Maybe you’re sick of renting, but you can’t afford the down payment for a $700,000 house in Seattle. Maybe you want an affordable investment property. Maybe you just hate mowing lawns.
Consider the condo. Carefully. And consider it even if you don’t fall into those “maybe”s.
Buying a condo is more than a “cheap” alternative to buying a house. Condos come with their own considerations, restrictions, and opportunities. They’re cheaper than a house, yes, but (1) they might be better than a house—even for financially endowed buyers, and (2) they might not be a good solution for certain cash-strapped people who want to own their own place.
To decide if a condo is right for you, first take stock of your own goals and preferences. Many features of condos can be huge negatives or positives purely depending on your lifestyle.
Big isn’t necessarily better when it comes to housing, especially after certain life transitions. If the kids moved out and you’re looking to downsize, or if you no longer need 2,000 square feet after the divorce, or if navigating stairs has become more and more difficult as you age, the small space of a condo offers major advantages.
You’ll often find condos downtown or in Seattle’s urban villages. Moving into a condo offers easy access to all the excitement and opportunities of these urban spaces (restaurants, art galleries, shopping, walkability), but they also offer all the downsides: noise, crowds, lack of green space, traffic on all sides. Depending on your own needs and preferences, this is either a pro or a con.
Transportation issues/opportunities go hand-in-hand with location. Want to walk to the grocery store? Want a light rail station two blocks away? Think about a condo! But if you need your own car, many condos will make you pay for it. A reserved parking spot can easily cost upward of $1,000/month, and in some areas, you can’t get by scrounging for street parking. But then again, if you want to ditch your car in favor of greener transportation, car-less-ness counts as a plus.
If you want to have neighbors nearby to help in medical emergencies, or if you want an extra sense of security when you leave for a long vacation, a condo’s lack of privacy counts favorably. If you need your own space or feel like more of the Ron Swanson type, lack of privacy could rule out a condo. You can often hear your neighbors above, below, or beside you—although a top-floor, corner unit lets you escape the worst of it.
No yard, no problem—if you don’t want responsibility for it. If you want a yard for your dogs or children, though, houses have the advantage.
When it comes to upkeep, life in a condo lands somewhere between renting and home-ownership. As a condo owner, you’re on the hook for many of the small repairs and updates, but the building owner handles the big stuff. This is a downside if you want to customize your home to your heart’s content; it’s an upside if you simply want a living space that doesn’t saddle you with extra work.
Once you answer those questions, you’ll get a sense of whether the condo life fits you. If it doesn’t, the wide world of single-family homes awaits. If a condo does match your preferences, though, you can start refining your search. Same as before, you’ll have to consider elements that you wouldn’t have to in a house search, and you’ll have to investigate them on a condo-by-condo basis, as they vary among different buildings:
Some condos prohibit pets, some allow small pets, some allow any pets. This affects you even if you aren’t a pet owner. Do you mind a dog barking next door? What about a cat running across the floor of the unit above you?
Some buildings require all units to be carpeted in an effort to keep down noise. If you pine for hardwood floors, watch out for restrictions like this. If you dream of peace and quiet, you might seek out these more restrictive regulations (although in some cases, rules like this might exist because the building lacks adequate noise insulation).
Investment Security, Renal Restrictions, Building Budget, etc
Condos are far from equal when it comes to their stability as investments. Investors often buy up condos during a housing shortage (like Seattle’s been experiencing the last few years), but when things slow down, condo values tend to sink first, and they usually take longer to recover. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about finding that information on your own. We’ll investigate a condo’s resale certificate, board meeting notes, reserves, any pending lawsuits, future work and assessments, and every other document related to the building. We can guide you through as much as the process as you want, in order to equip you with hands-on knowledge, or we can take care of everything for you. Either way, at the end of the day, we’ll make sure you only buy a condo that’s a solid, worthwhile investment.
We’re showing two condos this Saturday (March 23) from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Both are excellent investments listing for low prices—one in Queen Anne, the other in Ravenna. The Ravenna one is the holy grail of condos: FHA-approved and a top-floor corner unit.