With Hawaii Island real estate inventory at record low levels, more buyers are turning to vacant land intending to build a home, or buying a home that does not quite “check all the boxes” but has the potential to do so with a remodel or some updating. In an “epic” moment of unintended poor timing, after five years of planning and programming, Hawaii Countyʻs online permit and plan application system “EPIC” went online at the end of July 2021.
The Good News about Hawaii Countyʻs New Permit and Plan Application System
In the past, applying for a permit to build or remodel a home or to do significant earthmoving on vacant land on the Big Island required multiple trips to the county offices in Kailua Kona or Hilo. It helped to know the office employees and inspectors by name, as contractors and architects and even some of us diligent real estate professionals did. Occasionally it helped to show up with malasadas or home-baked banana bread. As always, courtesy and having your paperwork in order would go a long way.
The difficulty that the paperless permit system is intended to address is that in the past you physically picked up your paperwork and plan copies from one office and delivered them to the next desk to get all necessary approvals from various divisions within the Departments of Public Works and Planning. Once you got your permit, you still had to coordinate multiple inspections with phone calls and follow up.
With the EPIC system, all you have to do is create an account, upload the paperwork electronically, and then it can be accessed by all the necessary reviewers. All of the sources of relevant data, such as property zoning and flood zones, are integrated into the system. As construction progresses, you can request inspections and view the results online. In principle then, the new system should streamline and expedite initial approvals and subsequent inspections.
The Bad News about Hawaii Countyʻs New Permit and Plan Application System
Everyone anticipated that there would be a few months of “working out the bugs” when the new system went live. No one expected the situation reported in the local press last week when the Countyʻs Building Director briefed the County Council. Prior to implementation of EPIC, there were already 1,500 applications pending; 550 permits were issued on these applications in August and September, leaving almost 1,000 in process. In addition, over 1,700 applications have been submitted using the EPIC system in 2-1/2 months, with only 110 permits issued.
Thatʻs about 66 permits issued per week. If they get up to 100 per week, without a single new application submitted the backlog looks to me to be about six months.
I am one of the anxious homeowners with an owner-builder permit application pending. In September I bought a wonderful home that will be my primary residence just as soon as I whip it into shape. Luckily tree trimming, stripping wallpaper and painting, and “like for like” updating of a bathroom will not require permits. But converting an office and powder room to a new bedroom with full bath does. I promise to keep you posted on my luck with the new EPIC system!