Leasehold properties in Honolulu justifiably tend to be seen as 2nd Class, or lower, to Fee Simple listings, where you own the land outright. For the most part that makes sense. The chance of losing your residence, and having to leave the very property you’ve lived on once the lease expires, is an unattractive prospect to the vast majority of real estate buyers.
Some cases have turned out well, with the fee being offered down the line. Others have played out just as originally planned, with the former owners walking away with little to show for it. So why would you buy a leasehold condo, with it’s expiration date always a factor?
There are buyers who have been able to create income that makes it worthwhile, renting to tenants, creating a relatively attractive cash flow. There are also those who trade the certainty of fee ownership for a home they could not otherwise afford, leasehold properties being consistently more affordable for obvious reasons.
For those who do have an argument on their side for purchasing in this part of the market, there are some very attractive condominiums out there. These are our picks as the 7 Best Leasehold Condos in Honolulu (5 exclusively leasehold condos and 2 mix of leasehold and fee simple, as of writing). Why 7? Because that’s how many had something truly special about them, putting each over the rest of the crowd. As you’ll see, the reasons for being here aren’t all the same. What is common, though, is that they are uncommon.
Admiral Thomas Apartments (Lease Expiry: 2046)
The Admiral Thomas Apartments were built by developer Bruce Stark. It’s a name associated with roomy floor plans in Honolulu condos, his projects including Yacht Harbor Towers, Royal Iolani, Wailana at Waikiki, One Waterfront Tower and, of course, this property.
Here you can live in large layouts of 1BRs with 813 to 1638 sq ft, 2BRs of 1586 to 1784 sq ft and finally 3BR units with at least 1937 sq ft. Few buildings can promise you residences this size and this is one of them. The lanais outdoor provide another 55 to 284 sq ft, on average giving you over 100 sq ft there.
You get sweeping views from your home, looking off to Diamond Head, the Koolau Mountains, the cityscape and lights and all the way makai to the Pacific swells. You can even enjoy the unforgettable tableaus of the tropical Sunrises and Sunsets.
As far as convenience, H1 runs a block mauka and Beretania takes you right Downtown in a couple of minutes. Long’s, Safeway, Foodland and Walgreen’s are all walking distance, bringing those staples in easy reach.
Finally, two other factors make the Admiral Thomas Apartments stand out. First, is its reputation for being very well maintained and managed, something that impacts both living experience and resale. Second, over 69% of the owners live here currently, so that record of solid upkeep will probably remain. That’s a sign of a strong property, something you’re always seeking in your real estate search.
Canterbury Place (Lease Expiry: 2051)
Like the Admiral Thomas, Bruce Stark was the builder here as well. Canterbury Place is a prominent Waikiki building, standing right on the corner of Ena Rd and Ala Moana Blvd, the other corners of this central intersection being taken up by Hilton Hawaiian Village, Wailana Coffee House and Ft DeRussy Park. There’s a lot to do here, just outside your door.
Though the floor plans aren’t as large as the Admiral in the original configuration (some owners have enclosed their balconies), they still easily qualify as good-sized. The 1BRs go from 770 to 817 sq ft inside, the 2BRs taking up from 1096 to 1268 sq ft within them.
In this comparison of the 2 buildings, though, Canterbury Place takes the prize with its lanais that spread out over a minimum of 107 sq ft, only stopping at a high of an amazing 553 sq ft.
There’s a lot to see from your home. The park across Ala Moana keeps that direction wide open, a condition that will last for years to come. The vistas take in Diamond Head, the Koolau Mountains, all the lights and activity of Waikiki and the ocean’s blue making its way to the horizon. There’s also Sunrise and Sunset views, promising shades that only Mother Nature has in her palette.
There’s a lot to do from here, too, all just outside your door. The largest beach in Waikiki is a few minutes walk, there are numerous restaurants around you, including 2 in your own building, and plenty of shopping, too.
When you stay home, you’ve got only 3 neighbors on your floor, keeping traffic and noise to levels that don’t intrude. There’s also your pool, sauna, jacuzzi and paddle tennis court when some fun or relaxation is called for.
