Building Planning

Home Planning Guide Step 2: Evaluate Your Property

Embarking on the 10-step journey to homeownership in Hawai‘i requires a thorough evaluation of your property. From zoning regulations to environmental factors, there are numerous considerations that can impact your budget and timeline. At HPM Building Supply, we understand the unique challenges of building on the islands and have decades of experience helping homeowners navigate this complex process. Once you have gathered the complete details of your land—before starting the home planning process—we’ll guide you through the essential step of evaluating your property, providing the knowledge and expertise you need to achieve your vision for your new home.


Table of Contents


What Are Deed Restrictions?

Achieving homeownership starts with the deed, a legal document that conveys land ownership and provides information about the legal rights and restrictions associated with the land. Different regulations and restrictions can impact your building project.

Deed restrictions are limitations placed on the use of a property. They may restrict the types of buildings you can erect or how they should be used. Examples of deed restrictions include limiting the number of people who can occupy a dwelling, restricting animals from being kept on the property, prohibiting commercial development, or preventing heavy traffic.

To determine the limitations of your lot of land, if any, it’s important to carefully review the deed provided at the time you purchased your property. 


A Guide to Land Surveys

A land survey and a deed are legal documents pertaining to your land, but they serve distinct purposes and contain different information. A land survey provides information about the property's physical characteristics with a detailed map showing the boundaries, dimensions, and topography. It also indicates the location of any structures, utilities, and other physical features. A land survey is typically performed by a licensed surveyor and provides an accurate representation of the property’s boundaries and features.

Whether a land survey is included when you purchase a lot varies. It’s best to hire a licensed surveyor who can accurately assess the property’s boundaries and any neighboring properties. You can find a local land surveyor through online directories, such as Angi or the National Society of Professional Surveyors.


Did you know

Topographic Surveys

Topographic Surveys specifically show the sloping of your piece of land or the height of elevation for that parcel. Especially in Hawai‘i, you probably know that plots of land vary greatly, and this survey will help you determine if you're able to use a slab on grade vs. a raised foundation (also known as a post and pier). Also, this will help determine if you need retaining walls, special planning for driveways, etc). All of these factors can play a big role when it comes to cost, so your survey findings will allow our Home Planning Consultants to provide a more accurate fee breakdown.

Be sure to do a search for reputable surveying companies in your local area to help you get started.




9 Important Factors in a Land Survey

1. Property Lines


Property lines can affect your budget and timeline in a variety of ways. For example, an existing fence that crosses a property line may need to be moved or reconstructed depending on the agreement between the two homeowners. Additionally, when establishing new boundaries, surveyors may need to visit multiple times throughout the process, which can add cost and delay the overall timeline. 


2. Setbacks and Easements


Land surveys include small details most people overlook, like setbacks, which mark areas on your property where you can’t build. Setbacks refer to the minimum distance required between a structure and its property line. Double-check that your new house won’t reach the setback areas. You’ll need to go back to drafting to adjust the design if it does.


3. Existing Structures


Always check the property lines and setbacks for existing structures: any buildings already constructed on a lot, such as an extension, garage, shed, ‘ohana unit, or patio. Additionally, if any unpermitted structure is on the land, it would be important to mention that to your HPM Home Planning Consultant. Permits will be needed to remove it from the property, which can delay construction. 

Likewise, when evaluating a property for mortgage purposes, take into account potential issues that could arise from existing structures. For example, if a structure encroaches on another neighbor’s property line, this will need to be resolved before permits can be granted. Additionally, existing structures can affect the overall price and scope if repairs or renovations are needed before obtaining a loan.

As a rule of thumb, consider how all the structures on your property may affect your relationship with your neighbors. If there’s anything that could potentially be disputed, it will need to be addressed to eliminate confusion regarding property lines.

4. Utilities


If your property doesn’t have access to public utilities, you may need to hire an electrician or plumber to run new lines, which can result in unexpected costs and delays. If more electricity or water is needed than what is currently available, it may be necessary to upgrade existing systems to obtain permits. Keep in mind that simply having public utilities doesn’t mean you won’t have to upgrade those utilities.

