By Carla Olivo, Director of Strategic Communications
Moving every couple of years per the military lifestyle can intimidate anyone out of buying a house. Yes, it can be a gamble, but thousands of mil-families roll the dice so to speak and come out with a really good investment. We bought three homes during my husband’s military career, and we don’t regret buying any of them. At the time, they were all a great alternative to base housing or renting. Veterans and military retirees also often move their families as they relocate for a second career or to their forever home.
One of the keys to making a smart choice for your family is knowing the local market. To look at the current housing market in Hawaii, we turned to one of the REALTORS® “A-Graded” by our community on PCSgrades, Mary Standahl, of eXp Realty. An Army spouse herself, Mary has a Military Relocation Professional (MRP) designation, and she loves assisting other military families looking to transition to island living.
Is 2018 a good time to buy?
Standahl says, “Yes, 2018 is a great time to buy in Hawaii!” She tells us that with interest rates rising, she gets this question more and more. “My mom got her Real Estate license back when interest rates were 19%, so even though we are now in the 4.5% range, it is still very affordable to get a mortgage.”
She says buyers are seeing their buying power decreasing though and with high home prices on Oahu, buyers should be aware of how it will affect what they can comfortably afford. According to the Honolulu Board of Realtors (HBR), home prices have continued to increase in value. To give you a snapshot, back in 1985 the single-family median home price was $158,600, and in 2017 it was $755,000. Standahl says you need to be prepared to pay list price or higher to win the offer.
For January 2018, the average single-family home sold for 98.2% of list price, which is down from 2017. “From my experience, I’ve been seeing some listing agents list homes with inflated values and no comparison properties to justify the higher price point which is why I think homes are now selling for slightly less than list price,” says Standahl. “Buyers want to win the bid, but do not want to pay higher than market value for their home.”
Is it a buyer’s market or a seller’s market?
According to Standahl, it continues to be a seller’s market on Oahu. The average number of days on the market for single-family homes in January was 21 days and 19 days for condominiums according to HBR. However, it is not uncommon for a home that has great pictures in MLS and is priced right, to have multiple offers before the first Open House.
Buyers should work with a Real Estate professional who is known for writing clean offers, having smooth transactions and keeps a level head throughout the process. It’s a small island, so it is important to work with a reputable agent. You can check out REALTOR® reviews from our fellow service members, veterans, and spouses at PCSgrades.com. Standahl believes that as a REALTOR® if you want to win offers, you need to think outside the box and put on your negotiating hat.
If you are considering selling your home, it’s important to list with a full-service agent that will take professional photos and possibly stage your home to net you more money faster.
It is unique living on an island. All branches of the military are represented here. Having so many government workers really insulates the local economy. That said, home prices in Oahu are at historic highs. In 2017, the median single-family home price was $755,000 (up 2.7% from 2016) according to HBR HiCentral MLS, Ltd. data. Total sales increased 6.6% over 2016.
Status of inventory
Hawaii typically has very low inventory, and this is still the case with less than three months of inventory. Even with all the new construction, the market cannot keep up with the demand for housing.
Are homes affordable?
Depending on where you are PCSing from, you might have sticker shock when house hunting in Hawaii. Standahl says there has been a recent push for developers to provide affordable housing options. “One developer recently had sales for ‘affordable’ units that were less than 400 sq ft. starting at $457,000+ in Honolulu.” For January 2018, the median sales price was $772,000, and the median sales price for condos was $430,000. That’s a 5.8% increase in single-family homes and 13.2% increase in condos over January of last year.
Availability of new construction
This is not the best option for military families who will only live on the island for two or three years. There are several new developments available on the island. However, most new construction is a lottery system where your number is drawn, and then you can decide if you want to buy the floor plan being offered. Standahl says, “There was a new building being offered last month. The official price list wasn’t even released, and REALTORS® and clients had to wait in line overnight just to get a spot.” If you want new construction, she says you should be prepared to pay 20% down and possibly have to wait two years before completion, depending on the developer and project.
Is it easy to resell in a few years?
“It has been extremely easy to resell in a few years as long as you buy in a desirable area, “says Standahl. “I’ve known clients to net over $100,000 in 3 years, however, that is not always the case. I do show buyers how much BAH they will receive on Oahu.”
Hawaii has one of the highest BAH rates in the country. For example, if you receive $3,000 per month for BAH, then over the course of a year that’s $36,000 of tax-free money. Over three years that’s $108,000 that you would not get back if you were renting. Standahl consults with buyers to ensure they weigh the numbers. “Even if they “lose” money in selling their home in the future, as long as they don’t lose more than $108,000 or come close, it’s a win since they would have paid rent anyway.” Not to mention, the tax benefits of being a homeowner outweigh those for renters.
Advice for first-time buyers
“My advice for first-time home buyers is to work with an agent that is familiar with the area they are looking to buy in. In Hawaii, Oahu is a unique situation where most agents do cover the whole island. We are licensed to cover neighbor islands as well, but I don’t recommend it,” says Standahl.
VA home buyers should connect with a military specialist that knows the ins and outs of the VA loan and what types of properties will work for their needs. Also, since military personnel usually move every two to three years, it is important the REALTOR® is up-to-date on market trends for quick resales and rentals.
Options for renters
With the high number of vacation rentals, there are not many annual rentals available on Oahu at any given time. In a lot of states REALTORS®, help renters find properties. In Hawaii, there is no commission from helping renters. Real Estate Agents in Hawaii only make a commission on buying or selling properties, so they can certainly help you find a place, but you will need to do the majority of the legwork.
“In my experience, the hardest part about finding rentals is that you never know where owners are going to advertise,” says Standahl. “When people sell homes, they use an agent who adds it to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), and that sends data to several websites. For rentals you need to check every individual site because most landlords and property managers don’t advertise rentals on every site; they may only use one or two. “
Standahl recommends you come prepared with a list of references and your checkbook when looking at rentals because they go so quickly. “Be ready to sign a lease on the spot. Always read the lease, document thoroughly, and keep a copy for your records. “
Be sure to discuss any questions you have up front with your new landlord or property manager. Remember, everything is negotiable!
Lease bargaining power
If you’re renting just until you find the perfect property to buy, be sure to know how to terminate your lease. Clarify how you will get your security deposit back and what will be the process, i.e., a walk-through with the landlord to determine damage. “I recommend doing an initial walk-through with your landlord and have any existing damage documented up front. You may want to take video and/or pictures to also document the condition of the property.” In Hawaii, landlords can collect a security deposit up to the same amount as your monthly rent. Plus, they can collect a pet deposit if necessary.
Parking is a premium in Hawaii! Even a lot of the luxury buildings do not come with two parking spaces. There are parking spaces in Waikiki that can cost upwards of $50,000. So, ask about parking wherever you end up living.
A two or three-year tour in Hawaii is a dream job assignment for many. And while the cost of living is much higher than many other duty stations, with the right professional helping, you can find an affordable, safe place to live. Aloha!
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