Working with a Real Estate Agent

HGTV and home renovation shows may be entertaining, but they’re not always accurate. In particular, most of them skip over the important ways real estate agents can help homeowners.

In the real world, agents play a huge role in home purchases, sales and even flips.

Are you planning to make a real estate move this year? Here are just a few of the ways an agent can help make the experience a success.

Experience and Local Knowledge

Agents know how to draw up your contracts, handle the paperwork and save you valuable time (which is vital in today’s busy market). We also have on-the-ground knowledge of the local market, which can help you better evaluate properties, make offers and negotiate pricing.

Negotiation Skills and Key Partners

Experienced agents also know how to negotiate successfully and can leverage inspection results, sales reports and other data to get you the best bang for your buck — whether you’re buying or selling.

Working with an agent also provides access to deep professional networks, which comes in handy when it’s time to find an inspector, contractor, financial adviser, mortgage lender, real estate attorney and other partners on your journey.

The Bottom Line

Finally, agents know all about home values — as well as what features, amenities and styles can increase your property value down the line. 

There’s no need to navigate a stressful, complex and high-stakes process alone when you could have a knowledgeable and compassionate agent working on your behalf.

Do you want help with your next home sale, purchase or fix-and-flip? Get in touch with me today; or 808-989-3491.

Can a Retired Person Buy a Home in Hawaii?

Can a Retired Person Buy a Home in Hawaii?

I recently received a question from a person who was about to retire.  She wanted to know if she could buy a house if she was retired, or would she need to get a job and work for six months. Following is my answer:

It doesn’t matter if you are retired, in only matters what loan amount you are qualified for based on your retirement income.  I presume you have Social Security.  How about interest and dividend income??  A pension?

Email me at and I’ll send you a list of lenders on the Big Island.  Over the phone, or in an email, they can give you a rough idea what loan amount you qualify for based on your retirement income.  If you were in business for yourself, to get a loan based on your self-employment income, you need two years’ worth of tax returns; just don’t close down the business. If you plan on getting a job once you get to the Big Island, you only need two pay stubs from your new job to use that income toward your qualifying income.  All of your income will be taken into consideration when purchasing a home on the Big Island.

Can Canadians Buy Property in Hawaii?

Can Canadians Buy Property in Hawaii?

Absolutely!  There are no special restrictions on Canadians for buying property in Hawaii.  You just have to decide for yourself if the exchange rate is favorable.

If you want to make an offer on property to tie it up in escrow and take if off the market while you arrange to fly over, I can email you contracts in an electronically signable format; all you have to do is open the email, sigh in and click the places where you initial and sign  First you will have to inform me of the terms of your offer (offer price, down payment amount, names of signatories as you would sign a legal document, mailing address).  I will fill out the paperwork and email it to you.  

What you do is submit an offer with an inspection contingency and, if you are not paying cash, a financing contingency.  First, Buyer and Seller have to agree on terms and price.  Once they have both accepted and signed a contract, the contract and earnest money (usually $1,000.00 to start with) are deposited into an escrow account. You can wire the deposit to the escrow company. I will personally email the contracts to them.  At that time you must apply for your loan and order the home inspection.  The property is now effectively off the market.  You must apply for a loan within 5 days of the acceptance date.  At the end of the five days I will need a “pre-qualification” letter from your lender.  This can all be done by email while you are still at home. 

The most common inspection period is 15 days.  I usually know the day before if a contract is going to be accepted.  I then notify you to book your flight to the Big Island such that you will arrive at least three days before the inspection period is up.  You can then view the property and make up your mind.  If you decide you don’t like it then you can cancel the escrow account and get your deposit back.  Prior to your departure from the mainland you can also hire a professional inspector to view the property the day after your arrival.  If you decide you like the property when you see it, I can then give the professional inspector the go-ahead for the next day.  If you decide you don’t like the property I can cancel the professional inspection to save you the fee.  If you like the property and give the inspector the go-ahead, he will prepare a detailed report for you.  If you decide you are not happy with the inspection report then you can cancel the escrow account and get your deposit back.  During this inspection period you can cancel escrow at any time WITHOUT CAUSE and get your deposit back.  If you approve of his report, the inspection contingency is waived, and escrow proceeds to the next step which is the financing contingency.  Once your loan is approved the escrow proceeds to closing and the property is yours!  

