Island Bound 4: I Love it When a Plan Comes Together

[continued from Island Bound 3: Plan A]

off Maalaea
off Maalaea

Plan A suggested that the only thing we needed to do immediately was get the Kula house rented. That assumption is pretty much where Plan A began to fall apart. We needed some repairs done before we could rent the place out, and getting construction work done on Maui isn’t exactly predictable. Even on the mainland, contractors have multiple jobs, distractions, budgeting issues and crew changes. That can be more pronounced in a place where people, both employers and contractors, embrace the concept of Island Time. It can be frustrating – but you have to remember you’re entitled to embrace that concept too!

The guy I’d asked to do the repairs wasn’t going to be available until about April. This being January, we were talking about two or three months of double mortgage payments without rental relief. Also in January, we flew out to visit our house, live in it for a week, and get the feel of things. During that week, we fell more in love with the house, the neighborhood, the island. I also met my contractor face-to-face, and we really hit it off. All of these things contributed to the beginning of the Downfall of Plan A.

We also felt like we should get our Issaquah house on the market – we’d heard too many stories about how many months it took, realistically, to sell a home. So we engaged an agent and started the process. We didn’t hear it at the time, but another piece of Plan A crumbled and crashed into the sea.

The Collapse of Plan A

Fast forward a few weeks. We’ve been preparing for an open house to launch our home on the market. Cleaning, repairs, staging the place. The weekend arrives, and we have to take the dog and make ourselves scarce for both days as strangers tromp through our house. Also during that week, lots of calls from agents who want to show the house – many of whom either (a) can’t figure out how to disarm the alarm and set it off or (b) can’t seem to remember to arm the alarm when they’re done. An uncomfortable time, strangers in the house and the unknown ahead.

The week after the open house, I had to travel east for work. That week, a number of things piled up: first, some aspects of my mother’s estate resolved themselves, and the entire thing was closed. Then on Wednesday, I talked with our realtor, who informed me that we had four offers. After six days on the market. The best offer, from a lot of perspectives, had two downsides: we had to decide by 9pm PT that evening (declining not really an option as the offer was well above our asking price), and if we accepted the offer, we had to be out of the place by March 27th. It’s February 19th. A few other planets aligned during the week, Sarah and I had a few very long talks, took some deep breaths. Then we accepted the offer. We now had about six weeks to stitch all the details together to pack and leave our home of the last seven years to live… somewhere: Enter the beginning of Plan B.

Plan A is dead, long live Plan B

More decisions. One direction was renting a house in Issaquah for a year or so while we rented the Kula house. The more we thought about it, this option just wasn’t that attractive. And after spending a week in the Kula house, getting to know people and places, we were now highly motivated to become island people. On Friday the 21st, while I was still traveling, we both gave notice at our jobs, and Plan B, the process of immediate relocation, began in earnest.

Now for the logistics. Plan B means an incredible set of interlocking to-do lists, calls, emails, forms filled out, etc. Thank you OmniFocus. Moving so soon means that Beast can’t go right away – he’s not eligible to arrive on Maui until May 9th because of his Rabies quarantine, while I have some things on Maui I need to start pursuing (things like jobs) as soon as possible. So Plan B resolves into two separate migrations: the first at the end of March, shipping my car, all of our stuff getting shipped in a “ReloCube” (our entire life into a 6’x7’x8′ container), our house cleaned and vacated. Then I rejoin our stuff and my car on Maui, set up housekeeping, get all the utilities and construction resolved, and look for work. Sarah takes Beast and spends some time with her family since we won’t be able to drive there from now on. The second migration happens when I fly back to Seattle, rejoin Sarah and Beast, see Beast off at Air Cargo, ship Sarah’s car, hop on our own flight, and then we all end up in our new home together. Easy!

