view of palm springs, california from simonetta kennett viewpoint

OK, it’s not really invisible.

Palm Springs Indian lease land mapBut it is a map that won’t appear on Google Maps or your nav system. And it is a map you’ll want to refer to when looking for Palm Springs real estate.
We’re talking about a map indicating where the fee simple and lease land is in Palm Springs and the surrounding area. People searching for homes to buy in Palm Springs may be unfamiliar with the concept, that is, the difference between fee simple (or just plain “fee”) and lease land because they come from someplace with only fee land.

And it’s confusing because fee land sounds like you have to pay a “fee.” But it’s lease land where you need to make a (usually) monthly payment, basically like rent, because you don’t own the land your home sits on; you lease it. 

What is Lease Land & Fee Simple Land in Palm Springs?

In Palm Springs real estate ads, you'll often see mentions of "You own the land!" which means it's fee simple land and not lease land. Lease land in Palm Springs belongs to the native Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, usually called the Agua Caliente Tribe.

So, what's with the map?

When the Coachella Valley was initially surveyed and a railway through it was planned, the federal government divided the land into one-square-mile sections, deeding every other section to the local Indians. This made a neat checkerboard pattern on the Palm Springs region, with primarily even-numbered sections belonging to the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. 

This checkerboard pattern is obvious when you look at the reservation map. It explains why when you drive around town, you'll see an undeveloped desert where you'd expect to see housing or commercial buildings like those that may exist right across the street. Or, at least, the pattern was obvious before Palm Springs grew.

Naturally, the first sections to be developed were those that were off the reservation. The Aqua Caliente Tribe began developing their land by leasing it for business and residential purposes. Later on, families and individual landowners sold their parcels outright, and those became fee-simple land. So, although you can kind of guess what is fee land and what is lease land by known street boundaries, you can't be sure without checking the map. 

For example, most of section 24 is now fee simple land, but not all of it. Some of it, especially condo developments, are lease land. Section 14, in the commercial downtown area and central Palm Springs, is a notorious mess of tribal, lease, and fee. The tribal land is home to the Agua Caliente Casino and the under-construction Cultural Center. This section is a popular topic of discussion at city planning meetings. 

Much of the residential lease land is devoted to condo developments, which makes sense considering that each unit pays a lease, and you can put a lot more units in a condo development than one made up of single-family homes. But again, some condos on lease land maybe next door to condos on fee simple land, even though they're in the same section. Some condo developments in central Palm Springs in section 14 and some in the Indian Canyons neighborhood south of downtown are like this. 

What Happens When Land Leases Expire In Palm Springs?

What happens upon lease expiration is up to the Tribe's original owners.

The Tribe's preferred lease period was 65 years, and because many of those leases began in the 1970s and '80s, many are now within 30 years of expiring. That can present problems for lenders, who make loans with 30-year terms, but most leases are renewed long before the expiration date. Some are renewed for an interim period, an additional 30+ years, making the lending process more acceptable.

Some of section 24 was fee land several years ago. When the land lease was up, the family members who owned the land decided to sell. Homeowners in those properties, who had been paying a land lease, suddenly had to buy the land. The regular income generated from the leases for the Tribe does not make this a common or financially attractive practice. 

When looking for real estate in Palm Springs, finding out about the land lease terms is a good idea. As a Realtor, I have that information and understand the ins and outs of buying lease land. Sometimes, a Zillow search (or other real estate apps) won't give you all the information on land leases you should have. Usually, these apps are not filtered by fee and lease land. This is another reason why checking the map helps. 

Do you have questions about a specific property being fee simple or a land lease?  Contact Geoffrey Moore today to find out!

Is Fee Simple Or Land Lease Better In Palm Springs?

What does it mean to a Palm Springs real estate buyer when considering a property on lease or fee land? This article can help answer that. Some say that buyers get more for their money when purchasing property on lease land, and in Palm Springs, that may make a difference, especially in the condo market. There are tax, resale, and loan differences as well.

Given the unusual nature of Palm Springs real estate, it's best to consult with a professional. That's why I'm here. I keep abreast of the continuing saga of the lease land situation in Palm Springs; I know the players and hear about future plans or intentions that won't appear on a map.

Do your research

To find out the land type of an individual property or to search the online map of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation, click here to go to the Agua Caliente Geospatial Information System. It's the definitive resource on the topic.

Posted by Geoffrey Moore on
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