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What are the risks and gotchas of buying a Townhouse?


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30 replies to this topic

#1 of 31 DaveF

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Posted February 17 2004 - 02:00 AM

I'm deciding on my next housing situation and I'm considering buying a new Townhome. I've read posts by other members about frustrations with their Townhomes and I'm hoping people could share insights in what to consider when looking at Townhomes.

I'm running numbers and considering my budget. But I could really use the insights and advice that come from experience.

Thanks! Posted Image

Here's some information on the units and my housing options.

I'm looking at a new development. These have a 1200 sq. ft. main living level which is comparable to a nice "luxury" apartment (kitchen, dining room, living room, 2 BR and 2 BA). There is also a 500 sq. ft. bonus room with full BA, which could serve as a very nice master bedroom, library, or entertainment room. It has a full basement and a two car garage. The homes are typically in groups of threes: end unit, center unit, and end unit. The center unit has skylights to compensate for the lack of windows. The interior design is contemporary -- very attractive and uncommon around here.

There are a few end units available in the current phase. There are no south-facing units remaining. The third phase, to start later this year or early next year, will not have basements (on a flood plain, I think).

These are rather pricey, about $170k with the options I like a $165 monthly HOA fee. But I considered buying a house last summer and after looking at about 20 homes found that: a new build would be at least $180k and I'm not interested in the $150k homes made in the 1980s. There are some decent homes less than 10 years old for $160k to $200k but my experience tells me they are not really what I'm looking for. These townhomes are well suited my needs and desires for the next 3 to 5 years.

There are no other developments like this around here. The next comparable townhomes start at $300k. All other townhomes & condos are 10-20 years old and in scarce supply. The realtor at the Townhome model said other developers are considering builing similar neighborhoods in the future.

As for apartments: recently constructed 1100 sq. ft. apartments, with attached one-car garage, go far $1000/mo. I've found one that I like that would be about $850/mo for a 14 mo. lease.

#2 of 31 DonRoeber

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Posted February 17 2004 - 02:20 AM

My wife and I own a townhome. It's an end unit, but the way our building is designed, there are four end units per building, plus four (I think) homes in the center. So I have two "neighbors". We're very happy, as it's the right size for the two of us (2 BR, 1.5 bath, driveway), but we don't plan on staying in it for more than two more years (making 5 years in the home). We're going to want a larger home for starting a family. Our homeowners fees are $300/year, and that covers trash collection and lawn care of the common areas. We're responsible for maintaining the exertior of the house, as well as the roof, although it must be done in compliance with the homeowners association rules. I haven't looked into installing a jacuzzi or satalite dish or anything like that. It's about 12 years old, and we bought it three years ago for $118. They're now selling for about $190. Sure beats paying rent!
Luckily, right at that moment, an unconscious Argentinean fell through my roof.

He was quickly joined by a dwarf dressed as a nun.

#3 of 31 Lance Nichols

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Posted February 17 2004 - 05:55 AM

I own a freehold townhome in the center of 6 units. Nice thing about freeholds, we own the land, and can do anything we want (within reason) to the property. There is a foot of dead space between the units that kills most day to day sounds fairly well, and acts as the firebreak.

Nice thing about center units is your heating/cooling costs are minimized, as you only have two exposed walls, and even though ALL the walls are insulated, you still get some residual heat bleed.

"Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it."

--...

#4 of 31 DaveF

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Posted February 17 2004 - 12:32 PM

Don - I'm intriqued by your low HOA fee. The place I'm looking at is about $1800 per year, which includes all exterior maintenance. Though with 10-15 year roofing and siding, I don't know what the high association fee is really for.

Lance - how do you feel about the loss of windows having a center unit? Is that a concern at all? What about sound from the adjacent units?

The utilities is a good tip. I'll keep that in mind.

#5 of 31 Philip_G

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Posted February 17 2004 - 03:16 PM

I'm also in a townhome, but stuck in a middle unit. Our's are 4 to a building and the 2 end units are about 100sq ft larger than mine, but about 20k more and I couldn't afford it or justify it. I'm afraid our's aren't laid out as well as I'd like and I feel the living spaces should have been split up a little better to act as a sound buffer. But that's just me, and I dislike my neighbors on both sides. I'm sandwhiched between both livingrooms, which annoys me, and our master bedrooms are back to back and my neighbor is a snorer. :mad:

My HOA fee is 125 a month, including water, trash, sewer, snow removel and I guess that's about it, seems like your's is in the ballpark. Around here even a standalone house will probably have at least a 50 or 75$ HOA fee, and water is pretty costly so no complaints from me.
My HOA is pretty good about stuff, i've had no problems getting things approved, they even allow my directv dish out above my garage (I have an attached 2 car) legally they kind of have to, but I expected more of a fuss. This spring I need to landscape my "front yard" which is about 15'x20'. We'll see how that goes.

To be honest, were I to do it again I'd go with the 80's vintage house for the same price keeping in mind insurance is more (I only have to carry a condo policy, about 14$ a month) maintenance is more, landscaping is more work, and the house is older, but it's nice to not be attached to anyone else.

I don't know if any of this made sense or was helpful, hopefully it was Posted Image
I have pictures of the place empty, if you're curious what it looks like. It's a 3br 2.5 bath on 3 levels, 2 and a half levels really because the kitchen is above the garage and the family room is halfway between the kitchen and garage, difficult to explain. Pricing is in the same ballpark you're looking at, but of course we're in totally different markets.

#6 of 31 DonRoeber

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Posted February 17 2004 - 03:22 PM

Dave: Home Owners Associations are all different. Mine is rather inexpensive. My mother-in-law is moving to a new townhome in a month, her HOA fee is closer to yours, but she gets more. Snow removal, exterior maintenance, lawn care, etc. Very much like a condo, except she owns the land, which as my realator explained, is the only real difference between a condo and a townhome.

Our place is very very well soundproofed. I've no problems watching movies as loud as I want, and at any time that I want. I've never heard a single noise out of my neighbors, and I've asked them if they can hear me, and they say no.
Luckily, right at that moment, an unconscious Argentinean fell through my roof.

He was quickly joined by a dwarf dressed as a nun.

#7 of 31 Philip_G

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Posted February 17 2004 - 03:25 PM

Quote:
Our place is very very well soundproofed. I've no problems watching movies as loud as I want, and at any time that I want. I've never heard a single noise out of my neighbors, and I've asked them if they can hear me, and they say no.

I wish that were the case here. I was assured when I purchased the place that it was, but of course you can't trust real estate agents. If my neighbor on the right side is within what I'd estimate to be 5 feet of our shared walls (I was assured there were two seperate walls between us) I can hear it fairly clearly Posted Image
There's also the usual low thud noises, running up and down stairs and closing cabinets, which I expected anyway. I wish I had a suggesstion, but in a new building I don't know how you could test it out. Both units next to me were empty when I bought.

#8 of 31 DaveF

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Posted February 17 2004 - 04:03 PM

The noise issue is a concern to me. I'd naturally assume that there would be no problem; I expect a concrete firewall betwee units. The attached garages also help buffer living rooms from each other. But, as you said, you can't know until it's built and people live in it.

Likewise, the HOA is pricey but includes all exterior work (but not water).

And for the price, it's tempting to look at a new build.

