For the last couple of years, the Hawaii real estate market has been trending in only one direction: up. And if Oahu’s January 2022 numbers are any indicator, this trend looks likely to continue in that same direction.

According to statistics released by the Honolulu Board of REALTORS®, the number of sales of both single-family homes and condos was up year-over-year in January 2022, as was the median sales price.

Oahu Housing Market: January 2022

(Source: Honolulu Board of REALTORS)

Given this competitive market, it’s important to have the right real estate professional representing you when buying your Hawaii home—especially if it’s your first purchase in the Aloha State.

In this article, we’ll give you our tips for picking the perfect Hawaii real estate agent. We’ll also offer some insider tips on the Hawaii housing market to help you make your home purchase in Hawaii that much easier.

We’ll start by covering a few terms you might not be familiar with if you’re a first-time homebuyer.

Real Estate Agents vs. Brokers vs. REALTORS

As you look for the right person to represent you, you’ll notice three common titles among real estate professionals. Here’s a quick cheat sheet so you can understand exactly what each means:

Real Estate Agent: A licensed representative who represents a party in a real estate transaction. Both the seller and the buyer will have their own agent during the purchase process. Unlike brokers, real estate agents can’t work on their own. Instead, they’re sponsored by a real estate broker.

Real Estate Broker: Real estate agents who have taken their profession one step further and acquired a state real estate broker license. Unlike agents, brokers can work independently. They can also put together their own brokerages and hire other agents to work for them.

REALTOR: A licensed real estate professional who belongs to the National Association of REALTORS. As a part of this organization, REALTORS are required to complete continuing education classes and adhere to a specific code of ethics.

Now that you’ve got some clarity on the terms you’ll hear during your search, let’s talk about a different kind of clarity—one you’ll need before reaching out to real agents.

Decide What You Want in a Home—and What You Don’t

Before starting your search for a real estate agent in Hawaii, you’ll need to make a few decisions. By taking the time to make a few crucial choices, you’ll find it much easier to locate someone with the right type of experience.

As your search evolves—and you get to know the Hawaii real estate market—some of these initial decisions may change. However, it’s important to have a starting point in mind before interviewing agents, so you’ll want to figure out:

What Island Do You Want to Live On?

If you’ve done a little research, you already know that you’ll have four major Hawaiian islands to choose from (Oahu, the Big Island, Kauai, and Maui), plus two smaller islands (Lanai and Molokai). Which Hawaiian Island is the best to live on? That all depends on what you’re looking for. Each one has its own unique character, landscape, amenities, and vibe.

Ultimately, you’ll want to work with a real estate agent who’s an expert on “their” island. A real estate agent who’s spent their entire life on Oahu won’t have that same level of local knowledge and insight into properties on the Big Island.

In other words, start by choosing the island you’ll call home before you move forward.

What Type of Home Do You Want?

Next, ask yourself what your dream home looks like. Do you have your heart set on a single-family home? Or are you craving the simplicity of a condominium?

(By the way, if you’re looking for a condo, make sure you check out our article on understanding condo insurance so you know all the factors involved with buying a condo.)

On Oahu, especially in Waikiki, you’ll also find some properties offered as leaseholds. Unlike fee-simple properties, which you own indefinitely, leaseholds are kind of like a long-term lease—with some additional benefits and responsibilities. Curious to know more? We’ll explain all the pros and cons of leasehold properties in Hawaii.

What’s Your Budget?

Finally, it’s in your best interest to decide how much you’re willing to pay. Having a number in mind will help your real estate agent guide you toward the right properties.

That said, this is also an area in which the right real estate agent will be absolutely invaluable. They can tell you whether you’ve set a realistic budget for the type of home and island that you’re considering. (This topic also makes for a great interview question—but more on that in a moment!)

Now that we’ve set the foundation for your search, let’s talk about the next step: locating and choosing the right real estate agent.

Start by Asking for Referrals

There’s a reason we head to places like Yelp before trying a new restaurant. Referrals are a great way to benefit from others’ experience. The same is true when it comes to locating the right real estate agent.

Ask any friends or family you know in Hawaii if they have a real estate agent to recommend. (Or someone they wouldn’t!) Any agents you uncover will already have gone through an initial vetting process, saving you some serious time and effort.

Tip: In addition to asking friends and family, reach out to any business contacts you might have in Hawaii. Good professionals often know each other, either by experience or reputation. Your moving company, contractor, accountant, etc. may be a great source of referrals for you.

Of course, the Internet is always there for you if you don’t have any luck with referrals. A quick search for “real estate agent Oahu” or “real estate agent Kauai” can get you started.

Look for the Right Fit

It can be tempting to go with the first name that lands in your lap. However, considering just how important buying a home can be, focus on finding a real estate agent who’s a good match for you.

Interview at Least Three Candidates

When it comes to finding the right moving company for your Hawaii move, we recommend vetting at least three movers. We suggest the same when it comes to real estate agents.

Talk to at least three real estate agents who specialize in your island—and, ideally, in the area you’re considering. Tell them what you’re looking for, and get a feel for how each of them works.

Consider asking things like:

  • How many years have you worked in Hawaii real estate? How many transactions have you done? (Note: Some people in Hawaii get their real estate license, but don’t practice full-time. Asking this question will give you a sense of how much real-world experience the agent has.)
  • How long have you lived on [this island]?
  • What kind of county and state regulations might impact my purchase?
    • For example, if you’re considering purchasing your property as a rental, make sure to bring this up with your agent. Certain areas are zoned specifically for short-term rentals, while others have restrictions. Additionally, there may be tax implications based on your property’s intended usage.
  • What is the real estate market on [this island] like for buyers right now?
    • How can I stand out as a buyer in a hot market?
    • How quickly should I expect to put in an offer? Are other buyers putting in offers over the asking price?
    • How many offers are your current buyers putting in before winning one?
  • How do you like to work with your clients?
    • How will we coordinate property tours?
    • What form of communication do you like to use (text/email)?
    • In an ideal client relationship, what would be your expectations of me?
  • What do you think of my budget and my expectations?
  • If I want to get in contact with you, what’s the best way to reach out?
  • What do you want me to know? What haven’t we talked about?

Observe Their Communication Style

Pay attention to the entire interview process and how the agent interacts with you. You’ll get some great clues for what it would be like to work with this person on a regular basis.

For example:

How quickly does the agent get back to you? Are you left waiting for answers? Or does the pace of communication feel just right?

How do they answer your questions? Do you feel like they’re giving you the information you asked for? Or do you have to ask the same question a few times?

Do you get the sense that they’re holding back? Some professionals are reluctant to deliver bad news to a client. However, in a real estate transaction, you want someone who’s going to give it to you straight. What sense you get from this real estate agent?

Do they seem like a great communicator? So many real estate deals hinge on this crucial skill. If you’re having trouble communicating with your agent, you may want to keep looking.

Vet Their Social Properties

Finally, it’s a good idea to do a quick tour of the agent’s social properties, including reviews on Yelp and Google. Rather than looking for a few bad reviews, look for trends. Everyone has a bad day now and then, so don’t let a single piece of feedback put you off. Instead, are there several people who say the same thing about this agent, either good or bad?

If there are any reviews that particularly bother you, bring them up during your interview. Most agents would be thrilled to explain the circumstances around a poor review. After all, there are two sides to every story.

Ultimately, Internet reviews can offer you some additional perspective on a potential real estate agent. However, use these reviews as background material, and don’t take any one review too seriously.

Move on If It Doesn’t Feel Right

Finally, every now and then, despite all of your vetting, you might find that you and your real estate agent aren’t a match made in heaven. Maybe the agent just isn’t finding the kinds of properties you’re looking for, or you can’t seem to get in sync with their schedule.

Chances are, if you feel this way, your agent does, too. The best thing you can do at this point is to be honest. Tell them you don’t think it’s working out.

A good real estate agent will handle this news professionally. From there, you can figure out next steps. Maybe a change in the relationship is in order. Alternatively, you may find yourself looking for another agent, one who’s a better fit.

The Right Real Estate Agent Can Help You Get Closer to Hawaii

If you’ve always dreamed of moving to Hawaii, the right real estate agent will move you that much closer to a dream come true. With these tips in hand, you’ll be able to zero in on the right professional for you, one who will soon connect you with the perfect place in paradise.

Need some help with your move? Once you’ve found the right home, we’d love to assist with a safe, easy, and affordable relocation to Hawaii! With teams and warehouses on Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai, we can help you move your belongings anywhere in the state. Get started with a quote from one of our experts.

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