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6 Important Things to Know as a Service Member Buying in Hawaii

Aloha and congratulations on orders to paradise! Hawaii is, without a doubt, the ultimate duty station. Get excited, as Oahu isn't just...

Courtney Williams

11/20/23, 1:46 AM

Aloha and congratulations on orders to paradise! Hawaii is, without a doubt, the ultimate duty station. Get excited, as Oahu isn't just another PCS assignment; it is an opportunity of a lifetime to experience the aloha spirit and soak in the island's incredible beauty. As someone who's helped hundreds military and DOD civilian families navigate this unique OCONUS PCS, I can assure you that it isn't a cake walk. In fact, it was a harder PCS for us than going to Germany. But fear not! We're here to dish out the top ten things to know for a seamless transition to Hawaii. From tackling the quirks of pet relocation to finding the perfect house to call home for the next few years, and even surviving the "extended vacation" in a hotel, I've got your back. Here are ten things to know when PCSing to Hawaii. Oh, by the way, who am I? My name is Courtney Williams, and I've been a proud military spouse for the last 15 years and a realtor here in Hawaii. I've helped over 300 military families purchase and sell homes here, with my goal always being to educate military and VA families on the enormous benefit of the VA loan and the incredibly rare opportunity you have to own an investment property in one of the strongest, safest, and fastest-appreciating housing markets in the country. I take pride in helping military families get to the island stress-free, find the perfect home (and investment), and feel confident in their time on the island. Homes are smaller here. Here in Hawaii, we have less space. As you can imagine, living on a small island is much different than, say, Texas, where one can just clear an entire field and build more houses. For the most part here, we build up, not out. Between the homes we lived in in Georgia, Kansas, etc., we usually found ourselves living in 1800-2500 sqft. It was certainly an adjustment going from a nice, big, single-family home to a 1500 sqft townhome (with a tiny yard, I might add!). Even single-family homes here usually range from 1000-1800 sqft, rarely crossing above 2000 sqft. There are, of course, exceptions. My best advice to you is to leave your oversized sectional and farmhouse dining table on the mainland and opt for smaller, Hawaii-sized furniture when you arrive. HOA's play a big role. It's quite likely that if you're moving from the mainland, you may not have had an HOA fee at all. Here in Hawaii, for the most part, it is inevitable that you will pay HOA fees and/or maintenance fees whether you live in a condo, townhome, or single-family home. Depending on your location, it can be pretty high (high-rise Honolulu HOA fees are often between $800-$2000 a month), or nominal ($108 a month for a single-family home in Ewa, for example). What do HOA/maintenance fees cover? Almost always, they will cover your water and sewer bill, common area landscaping, access and maintenance to all pools, parks, recreation centers, security (sometimes gate, guards, or vehicle patrol), as well as the master insurance policy for your home. Because HOAs are counted into the debt-to-income ratio and borrowing limits for a buyer, an HOA of $500/month may lower your buying ability by $70,000 or more. As of the time of writing this article, you pay the same each month for a $680,000 townhome with a $500 HOA as you would for a $750,000 single-family home without an HOA. Pets make things tricky . When I'm talking to families headed to Hawaii who are trying to decide whether to rent or buy, one of the first questions I ask them is, "Do you have a pet?" Hawaii landlords are notoriously pet-averse. If you can find a rental that allows animals, there is usually a two-pet maximum, and often breed and weight restrictions. Average pet security deposits are $500 per pet (this is on top of your full security deposit), and often landlords will charge an additional $25-$50 a month for pet rent. When you consider that the average cost of a three-bedroom rental here is around $3500, and you have to put down a security deposit, one month's rent, and potentially an extra $1000 upon move-in if you have two pets, you're looking at $9,000 in upfront costs to rent. Wondering the upfront costs of buying using your VA loan? Click here. (Spoiler alert, it's $0) You are likely to have a commute, no matter where you live. If you've done any amount of research on living on Oahu, you'll see that everyone loves to talk about (or complain about) the traffic. Unless you're moving from the DC or LA area, you might find the traffic on our main H1 highway surprising. But it isn't constant. Oahu experiences multiple peak traffic periods throughout the day that align with typical start and end of work hours. The heavy traffic is eastbound on H1 in the mornings, and westbound H1 in the afternoon. To figure out what your commute time might look like, it's best to figure out what your rough work hours will be, and which community you might be looking to live in. Google maps has a great feature that allows you to map your travel based on time of day; it's fun to play around with! Trying to get a better understanding of the different areas of the island? Click here! All of Oahu is Honolulu. If you've done any online research on homes, you may have already started to notice this. In Hawaii, we do not have incorporated municipalities, and the entire island is under the county of Honolulu. So if your friend recommended you look at Salt Lake, you won't be able to find that town on a map or address. This is where it helps to have a good realtor to guide you. Just starting to look for homes on Oahu? Start here. Make your BAH (and other entitlements) work for you. As a service member, you will be getting Basic Allowance for Housing. Figuring out what your BAH will be when you get to Hawaii is essential, and you can access the BAH rates below or use the online calculator here. You'll have to spend your BAH to live somewhere, so you might as well make it work in your favor. If you live on base housing or government-leased housing, they will take your entire BAH monthly (even if BAH goes up during your time here!). If you choose to rent, you will be paying someone else's mortgage for 3-4 years. If your housing allowance is $3500 a month x 72 months, that's over $100,000. That money might be better spent putting it toward your own investment, which you can sell after your time here and stand to make a profit! Looking to get our audio recorded PCS Guide? Click Here

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