First cut of Things to Think About looks like this (without any of the really detailed stuff):

  • plan my migration
    • book my flights there and back
    • shipped stuff I want to have there on arrival (tools, etc.)
    • assemble docs and materials that should not be sent, shipped or checked in baggage
      • passports
      • SS cards
      • originals of car registrations
      • bank documents
      • cash
      • camera gear
      • laptops, servers, RAIDs
  • plan our joint trip in May
    • book one-way flights for both of us
  • downsize
    • living space: going from a 2 floor, 5 bedroom, 2800 sq. ft. house to 1 floor, 2 bedroom, 690 sq. ft.
    • garage: no more 2-car garage, only carport – downsize there too!
    • climate: no more long wool coats (they rot), down vests (they rot), leather bags (you get the picture)
  • get rid of extra stuff
    • sell all unneeded stuff on Craig’s List
    • schedule a garage sale to get rid of what’s left
    • donate stuff that didn’t sell
  • ship our stuff
    • identify a shipper
    • schedule container drop off at Issaquah house
    • schedule container pickup at Issaquah house
    • get an estimated date for arrival of container at Kula house
  • schedule my car for shipment
    • identify a shipper for our cars
    • research the rules for shipping a car to Maui
    • book an interim rental car on Maui for until my car arrives
    • research the rules of registration transfer from the mainland to Maui
      • figure out how to deal with the car having to be registered within 30 days, but Sarah not arriving until day 35, and we’re both on the registration
    • start the process of changing insurance
    • start the process of title transfer
    • get written permission from our lender to ship our cars
  • schedule Sarah’s car for shipment
    • [all the same stuff as for my car except no interim rental]
    • figure out what to do when her current registration expires during shipment (of course)
  • figure out how to get Beast to Maui
    • identify a pet relocation service
    • get the paperwork done:
      • AQS-278 form, filled out, signed and notarized, original delivered to Hawai’i Dept. of Agriculture
      • Neighbor Island Permit received from Hawai’i Dept. of Agriculture
      • Health Certificate issued less than 5 days before Beast’s departure
      • additional stuff to go with Beast and his carrier taped to top of carrier
    • book a pet-friendly hotel for the time between when we vacate the house and when I fly out
    • schedule the vet for Health Certificate exam
    • book a hotel between Beast’s departure and ours, pet-friendly should he not make his flight
    • book a rental van because we’ll need it to get Beast and his carrier to Air Cargo, and Sarah’s car will already have been shipped
    • schedule the vet to meet Beast at Kahului on arrival
    • book a kennel in Kahului for Beast until we get there the day after he arrives
  • after all the dust has settled
    • Hawai’i drivers’ licenses (Kama’aina rates are really helpful!)
    • change mobile phone numbers to 808
    • open accounts at a local bank
    • jobs!

And the list grows daily.  Plan B is happening!

[next: Island Bound 5: Relocated!]

Island Bound 3: Plan A

[continued from Island Bound 2: Timing is Everything]

view from our lanai
view from our lanai

So now we owned two homes: one in Issaquah and one in Kula. But we lived in Issaquah, we had jobs, friends, family reasonably close by. It was comfortable. But those dual mortgage payments were highly motivating: we had to decide next steps. 

Plan A was pretty straightforward: make sure the Kula house was ready to rent (some repairs were needed) and get someone in there on a 6-12 month lease, and pretty much defer all other decisions for a while. In the meantime, get our dog (Beast) in for his Rabies Titer test.

Beast Transport

Taking your pet with you to Hawai’i is far from a simple thing. They don’t have Rabies in the islands, and they’re determined to keep it that way. For a long time, the only way to bring your dog with you was to fly him out, then wave goodbye as he goes into The System for 4-6 months’ quarantine. You could visit him daily, but he had to stay at the quarantine kennel facility – and you had to pay for that. This rule was inviolate. Now, however, the rules are a bit more flexible (my suspicion is that had something to do with that wacky heiress bringing her giraffe – I am not kidding – with her and negotiating with the authorities to let her “pet” do the quarantine at her mansion). These days, if you jump through all the procedural hoops, you can actually meet your dog as he comes off the plane, go through a bit of paperwork, and take him right to his new home. That procedure starts with a blood draw, which goes directly to Kansas State University or to the CDC. Results are sent directly to the Hawai’i Department of Agriculture, who then informs you (by allowing you to search for your pet’s chip ID in a 300-page PDF that’s published weekly) of your dog’s “eligibility date”, 120 days from their receipt of the test results. A four-month wait – but then your dog is eligible to arrive anytime after that waiting period for three years. So getting Beast in sooner than later didn’t have a down side.

