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.