And of course my division at work was just sold to a new company. My job should be secure but you never know... Posted Image

Philip - I am curious what your TH looks like. Is this a new purchase or one you're going to sell. I recall one Philip was just moving to CO and buying a TH and another Philip was selling a townhome and buying a new build. Which one are you? :b

#9 of 31 Philip_G

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Posted February 17 2004 - 04:59 PM

philip hamm was the one selling the TH due to neighbor issues IIRC Posted Image

Even worse is there's a philip_T on the board, also living in denver. We're a busy bunch. Maybe I need a distincitve signature to set myself apart...
anyway. My place I bought new last summer, signed the contract in may but closed july 21 to be exact.

www.onlinemac.com/users/philip/house.html

I don't have pictures of the upstairs where 2 of the bathrooms are, sorry. Also the pictures are sort of confusing. Basically you walk in the front door and you can go down the stairs shown in the picture to the garage, or you can go right, around the fireplace into the livingroom. Then up half a level is the dining room, office, kitchen, left of the kitchen (not shown) is the laundry room and bathroom. Upstairs are 3 bedrooms, a bath in the master and another off the hall, clear as mud, right? I'm sorry the pictures really are pretty sorry. Some day I'll take newer/better/bigger but the place is such a mess :b

here's the garage
http://www.onlinemac.../philip/car.jpg


another suggestion, as you can almost see I'm on the outside of my development, I had to pay a lot premium, but I think walking out my front door and not seeing a sea of other units is worth it, makes it feel more home like. Also I have a kool view of my whole little suburb, which is nifty at night.. aside from the damn power substation across the street :mad:

exterior Mx is included in my hoa also, around here at least this is pretty standard.
Whatever you decide best of luck to you. I'm sure you'll be happy with anything you buy, it sure beats renting Posted Image

#10 of 31 DaveF

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Posted February 17 2004 - 11:38 PM

Philip - thanks for the pictures. That's a very attractive townhome. I like the styling a lot. Posted Image

Don - do you know anything about the construction that provides for the sound-proofing? It would be helpful if I knew what to ask about. Thanks.

#11 of 31 Mark Romero

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Posted February 18 2004 - 12:07 AM

My wife and I purchased our first home together (1994) and it was a townhouse. 3BR, 2.5 BA in Maryland. Around 1800 sq ft. It was pretty nice at the time but I prefer not to have neighbors so close. It just seemed to lack privacy. And the HOA dues were about $65 per month which I hated paying. But the price and location were good for us at the time. Now, I will settle for nothing less than a single family home. Go for a single family home if you have the chance.

#12 of 31 Philip Hamm

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Posted February 18 2004 - 12:18 AM

I recently sold my townhouse. If bad neighbors move in you're totally screwed. Look for my story here in the AO Lounge. That's the only serious downside of owning a towhnouse IMO and the one that you have absolutely no control over. My story.

The upsides are plentiful, especially compared to an apartment style condo. If we had not had the bad neighbors move in my wife and I would still be very happy with our townhouse.

Your condo fees are very high IMO, mine were about $60/month. Yours probably include a lot more than mine did, like external maintenance, etc. Meaning just because they're high doesn't mean that's bad if you get a lot for your money.

I owned my townhouse for 5 years and sold it for approximately double what I bought it for. As an investment it was incredible, plus I got a tax break on all that mortgage interest.

End units are easier to sell when you need to, but middle units are a little cheaper to buy and a lot cheaper to heat.

You won't be able to crank your home theater as much if you have a middle unit. I had the sub on the open wall of an end unit and it worked out great.
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#13 of 31 DonRoeber

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Posted February 18 2004 - 01:52 AM

My building has a fire wall between each home that extends outside of the house. I've heard that many only extend up to the attic, leaving the attic with only wood between each unit, which obviously wouldn't be very good for sound transfer.
Luckily, right at that moment, an unconscious Argentinean fell through my roof.

He was quickly joined by a dwarf dressed as a nun.

#14 of 31 andrew markworthy

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Posted February 18 2004 - 06:09 AM

FWIW, we moved into a townhouse late last year. Not our original choice, but having experienced delay after delay with the house we wanted, we bought this because (a) it was nice and (b) it was immediately available.

