Military PCSing to Hawaii: The Buyer’s Guide

Congratulations on your new PCS move to Hawaii! This is a guide to help you find a great home in Hawaii. This is probably the most unique PCS location you will come to anywhere in the U.S. Unlike other places you have probably been stationed, here you will find temperatures in the mid-70s to mid-80s almost all year round depending on the location. Some areas are dry, some areas are wet, and there are tons of microclimates that change neighborhood by neighborhood. Moving here and finding a house is an important step to making your time in service on this island a pleasant time. This is the first of many big decisions you will need to make in the islands, and it will affect your everyday life.

My name is Joey Furlett, and through my dual careers as a realtor and an attorney (you can read more about that here) I have helped well over 200 active and former servicemembers purchase and sell homes. At Hawaii Life, I am on the Military Specialized Team, where I help get servicemembers into their new homes to set them up for personal and professional success. Because of my past legal experience, I have even advised lenders on VA financing requirements, and my grandfather was proudly an active servicemember. I hold a Military Relocation Professional certification (which ironically isn’t as impressive as it sounds since it is just a 6-hour course). I have friends throughout the armed and uniformed service, and I take pride in helping people find homes that will work for their lifestyles, goals, and family plans.

Enjoying the mountains and breeze near Kaena Point!

My goal is the same as my philosophy: “I do everything I can to make the process as simple as it can be for you.” What that means– I want to provide you with the support and information that you need while also working within the confines of your schedule. Stationed in Germany and need a 4 am call with video showings drop-boxed to you to make things work? Well, I’m glad to make it happen. Before I get into the guide, here is my contact information:

Joey Furlett, JD, Realtor-Broker, Military Relocation Professional

My cell (feel free to text/call!): 808-818-8811

My email:

PCSing to Hawaii: A Buyer’s Guide

1) Homes Are Smaller Here Than on the Mainland

In Hawaii, we have less space. On the mainland, even some apartments I stayed in were more than 1,500 square feet. Well, in Hawaii that would be considered pretty huge. Single-family homes usually range from around 700 square feet to 1,200 square feet for most places within an average servicemember’s budget. That said, there are exceptions. I have seen single-family homes in a servicemember’s average price range as small as 220 square feet and as big as a couple of thousand square feet. But again, think small. That oversized couch may or may not fit in a place in Hawaii.

2) Your Location Defines Your Commute Time

In Hawaii, your commute time is defined by location-specific traffic patterns. If you move to the wrong location and have the wrong work start time, you can easily be in bumper-to-bumper traffic for well over 2.5 hours each way. When I first made my way to Oahu, I made that mistake and I don’t want you to make it as well. Depending on your branch and your duty, you can be at one of the various bases throughout the islands of Oahu or Maui. On Oahu, there are several “rush hours” throughout the day that correspond with the times that folks leave the military bases, the times state workers finish for the day, and the times that the dockworkers finish for the day. To find the best place for a good commute time, it is important to know which base or location you will be commuting to, and what your hours will likely be. The goal here is to make sure that you spend less time in your car and more time doing what is important to you.

3) The Microclimate Matters

oahu tropical plants

Tropical climate plants on Oahu

Places here generally fall on a spectrum from “humid and tropical” to “dry and dusty” depending on location. For folks who want the tropical experience, you might opt for a wetter environment. For folks who love the desert heat then dry and dusty is for you. Elevation will also define whether the temperatures generally stay cooler or stay hotter. The higher the elevation, the cooler you get, but also the higher you get the more intense the sunlight might be (unless you know where there is good cloud cover). Because we are on an island with multiple climate zones, some areas are likely to flood while many other areas are not in FEMA flood zones. The climate you live in defines a lot of your lifestyle, and can even affect how much your electricity bill costs each month. Cooler weather or better tradewinds means you might not need to pay for as much air conditioning– or you may not even need it! Since there isn’t much weather change from season to season here, you have to make sure you like the climate you are in.

3) The Addresses in Hawaii Aren’t Always the Same as the Town Names

In Hawaii we do not have incorporated municipalities, so the mailing addresses are not accurate to the location. Let’s say you want to buy in “Honolulu.” Well, an address that says “Honolulu” could be practically anywhere between the town of “Salt Lake” down by Hickam Air Force Base to the Hawaii Kai area. That can be a distance of 23 miles and well over an hour of transit time difference. Likewise, towns like Makaha and Ma’ili in the Leeward side are given Waianae mailing addresses. So, looking for a place to live online may get pretty confusing pretty fast without a good realtor to guide you.

4) HOA Fees are Bigger for Condos and Townhomes and They Affect Your Ability to Buy

HOA fees are much higher here than what you may be used to on the mainland if you move to a homeowners association. As of 2023, the average HOA fee I see on apartments is upwards of $400/month. A three-bedroom apartment in the downtown area could have an HOA of over $1,000/month. Many of the more popular attached townhomes have HOA fees of more than $600/month. Sometimes these large fees cover nice amenities, but often they are high to cover reserves to do future maintenance. Because HOAs are counted into the debt-to-income ratio and borrowing limits for a buyer, an HOA of $500/month may lower your buying ability by $70,000 or more. As of the time of writing this article, you pay the same each month for a $680,000 townhome with a $500 HOA as you would for a $750,000 single-family home without an HOA. On one hand, these HOAs might go towards maintaining your lawns and common areas. But on the other hand, during three years of service, you could easily be giving an HOA $18,000. Some folks like the convenience, but other folks would prefer to put that money toward their own mortgage.