You can also make your offer “sight-unseen”, in which case I would take photos and videos for you in addition to the report from the professional home inspector.

Craig’s List Big Island Kona Rental Ads Warning

I think it’s important for people attempting to rent a home or condo on the Big Island to be made aware of Craig’s List scams such as the following.  I had a client contact me about an ad she had answered for a rental at a local Kona condo. It had a real estate agent’s name associated with it, with an email address, but no phone number.  The first red flag was when that “agent” said he couldn’t get videos because the current tenant required 48 hours’ notice to get in.  The second red flag was when a rental agreement arrived in her email that was not a standard Hawaii Association of Realtors form (a requirement if the rental agent is a Realtor).  The third red flag was that the “Rental Agreement” listed a bank account in Georgia to wire the funds to.  All funds collected by a rental manager who works for a real estate brokerage must go into the Client Trust Account of that brokerage; usually in the form of a personal check made out to that brokerage. On behalf of my client, the first thing I did was check the tax records and found that the name on title was different from the name of the “landlord” on the rental agreement.  Next, I got the name of the Broker In Charge (BIC) for the brokerage in question and asked if the ad was legit.  He contacted the agent whose name was used and found out that he had never listed a property for rent on Craig’s List.  So someone had taken photos from a Zillow listing when the unit was for sale in June, found a name of a local agent to use, and put an ad in the Craig’s List rental section.  The take-away from all this is NEVER wire money to secure a rental and ALWAYS verify through a third party that the rental is legitimate. 

Custom List

In addition to the Daily UPdate broadcast email, I can also generate a one time Custom List of properties specific to your own personal set of parameters (criteria).

The Daily UPdate just goes back 24 hours to catalog the most recent real estate activity in East and West Hawaii.  In a nutshell, as new listings become available and listed properties sell, real estate agents responsible for those listings enter the data into a data base system provided by our Multiple Listing Service (MLS) provider, Hawaii Information Service.  At midnight, every day, the previous 24 hours is one UPdate.  The next UPdate begins at midnight that day and ends at midnight 24 hours later.  Every morning I compile the activity for the previous 24 hour period and send it out in an email to you.  That 24 hours of data only appears once, and does not appear on subsequent UPdates unless the status changes (like from Active to Contingent or Under Contract to Sold) during a different 24 hour period.

For the Custom List, however, I take parameters (“criterion” or the set of factors that describes your property preferences) that you provide me, and I use your parameters to compile a list of properties specific to your needs as you have defined them.  The properties on this list could have been listed yesterday or a year or more ago, but if they match the parameters you give me, and are still active (available for sale), they will appear on your Custom List.  The Custom List is a one-shot-deal; I don’t do one every day.  The best time for a Custom List is a week prior to your arrival on the island to view property.  In order for the Custom List to work you need to know if it’s land, homes or condos you are interested in.  For homes & Condos you need to know the smallest number of bedrooms and baths you could live with.  For land and homes you would have to know how much land would be the minimum you desire.   Most importantly, for all categories, you would need to know the maximum you would pay if you found the perfect property (you don’t have to spend the maximum, but if you tell me a number that is less than you can afford, you may miss the perfect match by just a few dollars and never know it).  Another important parameter is the location; where on the island do you desire to be (town or even neighborhood, condo project name, is best).  The Custom List doesn’t work if you can’t be specific about your needs and wants.  For instance, if you can’t decide between a house or a condo, the east side or the west side of the island, then it’s best just to continue to receive the Daily UPdate until you know exactly what you want; then ask for the Custom List. 

Once you are sure what you are looking for, then please send me your list of parameters in as much detail as possible and I will send your Custom Cist as time permits.  If you have any pressing questions that can’t wait, please call me on my cell, 808-989-3491.

