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Finding the right neighborhood

homes0929_1BY LISA LEE

Finding the right neighborhood to live in and matching it to your budget can be a balancing act these days, as home prices are rising and listings in many neighborhoods are few.

But price considerations are only one piece of the puzzle when you are looking for a new home, especially if you have kids in school, commutes to work and other issues of location to consider.

Ideally, most people want a home in a neighborhood where crime is low and the right mix of things exist for their lifestyle – parks, shopping, restaurants, churches, beaches or golf.

Because Oahu is a small island, buyers can easily get pigeonholed into looking at just one or two neighborhoods, not realizing that there may be others that can suit their needs just as well or even better. An experienced real estate agent is a great resource for buyers, providing insider knowledge and context beyond conventional wisdom and neighborhood ste-reotypes.

“We bring buyers in, listen to their criteria and get to know them,” explains Russell Nishimoto, a 36-year veteran REALTOR and partner at Prudential Locations. “Then we match what they are looking for with what we know from our experience. When you can open[notdef]up the marketplace to buyers, they realize more opportunities are out there and their options increase.”

As an example, Nishimoto recalls clients who wanted to buy in Manoa and start a family. After getting to know them and considering their budget, he suggested that they consider ‘Aina Haina as it was more within their price range and actually seemed to suit them better.

“As we talked and they verbalized their needs to me, they realized, wouldn’t it be nice for the kids to be able to ride their tricycles out in front of the house,” remembers Nishimoto. “They said to me, ‘We would have never considered ‘Aina Haina, but it worked. In a lot of cases, people may have something in mind, but they’re open to ideas if you give them alternatives and context.

“Today’s buyer is savvier than in the past,” Nishimoto says, “because they have more access to real estate information and it’s at their fingertips at all hours of the day. They realize how strong the market is and how inventory is tight, and many have already set broader neighborhood parameters. For example, they will consider homes from Nu’uanu to Niu Valley.”

Others come in with flexible requirements for home features within a neighborhood. “They’ll say, ‘I don’t mind a 1,200 or 1,400 square-foot house. It’s just me, my wife and my young daughter, so one bath is okay, although we would prefer two.'”

Typically people look to real estate agents for information about value and pricing, but buyers usually have strong feelings about what they’re looking for in a property, so an agent’s knowledge about the lifestyle and “vibe” of neighborhoods and individual properties is invaluable.

In contrast to buyers of the past, Nishimoto says, “many buyers today tend to look at neighborhoods that are similar to each other and focus on the specific type of home that meets their needs.”

He describes a client whose overarching goal was a home that was “bright and airy.” They were flexible on location and even the architectural style of the house, but they wanted a certain type of feeling and flow within the home.

While buyers today have more information at their fingertips, they don’t always have the context to make nuanced comparisons. That’s where an experienced agent can be of benefit. “I can provide a detailed comparison between different properties that is more than just looking at the listing information,” Nishimoto says. “Experienced agents help by providing interpretation and context.”

Nishimoto notes that buyers today come to him more prepared than in the past. “They’re starting the process early on – meeting with a loan officer first, getting the preapproval letter, working out their budget – and they’re ready to act when they find the right home.”

Today’s buyers are also more flexible in their price ranges. “Obviously everyone prefers to pay less, but buyers will say to me, ‘Russell, don’t hesitate to tell me about something at the upper end of my price range if it meets my parameters.'”

At the end of the day, it all comes down to fulfilling the dream of homeownership, Nishimoto concludes.

“The idea of ownership is still very important to most of my clients. They realize that prices are higher, but they are willing to go ahead and buy because they want what having that home will provide for them: lifestyle, comfort, a home that they own.”

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