VA Home Loans: Helping Hawaii Service Members

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:

  • Competitive interest rates
  • Flexible mortgage terms
  • Refinancing options

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:

  • Served for at least three months on active duty during wartime or 181 days during peacetime
  • Served a minimum of six years in the national guard or reserves

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 – A Text that Can Save Your Life

By Kelly Moran

Civil Defense and You – A Text that Can Save Your Life

If a major road or highway is closed somewhere, as it might be after an accident; or if bad weather or a natural disaster is approaching, the Hawaii County Civil Defense Mobile Alerts program can tell you almost instantly. It will send the news directly to your cell phone, as a text message.

I got the following text one Sunday in September, at 4:15 p.m.: “Police report road closure of Hwy 19 @ 44-45 MM due to traffic crash. Detour is through Ahualoa.” A little later came the update: “As of 5:30, police have reopened 1 lane to traffic. Full road reopening to follow.”

Now, I wasn’t going to be driving on Highway 19, past the 44- and 45-mile markers, that particular day. But some day, news like this is bound to come in handy.

If a service like this were merely “handy,” though, it wouldn’t be worth telling you about. But consider that, a few days later, around 8:30 a.m., Civil Defense sent a text message that there’d been an earthquake and tsunami in Samoa. That is news that everyone here has to pay attention to, because any such event in the Pacific Ocean could potentially send a tsunami to Hawaii. And indeed, Civil Defense issued a tsunami “watch” for the Islands. Ultimately, the Samoan tsunami did not threaten Hawaii, and the watch was cancelled. But a friend across the island phoned, that morning, to ask if I’d heard anything about the Samoa quake, and I was able to read him what I’d gotten from Civil Defense.

If a tsunami is ever actually approaching Hawaii, Civil Defense will issue a more serious “warning” or “alert.” And when that danger is imminent, sirens will sound all around the islands’ coastlines. (Be aware, though, that the sirens are regularly tested at 11:45 a.m. on the first Monday of each month.)

A tsunami in motion can travel as fast as a jet plane – about 500 mph. So it will take hours for a tsunami that’s generated by an earthquake elsewhere in Pacific – whether on the rim, as in Chile or Alaska, or in one of the far-flung archipelagos, such as Samoa – to arrive here. That gives you plenty of time to evacuate, if you’re in what signs all over the coastal areas of the islands call “Tsunami Inundation Zones.”

But at such a great speed of travel, the worst-case scenario is when a tsunami is generated right here, by an earthquake in Hawaii, leaving people practically no time to escape. This happened one night in 1975, when a quake beneath Mauna Loa generated a tsunami that caused a beach in Ka’u to subside. Within only a couple of minutes, the ocean surged in, swamping kids and counselors on a camping trip, and killing several. Remember: If you’re near the ocean and you feel an earthquake, drop everything and head for high ground immediately!

That's not a tsunami, just very high surf at Hilo Bay during a storm.  But the waves are high enough for the County to close the Bayfront highway - and for Civil Defense to text a warning to that effect.
That's not a tsunami, just very high surf at Hilo Bay during a storm. But the waves are high enough for the County to close the Bayfront highway - and for Civil Defense to text a warning to that effect.

One night in October, there was a small earthquake here. It didn’t have much power: we felt the shake, but nothing fell off the shelves. Fifteen minutes later, though, Hawaii County Civil Defense text’d me that it measured 4.1 on the Richter scale, that it was centered under the sea southeast of Pahala, and that no tsunami had been generated. Okay – that night, the news was not much to worry about. But it was reassuring, and it trumped the guessing-game (“Wha’d’you think? Four-point-something?”) that inevitably follows a quake.