This is actually a mix of fee simple and leasehold homes, so you may find listing that do have complete ownership on the market. That’s something that should be taken into account in your ultimate decision.
Canterbury Place provides the ideal location for an active, social lifestyle, with the spaces inside and out that homeowners always want, but don’t always get. Here, it’s ready for the right owner.
Diamond Head Beach Hotel (Lease Expiry: 2032)
The Diamond Head Beach Hotel is one of the Gold Coast buildings, legendary for their proximity to Diamond Head and especially the ocean. The structure sits a little further back from the shoreline than some of its neighbors, allowing for a small private lawn area where residents can sit and watch the waves drift toward them. Few experiences soothe you so well and so fully.
The design of this condominium is unique, making a trapezoid so the bottom levels are wider than the top. This makes for a large number of different floor plans, most of which are one-of-a-kind. All, though, are either Studio/1BA units of 236 to 466 sq ft or 1BR/1BA, which can have from 469 to 1305 sq ft.
Lanais are equally varied, running 60 to 365 sq ft, providing close-up views of Diamond Head, the coastline and, the prime reason for being here, the Pacific, which washes up just a few feet away. It’s not just the sights of the ocean that delight you here, it’s also the sounds.
On the mauka side you sit beside the Diamond Head end of Kapiolani Park’s unlimited recreation possibilities, a block from local favorite Kaimana Beach and a scenic walk from Waikiki for limitless shopping or dining pleasures. Residents love being able to have that district’s options, but live where it’s quiet and much slower paced.
One issue does need highlighting. Most of the owners have their units on the short-term vacation rental market, even though this is not actually legal. For now, it brings in an income, but the future could bring an end to this activity. Be aware of this should you decide to follow that path. Should that occur, you still have a place that’s just as attractive long-term, whether that’s you or your tenant.
Discovery Bay (Lease Expiry: 2039)
Discovery Bay is not only in the thick of the Ala Moana side of Waikiki, it provides a lot of it, too. On its street level, as well as beneath, there is a selection of eateries, restaurants and bars that will provide at least one or two favorites that you can drop in on any time.
When you’re ready for more, there’s plenty more nearby or you can walk to Ala Moana Center for some of the best shopping and dining anywhere.
The two glass towers provide phenomenal ocean views of the Pacific as it spreads out from the beach that is almost across the street from your condo here. You can also look off to the Koolau Mountains in the other direction as well as city views that wonderfully light up each evening.
It’s just a couple of minutes to the beach, which is not only the biggest in Waikiki, it’s also the site for the Friday Night Fireworks every week. You may even be able to watch the show right from home.
Units have layouts for most needs, running from Studio rooms (464 sq ft) to huge 2BR suite residences (1,897 sq ft). Lanais are not present on the Studios, but the rest do, adding 87 to 333 sq ft outside to take in the views and the resort atmosphere all around you.
The leasehold situation is a unique one. The Discovery Bay AOAO owns 62% of the fee interest, with 6 other parties holding the other 38%. The AOAO is working to buy that outstanding percentage and, if successful, ultimately offer residents the chance to purchase the fee.
This situation creates 2 important conditions. The 1st is that all the fee parties must come to a decision by the lease expiration in 2039 about what to do. The 2nd is that, due to the owners having an interest in the fee through the AOAO, you cannot be asked, or forced, to vacate your condo. In a typical leasehold condo, that is typically the conclusion. At Discovery Bay, it isn’t.
That protection, along with its truly exceptional location in Waikiki, does make this property stand out from the others. Still, this leasehold issue hasn’t played out fully, so take that into consideration and get advice from a solid Honolulu real estate professional. It can be worth it’s weight in gold – or Waikiki land.
Kahala Beach Apartments (Lease Expiry 2027)
The Kahala Beach Apartments is one of those cases that Hawaii real estate watchers discuss endlessly. It has always gotten a lot of attention just because these condos are right on the beach, next to the modern grandeur of the Kahala Hotel. The impressive setting is balanced by equally elegant and luxurious interiors and large dimensions. The smallest units have 1BR and a huge 1,068 sq ft. The 2, 3 & 4BRs are just as over-sized, giving you room to roam.
Most lanais provide 297 sq ft, where you can enjoy views of the daily tended tropical gardens, the coastline that is one of the most exclusive anywhere and the cool Pacific waters only a few steps from home. All from a quiet, secluded community that feels much more secluded that it actually is.
Consensus is overall that the land owner, Kamehameha Schools, will not offer the fee upon lease expiry, though there has been a lot of speculation around this,. With 2027 coming up, banks will not offer a mortgage for these residences, so sales are all Cash. The looming expiration has also resulted in Fire Sale prices in some cases.
Due to the unique conditions, potential buyers should go in fully understanding the prospect of purchasing a home that may no longer exist after 2027. So far, for some, the chance to live on this stunning beachfront property is still worth it.
Sans Souci (Lease Expiry: 2024)
The Sans Souci is said to have some of the best views in Hawaii. It stands right at the beginning of the Gold Coast, bordering on the beautiful sands of Kaimana Beach. Walk out your building’s back door right onto the beach!
One of the key factors that distinguishes it even on this priceless strip is its wonderfully open feel. Much of the Gold Coast lots are relatively thin, so most structures are rectangles, with a short end facing the ocean. That is reversed at the San Souci, the long side curving along the shore, with every unit looking out at the waters that lap up steps away.
Your lanai takes in a widescreen vista, down the Honolulu coastline, including Waikiki’s modern playground, as well as 2 incredible shows you’ll never want to miss. Every evening brings a new ocean sunset to savor, followed on Friday with the weekly fireworks show that you have a clear view of, every time.
In fact, the lanai you enjoy is 115 to 360 sq ft. Besides being large spaces, Sans Souci’s are special because they are deeper than you’ll find elsewhere. So deep that some residents have actually moved their queen sized bed out there, going to sleep every night to the sounds of the surf. Just imagine what that must be like.
Even with all of this, including fine dining restaurants in easy walking distance, Kapiolani Park across the street and all of Waikiki’s choices an easy stroll as well, there are matters to understand.
The lease is coming up in 2024 so a mortgage is impossible to obtain right now. The land is owned by a family trust, which some believe may tip the decision to selling the fee. That is only conjecture, though, as no decision or solid indicators have emerged about what they’ll do.
Waikiki Beach Tower (Lease Expiry: 2039)
This entry stands apart from the rest for a few reasons. For one, it is a true condotel, allowing you to rent out for as short a term as 1 day. Second, although it is a hotel property in every way, with front desk, concierge and daily housekeeping/turndown services, the Waikiki Beach Tower condos are not the typical hotel room size.
Every unit is 2BR, with from 1025 to 1150 sq ft of interior, spreading out much farther than the 90% of hotel accommodations in Waikiki. This makes them exceptionally attractive to potential vacationers as well as providing real living space should you take up residence yourself.
The choice, vacation rental owner, or resident may be a tough one when you see the location literally across the street from Waikiki Beach. With lanais of 171 sq ft there’s a good amount of room outside to relax and take in the Koolau Mountains, the coastline and the ocean that laps up on the beach that is practically your front yard.
There are only 4 units per floor, too, so you can unwind in your home without the often raucous traffic noise you get in hotel hallways.
The property is a mixture of fee simple and leasehold, so some units do come with that side of ownership. It can mean the fee may be offered at some point, but at a price that is only rising with the always hot Honolulu real estate market. There’s no guarantee, though.
What you do know is that this is one of the extremely rare opportunities to actually own Waikiki real estate that’s across from the ocean. If there’s a case for buying leasehold, Waikiki Beach Tower is making it.
IS LEASEHOLD RIGHT FOR YOU?
That’s a difficult question and one you’ll only figure out after a lot of thought. There’s no one answer for all leasehold properties, either, if only because of the varieties there, even just in the ones we’ve listed above – leasehold/fee simple mix and partial fee interest ownership, for example.
For now, know that it is an option. One that isn’t the correct choice for most. For some, however, it could be your doorway into Honolulu homeownership.