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VA Home Loans: Helping Hawaii Service Members May 31, 2011

Posted by Kelly Moran in : Moving to Hawaii, Resources , add a comment

VA Home Loan

VA Home Loans: Helping Hawaii Service Members

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have fallen while serving our country. The day was originally founded to recognize soldiers in the Civil War, but later expanded to give tribute to all service members. For the bravery and service of our current military members and veterans, the VA offers programs that enhance the quality of life and provide options that aid the military lifestyle. One such program is the VA Home Guaranty Loan program. 

What is the VA Home Loan Program?

The VA Home Loan program was established in 1944 to help veterans and active duty service members more easily achieve homeownership. Since service members move more frequent than most, conventional lending programs offer less of an appeal. Through the program, military members are able to obtain a mortgage partially backed by the VA that gives them benefits not commonly found in conventional lending programs.

Why Choose a VA Home Loan?

Traditional home lending programs usually require good to above average credit, a large down payment of close to 20%, and charge Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). Due to the mobile nature of military service members, most veterans and active duty service members have little chance to build savings or strong credit.

The VA Home Loan program is specifically designed to cater to military member’s financial situation, and offers benefits not seen in conventional lending programs, like the zero down payment option, which helps military members continue to build their savings in case they are reassigned to a new base and need the money for their Permanent Change of Station (PCS). Other benefits of the program are:

The VA Home Loan program also has high loan limits, which is great for military members interested in purchasing a home in Hawaii, where homes can vary in price.  In higher priced real estate markets, VA Home Loans can even be secured up to $1,000,000, without the need of a down payment.

Eligibility Requirements

The first step in determining eligibility is to see if you fall in one of the following categories:

The next step is to acquire your Certificate of Eligibility (COE). This can be done by contacting a Hawaii VA home loan specialist like VA Mortgage Center or by calling the Department of Veterans Affairs. A VA loan specialist can streamline the process and obtain the certificate in a matter of minutes, whereas the VA can take up to two weeks to process the request.

Although the VA Home Loan Program has no credit or income requirements, most VA-approved lenders will require a mid-range credit score of 620 in order to secure financing. Regardless of their credit history, all interested veterans and active duty service members are still encouraged to apply as even those with a history of bankruptcy and foreclosure have been approved in the past. For more information, contact a VA home loan specialist today!

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Getting Into Hot Water October 27, 2009

Posted by Kelly Moran in : Could You Live Off-the-Grid?, HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND, Moving to Hawaii, Resources , 1 comment so far

By Kelly Moran

Could You Live Off-the-Grid?  Part V – Getting Into Hot Water

          You probably don’t want to live anywhere without hot water.  But fortunately, that’s the easiest convenience to have, off-the grid.  In our warm and sunny climate (sunny enough, even in Hilo), a simple black plastic water-bag on the roof will give you hot showers from afternoon through early evening.

          Utility executives know this.  They also know that heating water with electricity is terribly wasteful and inefficient; and that they may never get approval to build another power-plant here if they don’t help to hold down demand.  So the Hawaii Electric Light Co. (HELCO) is offering households huge incentives to replace electric water heaters with solar water-heaters.

          You can’t go wrong with solar.  Ideally, you should have a broad southern exposure, but almost any place with open sky views should be sufficient to generate heat from the sun.  You will, however, need a tank, and some backup heat source (propane or electricity) to keep the tank’s temperature constant.

          For an attractive alternative, consider an “on-demand” water heater, in which a small propane burner fires up only when you open a hot-water tap.  There’s no tank (a cost-saving in itself), and though the heater may have a pilot-light, it isn’t burning a lot of gas to maintain a high temperature when you aren’t using hot water.  These systems are very inexpensive, and easily installed by any plumber.  Just be sure the burner is vented, for safety, to the outdoors.


          You could also combine a solar water-heater with a slightly more costly version of the on-demand heater, which has a temperature-sensor built in.  It can then raise up to full hot-water temperature the water that’s already warm from the sun.

          Those solutions are excellent for showers and small tub baths.  As for a resort-size, Jacuzzi-type hot tub, big enough for two or more people, you will need sufficient electricity to run the “jets.”  But a more important consideration is that heating such a large volume of water takes a lot of energy – quite likely more than can be heated by the sun in single a day.  But there are other ways to heat a big tub of water, especially if you’d like your hot-tub experience to be naturalistic.

          In old plantation days, a Japanese farm worker would build a bathhouse, separate from his home, with a wood-fired furo inside.  He’d lay a brick-and-mortar firepit and chimney, set a sheet of copper over the firepit, and make a tub out of redwood (and a redwood grille, to keep from sitting down on the hot metal).  An hour or so after starting the fire, the tub water would be hot enough to soak in.  Traditional bathhouses have drains in the floor, because the Japanese always wash and rinse themselves off first, and only then get into the tub.

          Many years ago, I lived in a house near Hilo that had exactly that sort of backyard bathhouse with a brick-firebox and copper-sheet furo.  I would jokingly compare the experience to the cartoon image of missionaries being cooked in a cannibal’s cauldron.

    Fortunately, there is a modern alternative.  It’s called a “snorkel stove” (www.snorkel.com) – an aluminum firebox that sits in one part of the tub, separated from the bathers, for safety, by a wooden screen.  Since it takes up about one-person’s-worth of space, the tub has to be slightly bigger than you might otherwise need.


          Having a separate bathhouse makes the experience seem special, somehow; and since the tub isn’t in your regular bathroom, it’s more relaxing and more attractive, especially if you share the tub with family or guests.  You’ll probably want to site the bathhouse close to your home, though, and in rainy places, link the two structures with a covered walkway.

View Other Posts in the “Could You Live Off-the-Grid?” Series

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Could You Live Off-the-Grid? Part IV October 16, 2009

Posted by Kelly Moran in : Big Island Hawaii, Could You Live Off-the-Grid?, HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND, Moving to Hawaii, Resources , add a comment

By Kelly Moran

Could You Live Off-the-Grid? Part IV

AC vs. DC

Every electric motor and light bulb in an ordinary house runs on alternating current (AC). And though your cell phone or laptop computer runs on direct current (DC), you keep them charged up with a little transformer you plug into an AC outlet, that “transforms” AC into DC.

No matter how you (or the utilities) generate power, whether from fuel, wind, hydro, or the sun, it starts out as DC and must be changed – or, more accurately, “inverted” – to AC. That’s done through (what else?) an “inverter” that sits between your batteries and the breaker-box for the house’s electrical outlets. The inverter also keeps the electricity from fluctuating, so your power is as consistently smooth as it would be from the grid.

You could skip the inverter, and have an all-DC house. There are DC versions of most appliances, including TVs and refrigerators; and when people here started living off the grid, in the 1960s and ’70s, home-sized inverters were not commonplace; so going entirely DC was the only way they could have modern conveniences. But DC appliances are not cheap, and you won’t find them in local stores. Making an all-DC house also forces you to site all the components of your system, including the outlets, very close together, because (unlike alternating current) direct current loses strength if it has to run through more than about 50 feet of wire. So, to live off the grid, you need batteries and an inverter, too. The fact is: we live in an AC world.

You need batteries. Here, the first five (of sixteen) 24-volt batteries are being installed in a household system. An inverter (not shown) turns the batteries' DC power into AC.

You need batteries. Here, the first five (of sixteen) 24-volt batteries are being installed in a household system. An inverter (not shown) turns the batteries' DC power into AC.

Go Gas

As for cooking, you will have to forget about an electric stove – you can not possibly generate enough power for that. Get a gas stove, and make sure the installer sets up all the burners for propane (instead of natural gas, which is not sold in Hawaii).

Propane is easily obtained. Tanks range in capacity from backyard-grill-size, to four-foot-tall cylinders, to horizontal giants. You can take the smaller ones into town to be refilled, or pay an additional but small monthly fee (less than $10) to have a gas company driver deliver fresh tanks and/or refill them at your home.

There are, by the way, refrigerators that run on propane. They are more expensive and slightly less efficient than electric refrigerators, but if your generating capacity is limited, and you’re getting propane anyway, for cooking or heating water (which I’ll cover next time), you may want to at least check and see if a propane refrigerator will suit your needs. It is, in any case, one more way to stay off-the-grid.

View Other Posts in the “Could You Live Off-the-Grid?” Series

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND: Could You Live Off-the-Grid Part II: (Electric) Power to the People September 25, 2009

Posted by Kelly Moran in : Big Island Hawaii, Could You Live Off-the-Grid?, HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND, Resources, Updates , add a comment

By Kelly Moran

Could You Live Off-the-Grid Part II: (Electric) Power to the People

In my discussion of catching rainwater, last time, I neglected to mention that in some places it’s possible to draw water from a well, especially if your land is near to places where Hawaii County draws its water. But finding a reliable and sufficient source of water underground is not easy, and on the drier, western side of the island, wells have to be drilled very, very deep. So, you may get lucky. Or not. And the cost of drilling could exceed the cost of a catchment tank. Besides, a well needs a pump – and that means you need electricity.

There are four ways that people here generate their own electricity: fuel, wind, hydro, and solar. I’ll cover the first three now, and discuss solar next time.

A stream this big could genereate electricity, but only if the water level drops 40 feet or more from the intake point down to the turbine.
A stream this big could genereate electricity, but only if the water level drops 40 feet or more from the intake point down to the turbine.


View Other Posts in the “Could You Live Off-the-Grid?” Series

$8,000 Tax Credit Used for Closing Costs & More July 1, 2009

Posted by Kelly Moran in : Resources , add a comment

Following up on my previous post

On May 29th, NAR announced FHA-approved lenders received the go-ahead to develop bridge-loan products that enable first-time buyers to use the benefits of the federal tax credit upfront, according to eagerly awaited guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on so-called home buyer tax credit loans.

Under the guidance, FHA-approved lenders can develop bridge loans that home buyers can use to help cover their closing costs, buy down their interest rate, or put down more than the minimum 3.5 percent.

According to senior HUD officials, the loans can’t be used to cover the minimum 3.5 percent.

Thus, buyers applying for FHA-backed financing with an FHA-approved lender that offers a bridge-loan program can get a bridge loan to bring down the upfront costs of buying a home significantly but would still have to come up with the minimum 3.5 percent downpayment.

There remain many sources of assistance for buyers needing help with the 3.5 percent downpayment, including many state and local government instrumentalities and nonprofit lenders.

In addition, some state housing finance agencies have developed their own tax credit bridge loan programs, so buyers in states whose HFAs offer such programs can monetize the tax credit upfront to cover all or part of their downpayment. These programs are separate from what HUD announced today.

The first-time homebuyer tax credit was enacted last year – and improved upon earlier this year – to help encourage households to enter the housing market while interest rates are low and affordability is high. The credit is worth up to $8,000 and is available to households that haven’t owned a home in at least three years. The credit does not have to be repaid, and is fully reimbursable, so households can get their credit returned to them in the form of a payment.

Learn more about the credit, including how to apply for it this year even if you’ve already filed your taxes, at www.REALTOR.org.

As always, we’re available to answer your questions, or assist you in finding your perfect Big Island “first home” … just contact us.

$8000 1st Time Homebuyer’s Tax Credit – Easy Overview July 1, 2009

Posted by Kelly Moran in : Resources , add a comment

We’ve had lots of questions regarding the new $8000 first time homebuyer’s tax credit, so I wanted to provide the basic overview:

If you know anyone who qualifies as a first time home buyer, they may be eligible for a large tax credit in 2009.  The new stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed by President Barack Obama on February 17, 2009, updates the previous First Time Home Buyer Credit of 2008.

Some important changes include:

The income restrictions are based on the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) on your tax return.

Income restrictions include:

The 2009 First-Time Homebuyer Tax Credit is claimed on IRS Form 5405 and filed with your 2009 federal tax return. Tax forms can be found at www.irs.gov.

**UPDATE** As of May 29th, first time home buyers can use the credit toward closing costs and more. Read all about it here.

Island Webcams Added to Hilo Brokers Website June 8, 2009

Posted by Kelly Moran in : Big Island Hawaii, Resources , add a comment

Webcams have been added to the Hilo Brokers website!  To view them, hover over RESOURCES and pick “Big Island Webcams” for the choices.

Mauna Loa Summit Rift Zone Eruption

Some of the webcams include:

Images displayed represent last feed shot at time of website hit. Different webcams update at different times … most update by the minute and include time stamps.


Check them out!

Moving to Hawaii May 26, 2009

Posted by Kelly Moran in : Moving to Hawaii, Resources, Updates , 1 comment so far

Moving to Hawaii from anywhere else is obviously something that must be done with a great deal of planning and strategy. It is not the same as moving across town or even to another mainland state. The logistics involved are huge. To make your move easier, using a professional moving company is the best way to make your move, but it is also the most costly. There are a variety of ways to save money. One is bringing as little as possible to Hawaii. That is not always practical, sometimes you just want your art and furniture or your favorite sports equipment to come along with you.

I have met some people who sold all but the most precious things they owned and moved to Hawaii by using the United States Post Office as their mover. This is obviously the least expensive option, but don’t forget that when you get here, you will have to furnish your new home, have clothes to wear and cooking tools, electronics and appliances. Those things are available in Hawaii, but not always with the same variety and pricing as on the mainland. If you do decide to ship things, using the USPS is the best option. If you can fit things into a large flat rate Priority shipping box, the goods will arrive from the mainland in a week or less. If you have to go with Parcel Post or Media Mail (great way to move your books and CD’s) they could take as long as 4-6 weeks to arrive. The post office supplies free Priority Mail boxes and you can print postage labels from your home computer. If you won’t be at your home to accept shipments, you can send them c/o general delivery to your local post office and pick them up when you arrive.

If you choose the “do it yourself” method of moving, you need to contact one of the shipping companies that provide containers. Matson is probably the largest container shipper with reliable rates and frequent ships coming in and out of all ports in Hawaii. Another large carrier is Young Brothers. Both of those companies ship cars but we will talk about that in a separate post.

If you are considering a moving company, there are some that specialize in Hawaii moves and one of the most used companies for moves to Hawaii is West Point Relocation. Aside from them, most full service moving companies can and do ship overseas. For instance, if you have a typical 3 bedroom mainland home, you can expect a price of between $20,000 and $30,000 to have a full service door to door move from a West Coast Port. This would include packing and crating services, loading the containers, shipping the containers and then unloading, assembly of furniture and some unpacking and uncrating. You can also ask for a discounted bid if you are doing your own packing, but keep in mind that the professionals use higher grade boxes and ones that are made to stack 14 feet high to fit into containers. Get at least three bids and be sure you are comparing “apples to apples”.

Occasionally there are logistical impasses that may require your goods to be shuttled from your home or to your new home. Check with the moving company and be sure to tell them anything that will effect the move such as extra flights of stairs, narrow door ways, winding, dirt or bad roads and driveways where a container may not be parked close to the house. If you do this you will not have a surprise bill.

When choosing a moving company, be sure you are using one that is well established and that you can check references. Because of the economy, some moving companies are closing their doors and the less reputable ones are using day laborers and cutting corners. You want to be sure that the crew that works with you are employees of the company and that they are bonded.

How long will it take for your goods to arrive? Typically from the day they are loaded at the port, they could take between 2 weeks to 6 weeks to be delivered with the average at about 3 weeks. You may want to pre-ship some household goods to your new home so that you will have some of the necessities you need to live while waiting for your goods. If you are not having a full service move, you should be able to have your container in your driveway for as long as 5 days for unloading. Remember, this container is about 5’ off of the ground & does not have a lift, so you will need to rent or make ramps.

There obviously has to be some criteria for thinning out your possessions unless you have a large budget. Basically, if it is electronic and older than 5 years, it is probably better to replace it here. Some furniture does not do well here, leather and anything with metal on it is going to have some issues in the Hawaiian climate if you do not have central A/C going most of the time. The same goes for your leather shoes, “stainless steel” items that are not of the highest grade and books. Some art work may need to be re-framed to humidity controlled framing.

If you contact me, I would be glad to put you in touch with some customers who made the move here. Also, there are Big Island online forums like Kona Web, Puna Web and Puna Online where you can ask questions about movers and other related issues to people who have faced the gauntlet as you soon will. Remember, Hilo Brokers will also be here to assist you in making your move easier.

Huge Library of Hawaii Aerial & Scenic Images May 14, 2009

Posted by Kelly Moran in : Big Island Hawaii, Hawaii Travel, Resources, Updates , add a comment

Big Island SurfWe now have a HUGE library of aerial and scenic images for all the Hawaiian islands posted and available for viewing. This includes the Big Island, Maui, Lanai, Molokai, O’ahu, Kauai, Niihau, Kahoolawe, Kaohikaipu, Kapapa, Lehua, Manana, Mokapu, Mokolii, Mokuhooniki, Mokulua, Moku Mana, Molokini and Okala.  We also have whale, surf and ship photos!

All of these images are presented in a very easy to navigate sorter. Choose your Island from the Island Overview Map, then choose your view. Or view as a slideshow from any image view.

You can view directly using this link or by going to www.Hilo-Brokers.com and clicking the “Resources/Coastline and Scenic Photos” link.

All images provided by Brian Powers and www.hawaiianimages.net (and high quality images are also available for online purchase if you find one you like).

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Overnight Accommodations September 25, 2008

Posted by Kelly Moran in : Big Island Hawaii, Hawaii Travel, HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND, Resources, Updates , add a comment


By Kelly Moran

Overnight Accommodations

When it comes to picking a place to stay, whether you’re on vacation or searching for a home, there are almost too many choices here!

RESORTS. Many visitors want a resort experience, with a (full or modified) “American plan” under which all or nearly all activities and meals are included in the room rate. The Big Island’s resorts are on the coast of South Kohala: green oases in the district’s otherwise black lava landscape. Golf courses are abundant, but (compared to resorts on Maui and Kauai) the beaches are small and are typically augmented with swimming pools and ponds. Typical of the South Kohala resorts is the Waikoloa Beach Marriott.

Most resort hotels are mid- or low-rise buildings, with function rooms for conventions. But there’s one prominent exception: guests at Kona Village stay in thatched huts, called hales, that are fully modern inside, but (deliberately) have no phones or TVs.

HOTELS. Hilo doesn’t have resorts, but it does have a string of hotels on Banyan Drive, with extensive views of the bay and the ocean. The tallest are the Naniloa and the Hilo Hawaiian; a smaller alternative is Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel.

Close to Downtown Hilo, the Dolphin Bay Hotel and the Wild Ginger Inn are modest in size and price.

There are dozens of small hotels in and around Kailua-Kona; but for a truly “local” experience, there’s no place like the Manago Hotel, in Captain Cook: a family enterprise for over 80 years.

B&Bs. A Bed-and-Breakfast is, essentially, someone’s house with nice guest-rooms. If you don’t want the all-inclusive resort experience, and don’t need the guest services of a hotel, then a B&B is ideal, especially if you want to stay in a town with no other kind of visitor accommodations, such as Pahoa, Volcano, Naalehu, Honokaa, or Hawi. Start your search for a B&B at the Bed & Breakfast Online website.

Probably the most celebrated (and, arguably, the most beautiful) B&B on the Big Island is Shipman House, in Hilo, originally the Victorian mansion of a prominent local family, where Queen Liliuokalani and author Jack London were house-guests.

Vacation Rentals. If you’re going to be here for more than a week or two, consider renting an apartment. You’ll be on your own for all meals, with kitchen facilities ranging from plain to fancy, and for housekeeping, with services ranging from full to none.

These accommodations are easy to find and compare, especially on the Konaweb site, or at the VacationRentals411 website, both of which cover the entire island.

And if I may make a suggestion . . . do consider my own vacation rental apartment in Hilo, which I call the Lehua Honeymoon Suite.