All local telephone directories have Civil Defense pages near the front, with maps of low-lying areas highlighted for evacuation in case there’s a tsunami emergency. To be fully informed about tsunamis, I urge you to visit the unique Pacific Tsunami Museum on Kamehameha Ave. in downtown Hilo; or go to its website at

Of course, traffic and emergency notifications are not all that Civil Defense can do for you. Want to know how near you or your visiting friends can get to wherever Kilauea is erupting today? Or whether your favorite viewing spot is open or closed? You can check with the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, of course; but it’s Hawaii County Civil Defense that has a dedicated Lava Viewing Hotline. Phone 808-961-8093.

As for those emergency alerts, some – though not all – cell phone service plans charge you for incoming messages. But the folks at Hawaii County Civil Defense are not likely to send you something every day – and when they do, it might just save your life! Sign up to receive these alerts by going to:, register and filling in the form.

Believe me: you can afford it.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Getting Into Hot Water

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” ( – 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

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

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.

  • Fuel. By far the easiest way to get power is to buy a generator, keep it stocked with whatever it burns — typically either diesel or propane — and run it until your batteries are charged, roughly six hours a day. With either fuel, you can assume that your electricity will cost a few hundred dollars a month — about what you’d pay Hawaii Electric Light Co. (HELCO), the local utility. Generators are not expensive, but you should balance that low initial investment against the certainty that the price of fossil fuels will keeping going up, even if renewable alternatives like bio-diesel or methane enter the mass-market. (No matter how you make your own power, if you live off the grid you should have a generator anyway, even if it’s only a portable gasoline model, for backup or emergencies.)
  • Hydro. If you have a good-size stream on your land, a hydroelectric turbine may be the way to go. The machinery is not very expensive, and you do not need a waterfall, as long as the water level drops at least 40 feet from the intake point down (through a pipe) to the turbine. But the stream has to run year-round, and in a drought lasting several weeks, even some large streams may shrink or dry up. Ironically, the only serious disadvantage to hydro is that under normal conditions you may get too much power from it! Unlike breezes or sunshine, streams run 24/7. After your batteries have been fully charged, any excess electricity can damage your system: it must either be stored (in yet more batteries) or consumed immediately. One fellow I know had to buy a chest-freezer and an air conditioner solely to soak up all the electricity from the turbine in his stream.
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.


  • Wind. A small windmill may generate enough power for a barn (or a well-pump) but a windmill sufficient to power a household must be quite large, and hence expensive. On this island, that’s a viable option only if your land is really windy, which you’ll know because your trees are bent over, as they are near HELCO’s “wind farms” — clusters of turbines – -at the northern (Kohala) and southern (Ka’u) capes. On the Hamakua Coast, the onshore tradewinds are not constant; and on the Kona coast, daytime breezes tend to die down at sunset.

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

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

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

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

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:

  • No repayment for the 2009 credit if you do not sell before 3 years
  • Maximum credit increase from $7,500 to 8,000 or 10% of the purchase price of the home (whichever is smaller)
  • Qualifying dates include homes bought between January 1, 2009 and before December 1, 2009
  • First time home buyer is defined as someone who has not owned a principal residence in 3 years
  • Income limits apply, but those earning more than the limits may qualify for a reduced credit

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

Income restrictions include:

  • Individuals/Single Head of Household – income no more than $75,000
  • Married couples filing Joint return – income no more than $150,000

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

**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

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:

  • Hilo Bay from Pacific Tsunami Museum
  • Volcano Golf Course 18th Hole
  • USGS Halemau’mau Vent Camera
  • USGS Pu’u O’o Vent Rim Camera
  • Puako Bay
  • University of Hawaii in Hilo Kanaka’ole Hall
  • University of Hawaii in Hilo Main Entrance
  • Mauna Kea Summit Smithsonian Camera
  • Various NOAA Mauna Loa Observatory Cameras
  • … and more.

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.


  • To refresh the image, reload the page.
  • Click the image to view a larger size of the webcam shot.
  • Click the link below the image to visit the associated website.
  • Daytime viewing is best!

Check them out!

Moving to Hawaii

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

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 and clicking the “Resources/Coastline and Scenic Photos” link.

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