from IATA
from IATA

The other thing about getting our pet to Hawaii is that they have to fly. For smaller to medium-ish dogs, most airlines will take them in checked baggage for a couple of hundred bucks. No so our boy: he is a Malamute, an Alaskan Malamute, and big for the breed at 105 pounds. The International Air Transportation Agency (IATA) has rules about pets on planes. They actually have an acronym for it: LAR, for Live Animals Regulations – IATA LAR. They also have a Pet Corner.  The carrier (“container” in IATA speak) has to be big enough that the dog can stand, sit, turn around and lie down comfortably. All makes sense. But a fine point is that, while sitting or standing, their ears cannot touch the ceiling of their container. Period. For our boy, his stand-up ears make him about 37″ tall. That meant taking an IATA 700 “Giant” carrier (35″ high) and adding a 4″ spacer. It also means all bets are off for baggage compartments since the carrier is now 39″ high. Welcome to the world of Air Cargo, Beast.

Titer? Check. Container? Check. Paperwork? I’m used to wading through bureaucracy: check more or less. Flights? Whoa. Whole other story. As a 100,000+ annual traveler, I’ve seen some insanely-complicated travel arrangements and connections. But trying to get any understanding of how to get Beast on planes to Maui defeated me: the plane, the airline, the time of year, the phase of the moon (okay, I made that last part up). So Plan A [pet sub-plan 1] was to find an outfit to do all this for me.

All seemed good: get the Kula house rented and see where things are something like a year from now. Solid plan.

…right.

[next: Island Bound 4: I Love it When a Plan Comes Together]

Island Bound 2: Timing is Everything

Off Maalaea
Off Maalaea

[continued from Island Bound 1: Dreams of Maui]

For months after leaving Maui without trying to buy the little house in Kula, I second-guessed myself. Did we miss a great opportunity? Should we have taken the shot when we had the chance? Sarah and I had many conversations about this, but we still felt we weren’t ready to make a purchase, and that we’d have to hope that, when the time came, the right property would become available.

In August of last year, the Kula house transitioned from For Sale to Pending. We’d lost that opportunity. Ah well, so it goes. But I couldn’t seem to let go, so I kept checking on Zillow. In September, and in October, and in November the Kula house remained Pending.

In the interim, we visited the islands again, but this time to the Big Island (BI), as a number of people (many of whom are BI residents) were saying “what? Moving to Maui? To Maui? You must mean the Big Island – that’s where everything is, there’s more to do.” As Sarah had never been to any other island but Maui, and as, if we’d have considered any other island it would’ve been the Big Island, we owed it to ourselves to spend a little time there.

Every island in Hawai’i is pretty dramatically unique geographically and culturally. O’ahu remains the center, the capital, and Honolulu is more than a million people. Traffic is amazingly bad, and my recollection is that the badness is independent of the time of day: on the mainland, if you see traffic at 3am, you consider they might have a long trip ahead and are getting an early start, but on O’ahu there simply isn’t anywhere that far away. Don’t be a noob and confuse Waikiki with being downtown. Kaua’i, the oldest island, feels as remote as it actually is, the beaches are very different from the other islands. Waimea Canyon is one of the most spectacular places, and the wettest place, on earth. Lāna’i and Moloka’i are slower and more rural (although Lāna’i is likely feeling impact from the two massive hotel operations. There didn’t used to be a hotel on Mānele Bay. We’d camp there – and to do that you called up the Koele Pineapple Company to reserve one of the campsites on the beach. Then call the Lāna’i City Car Rental Company to reserve one of the two or so cars they had. Air Moloka’i was how you got there, on planes so small you first had your baggage weighed then you had to get on the scales yourself.

Maui and the Big Island (yes, the island is actually named “Hawai’i”; some call it “The Big Island”, some call it “Hawai’i Island”.  “I’m going to Hawai’i” invariably refers to the state, the collection of islands. Imagine if Texas had a city named “Texas”, not “Texas City” or such. “I’m going to Texas”…) are somewhere in the middle, mixing more sophisticated infrastructures than the other outer islands but remaining less citified than O’ahu. This is all radically simplistic and subjective, but if you want more you need Wikipedia, not me.