5) Dog-Friendly Apartments Are Less Common

Puppy on a Beach in Hawaii

Buying is often the only option when you have a pet you are bringing to Hawaii. Particularly when you have a larger dog (anything more than about 30 lbs). According to some statistics I recently heard, it is estimated that less than 1% of all rentals on Oahu allow dogs over 30 lbs. And based on my personal experience, I often see a premium of as much as $500/month on rentals that allow large dogs. So, unless your dog is a true ADA service dog (not just an emotional support dog), renting probably won’t be an economical option.

6) PCS Season Truly is a Season – Look at Homes Before You Arrive

In PCS season, which I define as roughly the end of March through the end of July, we see a huge increase in home inventory for sale as servicemembers leave the island. However, we also see increased competition for homes that are for sale. Just like you, plenty of servicemembers will soon be looking for a place to call home. That means effective communication, efficient scheduling, and proper guidance are very important. We have to work together quickly to find a place that will work for you, get in tailored and well-written offers, and get you the best shot to get to the top of the seller’s pile of offers. And when there are multiple offer situations, we need to be ready to get revised offers submitted in the most efficient manner possible. We want to set you up so that when you arrive, things are ready for you. The goal: a place you can move into that will set you up for your professional and personal success.

7) Not Every Home Can Be Bought With a VA Loan

VA loans are protective devices to make sure that servicemembers can buy a place with efficiency and ease. That means you can buy places that range from new to old, but they have to be in good and livable condition. True fixer-uppers that need major structural fixes are not an option when you buy with a VA loan. Having an older interior is not a problem, but health and safety concerns are unacceptable for a VA inspector. As a fun story (and an extreme example), I once had a buyer who bought a property with a brick driveway on a VA loan. One of the bricks was sticking up at a funny angle from wear and tear, and the VA inspector was not happy—the VA inspector was worried that this could puncture a car tire. So, the seller had to drill out the mortar around the brick and have it re-installed before closing.

8) Your Base Allowance for Housing (BAH) Should Be Used Carefully

As a military service member, you get a Base Allowance for Housing. The rules get technical on how much it goes up each year, or whether it will increase (sometimes it doesn’t increase, depending on your last station location). If you move from Texas to Hawaii, your BAH will likely go way up. If you move from California to Hawaii, you may end up getting the same amount as in California. Figuring out how much your BAH is, and when it will start is essential to buying a home. A purchase contract must be timed correctly to make sure that your full BAH can be used for the loan so you can afford the home you want to buy. Likewise, if you are close to retirement you may not want to buy the most expensive place you can possibly afford. Why? Well, BAH eventually comes to an end. So, depending on your post-service plans, you may want to shoot for a place that is much more affordable so that you can use as much of your BAH as possible towards the loan principal before you retire. That way you can make sure you can afford your home for years to come!

9) You Need to Work With an Agent Who Cares About More than Just Your Military Life

I know it sounds silly, but a lot of agents will pay for the 6-hour class to get the National Association of Realtors “Military Relocation Professional” certification. And to be certified you don’t even need real experience working with folks in the military. Some real estate agents frankly view the certification as a great way to bring in business so they can get a buy and sell every three years as folks move base to base on PCS moves. However, they may not have experience working with military folks on a deeper level. While you may not have full control of where you will be in a few years, a real estate agent should take a humanistic approach. As a human being, you have your own goals and dreams. Some folks want to buy a place as a fun crash pad while they spend some time here with the hopes to make up at least some of it when they sell. Some folks are looking at their new home in Hawaii as a long-term investment to buy and hold so they can retire to the islands once they finish their service. Other folks are flexible and are seeing where the winds blow them. Either way, a discussion with a realtor should not just be about the transactional side of things. To really assist, a realtor needs to find out about your goals and dreams. Helping folks to buy efficiently is important, but so is working towards your personal goals in a kind and thoughtful manner. Whether you work with me, or whether you work with another agent, please make sure that the realtor you work with understands your career and situation.

Some Last Thoughts:

This was just a quick guide but it gets you a flavor of what to expect on your PCS move. There are quite a few military bases here, so looking for targeted advice on a military move can be difficult without a realtor who actually knows what they are doing. If you like what you read in this article, shoot me a text or a call any time. I’m glad to do what I can to assist. Again, here is my contact information:

Joey Furlett, JD, Realtor-Broker, Military Relocation Professional

My cell (feel free to text/call!): 808-818-8811

My email:

And a final note on why your home search needs to be base-specific:

We have something like 12 “on the public record” bases just on Oahu, and the housing logistics for each base are very different from the others. If you are moving out to the Leeward side for Barber’s Point or the 297th ATCS, you have way different housing options than someone who is working at Marine Corps Base Hawaii or to Central Oahu at Schofield Barracks or Bellow Air Force Base. While folks may travel from Honolulu up to Schofield Barracks or Wheeler Army Airfield, they also have the option of staying on the North Shore area, but they sure wouldn’t want to live out in Hawaii Kai. On the other hand, someone working at Tripler Army Medical Center, Camp Smith, Hickam AFB, Joint Base Pearl Harbor, Fort Shafter, or US Coast Guard Base Honolulu has the option of living in downtown Honolulu, out as far West as Makakilo, or as far East as Hawaii Kai, but they sure wouldn’t want to commute from the North Shore or from Waianae.

Comments (0) Show CommentsHide Comments (Remember)

Cool. Add your comment...

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave your opinion here. Please be nice. Your Email address will be kept private, this form is secure and we never spam you.

More Articles from Hawaii Life