Mahalo, Harry

The Origin of the Shaka

This is the traditional “Hang Loose” sign you flash on appropriate occasions; generally with a flip of the wrist or shaking back & forth motion. I can mean “right on brah!”, “no worries”, “that’s cool”, “be cool”, “relax, brah” and any other number of things depending on the situation. Like if someone stops to allow you to enter the highway from a driveway you might flash them the shaka and a way of saying “thank you”.  BTW, “brah” is a more modern contraction of the Hawaiian “Bruddah” which is pidgin for “brother”. What’s “pidgin”?

Back in the old sugar mill days a worker at the Kahuku mill named Hamana Kalili got the three middle fingers of his right hand cut off in a mill accident.  No longer able to work his job, the boss at the mill gave him the job of guarding the mill and facilities including the sugar mill train.  The mill and train cars were a popular place for kids to play, and the mill owners feared someone would get hurt; so there was an effort to keep the kids out.  Before there was a guard, the kids would sneak in through the cane fields and play around the mill half the night. After Mr. Kalili was put on as guard, it became a game for the kids to antagonize him and not get caught. So they wouldn’t have to yell a warning to each other (and reveal their location) when Mr. Kalili was approaching, they would mimic what his hand looked like, shaking their fist in the air with their thumb and pinky finger extended for the other kids to see.  The shaking motion is what gave the name “shaka” to the gesture.  True story.

Bill 108 and How it Affects Vacation Rentals in Hawaii

I had a long talk with Karen Eoff, the co-sponsor of Bill 108. A few things stand out. First and foremost for condo owners along Alii Drive, the bill exempts condos created under the Condominium Property Regime, as defined & governed by chapters 514-A and 514-B of the Hawaii Revised Statutes located within V, CG & CV districts (Resort) zones.  See my FAQ page for details.

Cost of Home Construction in Hawaii

I am frequently asked how much is cost to build a home in Hawaii. That is a very difficult question to answer because there are so many variables involved. The most basic variables would be square footage (house size) and quality of construction. Quality is the main issue. You might be able to build a kit home from one of the larger lumber yards like HPM or Honsador for between $150 to $185/square foot. This would be the most basic home with linoleum and carpet flooring, formica-type countertops, particle board cabinets, hollow Masonite doors, 20 year asphalt shingles, T1-11 siding and low cost fittings and fix rues.  From there the sky’s the limit. A low cost toilet might be $150.  But you can spend over $1,000 for some high end toilets. Solid wood cabinetry of all different types of woods are available at varying cost. Same with solid wood doors. There are even specialty brand-name door hinges available. Flooring can be laminate, real wood, ceramic tile or marble, etc. Countertops can be man-made solid surface, granite of all different colors and costs. There are dozens of types of roofing material all the way up to custom glazed ceramic tiles.  At this point you are well over $1,000/sq.ft. The only way to know for sure what your new home is going to cost is to get your plans drawn with a materials list and give them out to three contractors for bids.

Understanding Home Sales Statistics

When the National Association of Realtors or Zillow quote homes sales statistics, they are often listed as various categories without explaining what the categories are or giving a definition of the category they are listing.  So here are all the various categories and their definitions.

  1. Pending Home Sales. Tracks the sale of homes for which a contract has been signed but the sale has not yet closed escrow; that is, a contract has been signed by the seller & buyer, an escrow account has been opened to facilitate the sale, but the title has not yet transferred from the seller to the buyer (escrow has not closed).
  1. Existing Home Sales. The Existing-Home Sales data measures sales and prices of existing, already built, single-family homes for the nation overall that have already closed escrow; that is, the title has already transferred from the seller to the buyer. These figures include condos and co-ops, in addition to single-family homes. The data usually contains current sales rates, actual totals and median prices by month going back 12 months, annual totals for three years, and Includes all existing-home sales — single-family, condos and co-ops — rolled into monthly and annual totals.

You can find data for both of these at the National Association of Realtors website:

  1. Another category is New Home Sales. These are newly constructed homes that have closed escrow. Various sources compile data on new home sales and they are usually listed as monthly totals.  Here are several sources:

Another category that is also tracked by various sources is that of Building Permit Applications; that is, building permits applied for but houses not yet built.  The Census Bureau tracks building permits: