Fee Simple (also known as Freehold) is the most complete form of ownership and most common throughout the United States and Hawaii. Fee Simple ownership includes the land and the buildings thereon. A Fee Simple condominium includes the actual condominium unit and the proportionate interest in the land underneath plus the proportionate interest in the common and limited common elements of the project. Common elements could include the lobby, elevator, walkways, swimming pool, etc. Fee Simple owners are responsible for their property taxes and sometimes association dues and or maintenance fees in the case of a condominium.
Leasehold ownership only includes the buildings, but not ownership of the land! A Leasehold condominium includes the actual condominium unit and the proportionate interest in the common and limited common elements of the project but not the ownership of the land. Someone else (the fee owner) owns the land and the Leasehold owner only leases (rents) the land at terms defined in the lease document. Prices for leasehold properties may appear very affordable, but remember, the price reflects a value without ownership in the land.
Potential buyers of leasehold property should proceed with caution with a full understanding of leasehold terms: Leasehold owners pay a monthly lease rent to the landowner. Per the terms of the lease, the lease rent could increase over time and is payable above and beyond the property taxes and any possible association dues or maintenance fees. Per the terms of the Lease, there may be restrictions on property usage, alterations, and maintenance.
Financing for Leasehold properties could be more difficult depending on how short the remaining lease term is. Generally, lenders require the lease to be at least 5 years longer than the loan term. So, a 15-year loan would tend to require at least 20 years remaining on the lease. The terms and details of the Lease can vary for different properties and the risks of ‘Step-Up Lease Rent’, ‘Lease Renegotiation’, and ‘Lease Expiration’ need to be carefully considered.