The week we we stayed in Kona was eventful. We swam with spinner dolphins, several times. We played some challenging golf – where Sarah made a hole-in-one at Mauna Lani. We went night-snorkeling with manta rays. We went kayaking across Kealakekua Bay. We hiked the Kilauea Iki Trail. We had amazing fish at Bite Me. All touristy stuff, but mixed in with that was a lot of cruising neighborhoods, looking at properties, trying to get a feel for the place. Almost all of our time was on the Kona side (we did visit Hilo, but mostly because it was convenient from Volcanos National Park, and because it gave us an excuse to checkout the new improved Saddle Road). Throughout the week, we looked at everything through a lens comparing it to what we knew about Maui. In the end, we came to the conclusion that, while the Big Island was a lovely place to visit, Maui just, well, felt more like us. 

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I checked up on the Kula house on Zillow, saw it was still Pending, and decided to reach out to my real estate agent on Maui to ask WTF? She said she’d get back to me ASAP, and called me about ten minutes later with: “I recommend that you put in a backup offer on that house right now. I mean it – NOW.” Through the wonders of DocuSign, we had a backup offer recorded about twenty minutes later, and were staring at each other across the couch in a state of “did we just buy a house on Maui?” shock.

from Wikipedia
from Wikipedia

High Technology isn’t always the winning solution: that weekend, it turned out that a number of other realtors expressed interest in the Kula house and submitted backup offers – but they inquired by email, where our realtor did it the old-fashioned way, and called using an actual telephone. That realtime conversation led to our offer being first in line. Come Monday, while we were still sitting on pins and needles awaiting the outcome, my realtor called and said something like “the seller wanted to know how you were set up with financing, and I told them you were pre-approved, working with Monica. The house is now yours.” Turns out that Monica has near-mythical status on the island for being excellent (that reputation is well-deserved: she and her team are truly the best at what they do, and everyone trusts them). Shortly afterward we were the buyers of record, and then the Financing/Underwriter/Escrow dance started. At one point, my wife had to submit a letter explaining why she waited for three years after our marriage to change her name. But we persevered, and on 31 December, we closed on the house: we were now officially owners of island property.

The next question was of course: “now what?”

[next: Island Bound 3: Plan A]

Island Bound 1: Dreams of Maui

Sarah at Ahihi Kinau 

A couple of years ago, my wife, Sarah, and I took a vacation on Maui. Sarah had never been to Hawai’i before, so I was curious to see how she liked the place. I used to live on Oahu many years ago, enticed out to the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa from Denver when my future boss said something like “well, you’ll have to spend about half your time in the water training dolphins.”

Sarah lived for a while in Costa Rica, and had thoughts of returning to that sort of climate at some point. Sitting at a table in Ka’anapali, sipping a cold drink, looking out over the ocean, Sarah commented “this is so much like Costa Rica, but something’s different.” I’m a pretty experienced traveler, but it’s one thing to visit a foreign country and quite another to consider when buying real estate, settling down and such. Also, Costa Rica is a long way from the west coast. I responded “It’s in the U.S.” and her reaction was “Whoa! Yeah, that’s it!”

I think our dream of moving to Maui may have started at that moment.

Over the next couple of years, we returned to Maui a few times, staying in different locations to try out the many microclimates and communities found on the island. We did the resort thing in Ka’anapali. We stayed in a cottage by the beach in Kihei, and in an ohana in Pukalani. We explored the south shore down to Makena and the north shore down to Haiku. We started gravitating to the upcountry area (is that antigravity?), and fell in love with the vibe, and the views, in Kula. I reached out to an old acquaintance, a realtor on the island, and started the process of getting more serious about a future with the word “relocation” in it. 

House hunting on Maui can be exciting and frustrating. Houses can be ramshackle but crazy expensive, neighborhoods can change dramatically by turning a corner. As a mainlander, you need to understand the difference between lease hold and fee simple. New home construction is surprisingly costly per square foot – and many neighborhoods dictate a minimum size enclosed space – lanais don’t count. There are garden views, and territorial views, and ocean views – and something I’ve only heard of on Maui, the bi-coastal view, where you look sort of westward at the West Maui Mountains, and you’re able to see both north and south coasts. And there’s the concept of the Condominium Property Regime

Early in 2013, house-hunting, we fell a bit in love with a little place just up the road from the Kula Lodge. Not quite a bi-coastal view, but a sweet view of the north shore, Kahului, the West Maui Mountains, and even Moloka’i in the distance. We arranged pre-approval with a local lender, and thought long and hard about making the leap. In the end, however, we decided the time wasn’t right, and we left the island for home.

The story doesn’t end there, however…

[next: Island Bound 2: Timing is Everything]