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:
Home seller and buyer laws
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:
- Home exemption — In Hawaii, property tax exemptions vary by county, and may also depend on criteria like a homeowner’s age. On the largest Hawaiian island — often called the Big Island — the county of Hawaii charges a basic home exemption of $40,000, but the exemption can be as high as $80,000 for higher-priced homes and $100,000 for individuals 70 and over. On Oahu, home owners can take advantage of an $80,000 basic home exemption, and $120,000 if they’ve 65 and over. Meanwhile, Maui’s home exemption program can reduce a property’s assessed value up to $200,000.
- Disability exemption — If you are a disabled homeowner or veteran, you may also be able to qualify for a property tax exemption in the county where you live.
- Income-based exemption and credits – Some counties in Hawaii offer property tax breaks for those with low incomes. On Maui, you may qualify for a credit if your real estate taxes add up to more than 2% of your adjusted gross income. On Kauai, meanwhile, homeowners may be able to limit their annual property taxes to 3% of their gross income, as long as their incomes fall below a certain maximum set by the county of Kauai each year.
Conforming loan limits
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.