Hawaii Real Estate Terminology

Because of its distinctive island geography and its method of dividing land dating back to ali’i rule, Hawaii has some unique real estate terms. Before you start looking for a home on the islands, take some time to become familiar with these words that are commonly used in Hawaii’s real estate industry.

ahupua’a (AH-hoo-poo-AH-ah) – In early Hawaiian times, a subdivision of land extending from the mountains to the ocean that was ruled by ali’i. Today, the ahupuaa have been split up and belong to multiple landowners.


condo hotel – A condominium building that is operated like a hotel — offering telephone, housekeeping, and front-desk services — although all of its units are individually owned vacation rentals.

country – On Oahu, the “country” is the less-developed North Shore.

CPR number – Condominium Property Regime number. A unique identifier that distinguishes one condo from another in a building, for tax and sales purposes. It is the sixth number that comes after the five-number Tax Map Key for the piece of land that contains the condo.

duplex – In Honolulu, this usually means a two-story house that has been converted into two separate residences: one upstairs, and the other downstairs.

ewa (EH-vah) – Toward the west, leeward.

fee simple – A property whose land and improvements are owned by the buyer. This type of property is usually more expensive to buy than a “leasehold.”

GET – General Excise Tax.

jalousie – A traditional shutter-style of window commonly found in Hawaiian homes, in which a row of horizontal glass plates are cranked open or shut.

kona (KOH-nah) – Westward, leeward. The leeward side of the island. Breezes that blow against the tradewinds.

kuleana (KOO-lee-AH-nah) – Property.

lanai (lah-NYE) – Patio, balcony, porch.

leasehold – A property whose improvements are usually owned by the buyer, but whose land is only leased by the buyer. Leaseholds are usually cheaper to buy than “fee simple” properties.

leeward – Toward the west. The western side of the island.

makai (mah-KYE) – Toward the ocean.

mauka (MOW-kah) – Toward the mountain.

ohana (oh-HAH-nah) unit –  A small, self-contained housing unit that is attached to or on the same property as a larger house. Was traditionally used for housing extended family members. Today it’s often rented out by the homeowner to generate extra income. Also known as an “ohana cottage.”

post and pier – A traditional way of building houses in Hawaii in which the foundation of the house is elevated on a stilt-like structure to take advantage of wind currents to keep the home’s interior cool. These homes, however, are particularly vulnerable in the event of a hurricane.

town – On Oahu, “town” is anywhere in Honolulu.

trades – Short for “tradewinds.”

upcountry – The higher-elevation region surrounding Haleakala volcano on Maui that is characterized by green hills, cooler temperatures, ranches, and paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys).

vog – Smog formed from volcanic emissions.

windward – Toward the east. The eastern side of the island.