ans. Être proche des commerces et écoles mais pas en centre ville. Je cherche un endroit pratique sur Oahu.
Je suis française et je vis en Guadeloupe west indies dans les Caraïbes.
Merci de votre retour.
Prenez soin de vous.


July 18, 2021

Are building cost and the permit process pretty much the same on every island?
I’m considering building but this article really makes you think. No positive stories?
Any tax advantages building versus buying?

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