Like many states, Hawaii has its own regulations and tax laws when it comes to purchasing a home. Here are some of the most important details buyers should know:
By law, sellers in Hawaii are required to provide buyers, in writing, all information they have that might measurably affect the value of the property being considered.
The trade group Hawaii Realtors has a seller’s property disclosure form that it makes available to its members. It asks sellers to disclose a wide range of information, from general property issues with flooding, environmental hazards and volcanic activity, to defects, repairs or replacements for internal systems like those for water, sewage, power and air conditioning. Sellers are also asked to provide details on any improvements, additions or structural modifications that might have been made to the home, as well as whether it was ever treated for mold, mildew, fungus or pests.
As a potential homeowner in Hawaii, you should know that state law allows for both judicial and nonjudicial foreclosures if a mortgage borrower can’t make payments.
With judicial foreclosures, your lender has to file a lawsuit and receive permission from the court to foreclose. However, if your deed of trust or mortgage includes a “power of sale” clause, your lender can take a series of out-of-court steps that includes notifying you of a potential foreclosure and publicly posting a notice. In 2011, Hawaii passed a law that allows aggrieved borrowers to convert a nonjudicial foreclosure to a judicial foreclosure.
Hawaii is a so-called equitable distribution state. This means that in the event of a divorce, a court typically distributes all marital assets (like homes and similar property) as equitably as possible, rather than splitting everything 50/50, as would be the case in a community property state. To make a fair split, judges usually consider factors like each spouse’s age, earnings history and the number of dependent children. Each spouse is entitled to hold onto assets received before marrying, as well as any gifts and inheritances acquired during the marriage.
Unlike some states, in Hawaii, a lawyer is not required to represent you when you close on the purchase of your new home. You can opt to work with a title or escrow company instead. Still, if you anticipate any closing issues, or would like someone to represent your personal interests, follow the advice of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and consider hiring an attorney.
In Hawaii, real estate transfer taxes are known as conveyance taxes. Conveyance taxes must be paid within 90 days after any interest in a property is transferred (or conveyed) from one person to another. Conveyance tax rates range from $.10 to $1.25 for every $100 of the home’s value. They also depend on whether a seller qualifies for a county homeowner’s exemption on property tax. The lowest rate applies to properties valued at less than $600,000, and the highest rate is for properties worth $10 million or more.
Despite high home values, property taxes in Hawaii remain surprisingly affordable compared with the rest of the U.S. According to Tax-rates.org, the median property tax in Hawaii is now $1,324. On average, the state collects 0.26% of a property’s assessed fair market value — the second lowest percentage of any state.
If your home in Hawaii is your primary residence, you may be able to qualify for one of the following tax exemptions to reduce your overall property tax bill:
Because housing costs in Hawaii are more expensive than in other states, the maximum limit for conforming loans for all five Hawaii counties is also higher, at $726,525.
As a homebuyer, it’s important to keep this number in mind; a mortgage that meets federally-set conforming limits is more likely to allow you to enjoy lower down payment requirements, lower interest rates and lower fees. With a non-conforming “jumbo” loan, you may be able to buy more house in Hawaii, but it will probably come at a higher overall cost.
Buying a home can be a big investment — especially in a state with such high median sales prices. Luckily, Hawaii offers programs that can make a home more affordable.
The Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation offers a program to help qualified residents buy condominiums owned by the HHFDC. Qualified residents are placed into a lottery, and those who are randomly selected are given an opportunity to purchase a unit in one of six government-sponsored developments. Unit prices range from $250,000 (studio unit) to $500,000 (three-bedroom unit). To qualify, your income needs to be large enough to qualify for a mortgage to buy the unit.
To be eligible, you must also be:
The Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation (HHFDC) also offers a mortgage credit certificate (MCC) to qualified buyers. An MCC is designed to reduce the amount of mortgage interest you pay by offering a dollar-for-dollar federal tax credit up to $2,000; in this way, it can help low- to moderate-income families free up more money to qualify for a mortgage and make the monthly payments on the loan. HHFC only offers MCCs through participating lenders.
To be eligible for an MCC, you must meet:
The Hawaii HomeOwnership Center, a Honolulu-based nonprofit, offers a down payment assistance loan program through its affiliation with HHOC Mortgage, a local nonprofit mortgage broker. The program allows qualified buyers to buy a home with just a 5% down payment and no mortgage insurance requirement by providing a second mortgage up to $75,000 to help pay for the down payment.
To be eligible for the DPAL Program, you must: