January 4, 2016

Buying a House in Hawaii

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As much of an adventure just getting to Hawaii was, getting settled in Hawaii seems like it was equal, if not more so. Before we left the mainland, we had settled on buying a house. There were multiple reasons for this:
  • We have two large dogs, and the person I spoke to at housing said that they wouldn’t give us a fence if we lived on post (some houses have fences, some don’t, if we got one that didn’t, we were – supposedly – stuck). Also, just dealing with housing, period
  • We have two large dogs, and the rental market here is prohibitively expensive to multiple/large dog families
  • Property values are good and rising – it’s an island with strict zoning laws, there’s not much more land out there to develop
  • It’s a seller’s market such that we’ve never seen, and this is our third home purchase. Yes, third.
  • All these factors add up to a good potential investment property, where even if we weren’t able to sell in the future (which is a BIG “if”) being landlords open to dog families, which we would be, would make it unlikely that we wound up in a loss
  • We also have just never desired to live on post. Like, ever.
We did what was recommended to us and joined USAA’s home buyer program and were assigned a realtor here in Oahu. It was a short, rocky relationship. We had a bad experience that I won’t detail here (nothing illegal or immoral, just sub-standard) and through a friend, got referred to another realtor outside of the USAA network. We were much happier with this realtor. No, it’s not “okay” to make one realtor do all the legwork and then jump ship at the end and give the commission to someone else. That’s being a jerk. But that’s not what we did.

Thus, from Arizona, the house hunting began. SoldierMan flew out to Hawaii on a 4-day to get some firsthand intel on the market. That kept a lot of our learning curve happening ahead of our PCS.

We put in offers on a few homes before we left the mainland but never got a winner. Part of this was because the market out here was very different than the last two states we bought houses in. There, we were able to wheel-and-deal with the sellers because we were able to find houses that had been on the market a while. But it’s a jungle out here, and most homes get an accepted offer within a week of listing (at least, the ones we were looking at. In a different price range, it might be a different story). So even though we found some prospects we really liked, we weren’t aggressive enough out of the gate, and lost out.

Our “backup plan” was to try for a new build. And I say, “try,” because that’s what you do.

There are two ways to get into a new neighborhood out here – the iPhone way, and the Hunger Games way. In the iPhone way, the developer announces they are starting a new neighborhood, these are the floor plans available, applications will be accepted beginning at 8 a.m. on Thursday, first-come, first-served, so camp outside their leasing office overnight (or longer!) to be at the front of the line! The Hunger Games way is literally like the Hunger Games – your names go into a fishbowl, the developer draws 15 names for 12 houses, and the first person drawn gets to choose from all the available pre-designed houses, and if you’re at the end of the list, you can take what’s left, or pass altogether.

The neighborhood we were looking at used the Hunger Games method. We liked the floor plans we saw online, SoldierMan had visited their new neighborhood on his visit and it was in the area we wanted, so we thought, why not? Put in an application, and if we don’t get it, we’re no worse off. So, we submitted an app (via our realtor) and went to Disneyland.

While we were in Disneyland, we got the call – They drew our name! What???? NO ONE gets chosen on their first time applying! That’s what we had been told, anyway. And the house we wanted was even still available! This is awesome! Serendipity! Predestination! PARTY IN DISNEYLAND!

We come to Oahu and meet with the building company…and that’s when things started to go sour. Lame customer service, endless hidden costs, misrepresentation of the product we were getting – but the final straw was being told that we wouldn’t be able to close until a full month later than they had originally advertised. Which was a full month after our Temporary Living Assistance would end, which we genuinely needed to live in a hotel in Hawaii, especially if we were going to have to keep writing checks left and right out of our personal accounts, since none of these unanticipated costs could be rolled into the mortgage.

We were depressed for a day or two, and then started looking at homes for sale again. And before long, it appeared: a house identical to the first one we put a bid on (and didn’t get, obviously). Same floor plan, same neighborhood, everything. We jumped on it and made sure to be the first, most attractive offer they would receive. And it worked! We got our house, pulled out of the new build disaster, and were able to close in 30 days!

So, for those keeping score at home, we began this home buying process in April. We finally closed and got our keys in July. During which time we were dealing with other PCS issues, EFMP, hotel dumbness, etc etc.

But here we are, in our own home. 6 months later, we’re still glad we bought. We’re living near several nice beaches, with a yard big enough for our dogs, and we’re building equity. We even added solar panels to our house which will both help us with the terrifying electric bills (short-term gain) and also raise our property value (long-term gain).

Buying a house while in the military isn’t the right choice for everyone, but we’re glad we did.

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