We Bought A House. It Needs Work. NOW WHAT?!

Special mahalo to Trevor Drinen of Signature Inspections Hawaii for his expertise!

Buying a home in Hawaii is a dream. It can also be HUGE disappointment, not only because of the cost, but because anything around the median price of a million dollars is going to be small compared to what you can get on the mainland. It will be 40-50 years old, won’t come with an acre or more of land, it won’t have a basement, is on post and pier foundation, might be on a hillside if your priority is an ocean view, or might be on sand if you want to be by the beach. All of this means, it will more than likely need renovating and on going maintenance. Don’t forget we are a tropical climate all year long with rain, wind, and sun beating down on the roof and paint. It’s often not until we get the home inspection report that the disappointment is realized and then we’re at a crossroads. Will the seller repair the things that have been deferred? What’s an actual safety or structural concern that the seller really should fix? But in a seller’s market, good luck having them do anything. Ohhh! But I really want this house! Now what? 

First, it takes skillful negotiation on your real estate agent’s part, but sometimes no matter how good they are at negotiating, some sellers simply won’t budge, especially if they accepted your offer before a higher offer came in or if they have a comparable offer in back up position (which they almost always do on Oahu). Very rarely, some sellers are hoping you cancel so they can move on to the next buyer, although that is never encouraged by a real estate agent as it automatically places a stigma on the property. But if there’s a backup offer waiting in the wings, they are more than likely calling the Seller’s Agent daily asking, “How’s your escrow going? Do my buyers still have a chance?” In the case of buying my house, the negotiation was won by me up front. We didn’t pay too much over asking and the terms in our contract were too good to pass up. That also meant there wasn’t much room left for them to fix or credit anything. 

Our home inspection was disappointing revealing foundation settlement, unevenness in the floors, leaks in the roof, and wood rot in the siding and beams. The number one issue: water. No surprise. As a matter of fact, that is the number one issue owning a home in Hawaii with the amount of rain and moisture we have. 

Problem: water.

Solution: divert. 

Sounds pretty simple right? It actually is, as long as you educate yourself, prioritize, set a budget, and find the right team to do the work. Home renovations will always take longer and cost more than you think. It’s not a perfect process. 

If I had a dollar for every burned out buyer trying to buy a turn key, move in ready home who said, “What about a fixer upper? That could be fun,” I could buy myself a nice pair of shoes. My question: fun? In what way exactly? If you think buying a home is stressful, buckle up during renovations.

The goal is not to scare anyone, but rather, to acknowledge the fear. The most courageous and experienced home owners, builders, flippers, and renovators will tell you, “Everything is correctable. No house is perfect. Every house needs maintenance.” When buying a home, your home inspector will likely not find things that you’ll find after living in the home for a few months. He or she is there for half a day. Don’t blame them if something isn’t discovered. It’s also easy to blame the previous owner. Don’t do it. Sometimes they really didn’t know there was wood rot on the siding by the exterior stairs because they never used that entrance. They went through the garage. But they left you with a really nice kitchen! Not everyone’s priorities are the same. 

If you own a house in Hawaii, maintain it. In the very least in Hawaii, keep water and termites away. If you’re buying a house…just buy the house. It’s scary. It’s courageous. You’re going to be ok. Prioritize, set the budget, and let the professionals do their thing. You got this! And when you wake up in the morning to birds singing and chirping, the smell of fresh coffee, and another 72 degree day, you’ll be so glad you did. 

Who Owns The Beach in Hawaii?

It’s an emotionally charged subject in Hawaii, both for ocean lovers (surfers, fisherman, and people who just plain love the beach) and those who own beach front homes. Good news for beach lovers: NOBODY gets to own the beach in Hawaii. There are NO private beaches. Bad news is, if your only way of getting to it by land is to cross someone else’s property, forget it trespasser. You can certainly boat in, swim, standup paddle, or walk from a public access point, but not if you wind up on vegetation. Step on anything green and again, you will get nabbed for trespassing and believe me, ocean front homeowners are incredibly territorial. Look for hidden cameras in the trees. They are watching and often times, they are totally unafraid to be confrontational. These are not the type of people who will passively call the cops. They will get in your face and ruin your day. They own luxury homes and a whole lot of other stuff. Even though the law tells them they don’t own the beach, they still think they do.

What does the law officially have to say about this? By definition, Hawaii Supreme Court law states the following: “any land below the highest wave line is considered state property and open to the public.” Here’s where it got tricky in the past, however – property owners were watering the vegetation and fertilizing it so it would grow further giving them more manipulated ownership of the beach. DLNR wised up to this and made it a misdemeanor if they catch you manipulating your boundary line. (Nice try people). You can read more about this below:

So how do you access the beach without facing off with a property owner in places like Kailua, Portlock, Diamond Head, Paiko, and Niu Peninsula? Like I said above, you either access by sea or use a public access right of way, but this still won’t guarantee you won’t get the, “What are YOU doing here” attitude. A wise person actually pinned these access points on Google. Notice how Waimanalo has a TON of access points. Paiko all the way through Niu Beach and Aina Haina has just one.

Speaking of Niu Peninsula, it seems they found a major loophole around this. Niu Peninsula is an incredibly charming street of less than 50 houses, but you wanna talk territorial? Ohhhh boy. Perhaps it’s all in love because they love their beloved little nook, but let’s have a moment of silence and remember what was once a Native Hawaiian Fish Pond given to Alexander Adams by King Kamehameha I.

Who’s to say whether or not the king knew what Alex’s intent was, but brother man filled that fishpond in, built homes, and blocked the beach. Then, an association was formed and gates were put up where the beach access is. Even smarter, the Niu Peninsula Association owns those little parcels of beach access. So, if you don’t belong to the association and you happen to have a code to the gate or wander through it somehow, count on getting tattled on, yelled at, made to feel very small, and kicked out in no time. One could argue the enforcement is needed due to pollution, homelessness, and overcrowding while others could argue that such a special place should be shared and enjoyed by all.

This post comes on the heels of an emotional day at my listing on Niuiki Circle. It has beach frontage. It’s in original 1950s condition, but I could feel the mana (Hawaiian for spiritual energy, power, and strength) standing on that lawn. As curious neighbors tracked in and out giving their strong willed opinions about the home, I quieted their noise with visions of that fishpond and thought of Bruce Lee saying, “Be like water.” Check out the listing here:

140 Niuiki Circle, 3 Bedrooms/2.5 Baths, $2,800,000