Some utilities are pricier than others—a cesspool, for example, is a huge expense. If you don’t have a sewage system, hiring a civil engineer to design one and have it installed can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Occasionally, an existing cesspool will need to be filled and abandoned. The process and legality of cesspools vary by island.

If your property doesn’t get city or county water, you’ll likely need a catchment system, which can also affect your budget. Even in a popular building area like Hawaiian Paradise Park on Hawai‘i Island, houses need water catchment systems that must be contained in the buildable areas of the properties.

Electricity can also affect your budget and timeline, depending on how far the house is from the street. A property that is a considerable distance away may need an additional pole to run electricity. If the house is too far away to reach the grid, plan for solar energy usage.

5. Elevations


Elevation refers to height. Depending on the location, local zoning regulations may require certain elevations to obtain loan approval. If existing elevations don’t meet these requirements, you may need to hire an engineer or surveyor to determine what needs to be done to comply with regulations. Additionally, if construction is necessary to meet elevation standards, this too can affect expenses and present hiccups. Carefully survey this detail at the outset to avoid surprises after you’ve committed to a plot of land.

6. Grading, Land Clearing, & Grubbing


Grading, land clearing, and grubbing involve altering the existing topography or terrain of a property. Depending on the extent of work needed, grading can be a pricey and lengthy process. In most cases, this will require a construction crew that knows how to handle heavy equipment. Also, keep in mind that it’s not their responsibility to consider local regulations regarding land disturbances—it’s yours!

Land grading, more specifically, means leveling the property to build your house. If the property is in a flood zone, it may need some fill—rocks or dirt—to build a sturdy foundation. Please consult an expert in this area to make sure all guidelines are followed.

A property full of trees or other natural elements that need to be tamed or removed requires grubbing. Get the proper information to avoid expensive costs to remove trees and extra expenses included in removing other vegetative matter (e.g., stumps, roots, buried logs).

Our Home Planning Consultants can point you in the right direction to ensure you understand what you can and can’t do to avoid potential fines or legal issues down the line.

7. Wind Zones


Wind zone requirements specify the type of construction materials and techniques needed to withstand certain wind speeds. Depending on where you live in Hawai‘i, your local building codes may require a certain level of wind resistance for a property permit. If construction or renovations are necessary to meet these requirements, this can add cost and time to estimates. For example, if your property is in a high wind zone (exceeding 130 mph on Hawai‘i Island), you will need additional structural engineering for your house.

8. Flood Zones


In Hawai‘i’s tropical climate, we’re subject to hurricanes, so we need to account for flood and wind zones. Building in a flood zone requires an elevation certificate. Depending on where you live, local building codes may require a certain level of flood resistance. To evaluate the flood risk of your property, try the State of Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources Flood Hazard Assessment Tool.


9. Special Management Area (SMA)


When building a new house in a Special Management Area (or SMA) in Hawai‘i, it's essential to follow the special application process for approval. Work directly with your county planning department to ensure compliance with regulations. Special Management Areas commonly include coastal areas (primarily) and forest reserves. If you're building in that area, you need to go through a special application process with the county for approval before proceeding with the home-building process.




Special Considerations for Hawai‘i

In Hawai‘i, if your property is within conservation land, construction may have extra restrictions or not be possible.

If you’re working with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL), which is dedicated to granting public lands to Native Hawaiians for homesteads, there is an additional approval process to go through before building plans can be submitted. Fortunately, you can send plans to DHHL and through permitting at the same time.



A thorough property evaluation will save you time and money in the long run on the journey to homeownership. By pinpointing the potential restrictions and regulations that may impact your building project ahead of time, you can prepare to address them.

If any permits or surveys are required before applying for a mortgage, not getting them could lead to potential fines or legal issues. Keep in mind that a land survey is not always included in the purchase of a lot and may need to be obtained separately. Work with a reputable land surveying company to gain a detailed understanding of the physical characteristics of your property. At HPM, we understand the importance of thoroughly reviewing your land survey and will help guide you through the process.



Ready to Begin Your Homeownership Journey?

Contact our HPM Home Planning Consultants to schedule a consultation.

Hilo: (808) 319-2249   |   Waimea & Kona: (808) 762-6246   |   Kaua‘i, O‘ahu & Maui: (808) 319-2421



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