Common Real Estate Terms in Hawaii

When shopping for a home, there are a number of real estate terms with which it is best to become familiar. Not only will this help you to better understand the information that is being shared with you, but it will also help you to communicate effectively with a real estate professional.  In Hawaii, there are additional terms that you may commonly hear in relation to the real estate market. While these terms may seem confusing at first, understanding the terms will also help you to become more familiar with Hawaii, its land and its culture.


Ahupuaa is a tract of land that stretches from the tip of a mountain and continues to the coastline in the shape of a pie slice. While this may seem like an unusual way to describe a tract of land, this was the method used by Hawaiian royalty when they granted large tracts of land to others. The reason for this was the shape allowed the landowner to access the stream for freshwater shrimp while also providing them with the necessary land and varied elevations to grow a variety of foods. In this way, the ahupuaa provided a complete food-processing system.


While you can purchase property offering direct access and views of the beach, all of Hawaii’s beaches are considered public and are accessible to all. This is not to say that you cannot purchase a portion of beach property, but the exact amount that you actually own can vary according to how the oceanside property line is defined. In fact, differing courts have ruled that the property line extends to the vegetation line, or to the high tide or to the high wash of the waves. As such, when you purchase oceanfront property, you are likely to receive a Shoreline Certificate. You will also need to obtain a Certified Shoreline Survey if you wish to build on the property.

Fee Simple and Leasehold

Fee Simple (FS) is the highest form of land ownership in Hawaii, while leasehold (LH) refers to when the land is leased. Most mainland homeowners own their property in fee simple, but leasehold is quite common in Oahu. In fact, several condominium apartments are leasehold, which means they require monthly payments to be made to the underlying lease.

Hawaiian Home Lands

Certain areas of Hawaii have been set aside to be exclusively available as homelands to those who are of Hawaiian descent. While these properties cannot be sold to non-Hawaiians, family members living on the property can inherit the land and remain at the property even if they are not of Hawaiian descent.

Ohana Unit

An ohana unit is a small, self-contained housing unit that is attached to a larger house or is otherwise on the same property. While these housing units were traditionally used for housing extended family members, they are now frequently rented out by homeowners looking to generate extra income.

Other terms are also used to describe directions in Hawaii. Ewa, kona and leeward, for example, all mean toward the west or westward. Windward, on the other hand, means toward the eastern side of the island. In addition, makai means toward the ocean, while mauka means toward the mountain.

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