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Hawaii Property Ownership Explained: Fee Simple vs Leasehold

Most people only know of one type of real estate ownership; fee simple, also known as freehold. Hawaii and a few other states have another form of ownership known as leasehold. The difference in these two types of land tenure is very different and affects the value of the real estate. It is important to know the difference, especially if you're buying real estate in a leasehold state.

FEE SIMPLE: Fee simple ownership is probably the most familiar form of ownership to buyers of residential real estate. A fee simple buyer is given title to the property, which includes the land and any improvements to the land in perpetuity. In the case of a condominium the purchaser would own a pro-rata share of the land. Aside from a few exceptions, no one can legally take that real estate from an owner with fee simple title. The fee simple owner has the right to possess, use the land and dispose of the land as he wishes--sell it, give it away, trade it for other things, lease it to others, or pass it to others upon death.

LEASEHOLD: A leasehold interest is created when a fee simple land-owner (Lessor) enters into an agreement or contract called a ground lease with a person or entity (Lessee). A Lessee rents the land from the Lessor for the rights of use and enjoyment of the land much as one buys fee simple rights; however, the leasehold interest differs from the fee simple interest in several important respects. First, the buyer of leasehold real estate does not own the land; they only have a right to use the land for a pre-determined amount of time. Second, if leasehold real estate is transferred to a new owner, use of the land is limited to the remaining years covered by the original lease. At the end of the pre-determined period, the land may legally revert back to the Lessor, and is called reversion. At the end of the lease term many lessors and lessees have agreed on either a new lease or the Lessor may agree to sell the land to the Lessee. In the case of a condominium depending on the provisions of any surrender clause in the lease, the buildings and other improvements on the land may also revert to the lessor. Finally, the use, maintenance, and alteration of the leased premises are subject to any restrictions contained in the lease.


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