I haven't a clue about the square footage (it's not something that interests Brits at all, believe it or not; we're more concerned with numbers of bedrooms and en suites), but at a rough estimate it's 1500 sq feet (large for a modern Brit house) - 4 beds (2 en-suite), 2 receptions, large dining kitchen, 1 garage, reserved parking for another 3 cars. Miniscule garden.

Ordinary domestic noise isn't a problem. However, vibrations from doors closing, people tapping on the partition wall, etc, can be heard.

The idea of charges for basic services is alien to us. Some of the tasks that have been described in other posts are done by the local council over here (it's what we pay our local taxes for) and things like garden and house maintenance etc is up to individuals (I think we're a bit keener on gardening and home decorating this side of the herring pond).

#15 of 31 Bryan_K

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Posted February 18 2004 - 08:43 AM

Go for the single family home. We did AFTER my wife talked me out of a townhome & i'm glad she did. As i didn't know about all the rules evin if you own the unit. (Aint that what owning is all about?)
You can play your music as loud as you want. Movies as loud as you want. I dont gatta tell ya about sex & noise! Posted Image
I like to yell LOUD at the tv while watching football/hockey games. Dont gatta worry about that now. My throat gets a little sore though. Posted Image
Nobody wants neighbors (no matter how nice they are) cloaser than 10 feet away.


The best part is that you can have your 82 camarro on blocks in your driveway. Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

#16 of 31 DaveF

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Posted February 18 2004 - 09:00 AM

Mark - what's an "en suite"? Is that a master suite; a bedroom with attached bathroom?

A normal detached house requires the home-owner to take care of all maintenance. With townhomes it's common for the developer or community organization to take care of exterior work, such as replacing siding and roofing, mowing the grass, snow plowing, etc. The home-owners fee is priced according to the level of service provided (supposedly).

Bryan: "best part is that you can have your 82 camarro on blocks in your driveway"

It's even better when it's on blocks in your front yard Posted Image

The noise issue is defintely a concern. I'm also wondering about the resale value of a Townhome out here. These are being sold very well right now but I don't have any sense of their long-term value. And Rochester may not be the best real-estate investment with out chronic business problems.

But I do really like these TH's. I need to do my budget this weekend and see if I can even afford it.

#17 of 31 BrianB

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Posted February 18 2004 - 09:07 AM

Quote:
Mark - what's an "en suite"? Is that a master suite; a bedroom with attached bathroom?

Bedroom with an attached bathroom.
high resolution ipod featuring dlp hd programming is the best, almost as good as playstation 2 with wega windows media on a super cd! ps2 and tivo do dolby tv with broadband hdtv!

#18 of 31 Kirk Gunn

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Posted February 18 2004 - 12:28 PM

Hold off on that blocked-up Camaro... Some single-family-home communities still have HOAs that control your ownership to a certain degree. The one we live in does not allow mobile homes, boats or "immobile vehicles" in the driveways. Technically they even have a by-law that states you can't leave your garage door open except to enter/exit ! Fortunately that has never been enforced or I'd be in jail about now...

Supposedly helps to keep the property values up. Can't argue with that over the past 3 years.

I think the People's Republic of Montgomery County, Maryland, won't even allow you to park a commercial vehicle in a driveway, regardless of your HOA laws...

#19 of 31 Philip_G

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Posted February 18 2004 - 10:49 PM

I keep my blocked up car in the garage, as you can see in my garage pic Posted Image

#20 of 31 Peter-PP

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Posted February 19 2004 - 01:41 AM

I have lived in a townhouse and I just hated living there, no privacy and no freedom. Listening to people making all kinds of noises including sex noises on the other side of the wall is just so very distracting.

I'm looking to buy a house in the country with at least an acre of wooded land. No nasty neighbors to deal with, don't have to listen to next door nieghbors and I can do anything or whatever I want to on my own property. I would like raise chickens, geese and ducks as pets which I cannot do in the city. Best of all, I can watch my movies cranked up at any time of day or night!





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