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In the past two years, home sales in Hawaii have soared, reaching record numbers. Despite the average sales price in Hawaii being well above the national average, many home buyers find themselves wanting, and sometimes even needing, to do renovations to their Oahu homes.

The process for renovating and building in Hawaii can look a bit different than on the mainland and feels complex at first glance. Through this article, we’ll provide an overview of the process, and a few things to consider, as you move forward with your Oahu FLIP (not FLOP!).


Before doing any construction, spend time thinking through your bigger vision, and the budget available, to determine the scope of your project as you research and potentially hire contractors and other tradespeople for your project (or determine to do it yourself!). Thinking ahead truly helps avoid potentially costly modifications mid-project.


For most homeowners, the first step in any Oahu renovation is understand the permitting process - if your project requires one and how to go about getting it.

The Honolulu’s Department of Permitting and Planning (DPP) has two-age PDF to help individuals determine when a permit is needed, which is helpful to review before any building takes place.

In 2021, DPP also underwent significant changes in light of a bribery investigation, including how permits are submitted. As of June 1, 2021, the DPP requires all building permit applications for new residential buildings be submitted through the department’s Electronic Plan Review (ePlans) system. Beginning January 1, 2022, DPP shall require all building permit applications for residential additions and alterations be submitted through the ePlans system. As of the specified dates, paper plans will no longer be accepted. Updated information can be accessed on their site.


We spoke with Don Corbin, owner and draftsman at Blue Hawaii Drafting Services, Inc. He informed us that permit turnaround time is currently about six months; three of which is waiting on the DPP to log the plans into their system and creating the permit application.

Island Living Homes Client Jef Ross, who purchased a home in November 2020, shared this timeline estimation was fairly accurate for his project as well. “Our plans were submitted via the online application to DPP in June; we received notification, I think sometime in August, saying that the permit was in the system and under review. We then received notification early October that our permit was approved, so overall approximately four months. But we’ve also been told we have a fairly straightforward renovation; I can see how those that require more review taking longer.” Jef also shared that having the plans drafted took approximately three months, prior to the permitting process, This time included home measurements being taken, plans drawn up (including 3D renderings), and modifications with the draftsman prior to submission.


Due to the complexity of building and permitting on Oahu, it is often beneficial for homeowners to enlist the aide of a professional draftsman, architect or contractor, depending on the scope of their project, to ensure all permitting and building code requirements are met. On Oahu, any electrical or plumbing work must also be separately permitted by a licensed professional.

Don shared additional considerations to keep in mind to avoid hold-ups with DPP.

Those include:

  1. Making sure you have familiarity with your property type. If you have a CRP, ensure you have all necessary documents for the CPR, including the larger plot plan. It is vital to understand if there are any easements or HOA restrictions that can hold the property back as far as what or how it can be developed.

  2. If you’ve recently purchased the property, ensure that the Board of Water Supply (BWS) is turned on in your name.

  3. Consider the pros and cons of your design ideas and your budget, and be as decisive as possible. Spending time going back and forth with ideas, asking friends or family to weigh in, only slows and confuses the design process.

  4. Whoever you hire to draw up your plans, ensure they are experienced. It is money well spent! If you hire someone without experience, it could possibly slow your permitting process as the plans might not be drafted correctly and will require unnecessary back-and-forth with the permitting office.

In addition to drafting plans, finding the right contractor can take time; especially due to the increased demand for renovations and home projects that began during the pandemic. It is important to spend the time in researching and hiring the right people for your project. There are many sites available to aide in reviewing various contractors, and of course asking friends and neighbors for referrals can be a great option. If you’re working with a draftsman or architect, they likely have recommendations as well. In the end, be sure to interview each potential hire; don’t be afraid to ask for detailed quotes and clarification over any concerns.

At Island Living Homes, we understand how hard it can be to know where to start in reviewing possible contractors, so we’ve put together a list of recommendations, based on feedback from clients! See that here: 2021 ILH CONTRACTORS GUIDE


Lastly, as you plan and move forward with your project, be sure to constantly evaluate your budget and have a contingency for any surprises or unexpected costs. It is important to consider ALL costs; will you need to move out of your home for the renovation? Pay for a place to store household items? Furthermore, materials cost more in Hawaii, and can take more time to arrive, which can delay the unprepared, costing additional time and money. Work with your contractor to order items ahead of time so that your project can stay on track as much as possible.

And of course, when you’re done, please send us your before and after photos! We’d love to share them and your experience!

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