Pitfalls of Buying Property in Hawaii
8 reasons that make it hard to own property in Hawaii.
Pat Bader, owner of Acumen Builders Ltd, based in Hawaii Kai, has been remodeling and building homes in Hawaii for nearly three decades – seeing homes go from foundational studs to luxury dwellings.
Lex Allen, owner of Solid Build Construction, Inc., based in Kapolei, has built custom homes, additions, and lanais, and done full remodels, including kitchens and bathrooms, across Oahu.
With their many years of experience in the home building business, Pat and Lex kindly offer their advice for future Hawaii home builders.
According to Rider Levett Bucknall, an international leader in the construction industry, the following are residential construction costs in Honolulu:
Pricing can vary depending on if you hire a general contractor or choose the owner-builder route. When asking for pricing from various contractors and friends, we've found the low-average for a single-family home to be around $250 per square foot.
While there are many variables when building a room, the following chart give the basic, low-end cost with no customization to typically build a room on Oahu:
“Upgrades typically add 10-15 percent to the baseline cost. Some upgrades will add even more. There are many different upgrades that people consider in the home-building process:
When I build a home, I will put together a building schedule with the material price list as well as the labor cost. This allows clients to consider and select their upgrades and see the total cost of the build.” -Pat Bader
“Additional upgrade costs typically include the following:
There is a lot you can do if your budget allows for it, but you do not want to skip on hiring a contractor that goes above and beyond the building code. Hire someone that studies best building practices and the latest building sciences.” -Lex Allen
“When doing a remodel, one of the big unforeseen costs in Hawaii is hidden wood rot and termite damage to beams or other structural members.
Mechanical elements, like plumbing or electrical, might add to the cost of a remodel. A home might have faulty electrical wiring; faulty wiring could be due to improper workmanship, damaged wire insulation, and corrosion.
For a new build, a common unforeseen cost is in the excavation process, if a geotechnical survey was not conducted by a civil or soils engineer before excavating. Builders may run into bedrock or “blue rock” that cannot be easily excavated without heavy machinery and additional labor. Hire a civil or soils engineer to determine the stability of the land and what would be needed for a suitable foundation before beginning the build.
If you have a well-planned new build, you will have minimal unforeseen costs.” -Pat Bader
“Yes, I recommend people have a minimum of 10 to 15 percent of the build cost as an extra budget. Some people might want to have even more. Typically what happens during a new build is there is a change of heart or desire to alter the design. Sometimes people decide to do upgrades that they initially thought they did not want.
I once did a second-story addition, and when the owners walked onto the newly built floor, they saw first-hand their new, incredible view. They decided to put a large window in a wall that previously did not have one, and they also relocated the air conditioner. Those sorts of design changes should be anticipated.
A lot of times these changes will occur for upgrades too. When people are looking at finishes during the project, they think, ‘Why not? We aren’t going to go through this type of construction process again for a long time.’ These are upgrades they have considered all along, and at some point, they realize they want to spend the extra money on the upgrades – whether that be roofing, electrical and plumbing fixtures, windows, cabinets, flooring, or appliances.” -Pat Bader
“Sometimes people are very nervous before they begin a build, so they want everything to their budget. However, as they enter into the building process and begin to trust their contractor, they start to see that construction costs are expensive, and the budget is what it is. Meaning, the contractor has to stick to the budget.
But people usually start to explore other ideas as they start building, as it is an exciting process. Therefore, it is recommended to have a “dream” side budget for little wanted things that weren’t discussed at the beginning due to the cost.
I recommend having 10-20 percent additional for “dream” items. Therefore, if you are doing a $200,000 build, you might have an additional $20,000 to $40,000 saved.” -Lex Allen
“Regarding lot location and a new build, I always ask my clients, ‘Which way does the wind blow?’ The question takes on a double meaning.
It is important to know where the predominant trade winds are coming from and how best to design your home with optimal air flow. In Hawaii, a lot of people prefer fresh air, so it is important to understand air flow during the design and concept phase.
I also ask this question so that clients give thought to their neighborhood dynamics. In a home they previously owned or tore down, they knew what they liked or did not like and had more concrete ideas on how to enhance the view, block out noise, or locate items. When buying a new lot, it is important to identify those things as much as possible. Spend time at the lot observing noise, park locations, rains, wind, water drainage, and more.
It is really important to understand your lot before building. We all need a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and bedrooms, but understanding what is going on around you will enhance your final build.
Other questions to ask include the following:
Truly understanding your lot and thinking about future needs and wants for space are the main areas to consider before beginning a build.” -Pat Bader
“Find a contractor who understands the complexities of the building process and systems: moisture and vapor management, bulk water management, proper air sealing and insulation, and durable construction materials. It is important the builder is passionate about the building sciences and cares about building a quality home. Let your architect design your dream house, and then hire a contractor to make sure the home is built to last.
Go around and look at other homes the builder has constructed:
When getting ready to build a house, try to find a builder that can sit down and educate you on building a home that endures the harsh elements of this hot, humid, coastal, Hawaii environment.” -Lex Allen
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