Poll: I would buy a condo…

I would buy a condo...

  • ...without any particular prerequisites. (1%, 3 Votes)
  • ...only if it is new construction. (3%, 7 Votes)
  • ...only in a building built pre-1980. (3%, 7 Votes)
  • ...only if it is in a steel tower. (6%, 12 Votes)
  • ...but never an apartment conversion. (10%, 21 Votes)
  • ...with some other prerequisite. (21%, 44 Votes)
  • I would never buy a condo. (54%, 111 Votes)

Total Voters: 184

This poll will be active and displayed on the sidebar through 05.22.2010.

0.00 avg. rating (0% score) - 0 votes

About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market. Tim also hosts the weekly improv comedy sci-fi podcast Dispatches from the Multiverse.


  1. 1
    The Tim says:

    I voted “with some other prerequisite.”

    I would only buy a condo if I were rich enough to basically throw money away, and they finally converted the Smith Tower into condos. I love that building.

  2. 2

    I would buy a condo if….
    There was a loaded gun pointed at my head.

  3. 3

    I think like anything else it would depend on price, but there are some complexes that you’d want to stay away from at all cost.

    If I were to go that route I’d probably look for one with relatively little turnover since 2006. Those higher prices are likely to be correlated to higher mortgage payments, which means the owners would be less able to pay assessments.

    I’d also look for something constructed prior to 2000, but that’s the same as what I’d do for houses.

    Conversions are not necessarily bad. The condo I owned was a conversion, and it was fairly sound proof.

  4. 4
    Pegasus says:

    Talk to anyone who bought a condo in Seattle in the 1980’s. They had about a fifteen year hold while paying fees before they broke even. For more fun just lay down on I-5, it will at least be a quicker way to die. But hey I hear they are not making anymore condo’s, just apartments now. Better get one before you get priced out forever. Right Kary?

  5. 5
    One Eyed Man says:

    RE: The Tim @ 1

    When I was in junior high in 1965 it was rumored that one of the coolest teachers in school, a guy named Mr. Dunbar, lived in the penthouse of the Smith Tower. Maybe it was true. I’m pretty sure there were some junior high girls who thought he could make the earth move and according to the Seattle Times maybe they were right.

    “On the morning of April 29, 1965 at 7:28:43 a.m., an earthquake registering 6.5 magnitude occurs in Western Washington centered between Seattle and Tacoma. . . .
    A women sleeping in the penthouse of the Smith Tower was thrown out of her bed. Pioneer Square buildings suffered a great deal of damage and fallen bricks littered its sidewalks. ”


    I’ll never be as cool as Mr. Dunbar and I’m not likely to buy a condo in the near future. I suppose I could live in a condo if it came with a boat slip on the coast of BC or a fairway view on the central California coast, or it was all I could afford, or I was so senile I didn’t know where I was. If you’d like another layer of local government, you’ll love condos.

  6. 6
    PricedOutForever says:

    What are the major pitfalls to buying a condo?

    I am renting a condo in Belltown and love it. Specifically the amenities, the location, the people. . . While I hadn’t previously considered buying a condo due to wanting to start a family etc in the future, the past few months have started to change my mind.

  7. 7
    The Tim says:

    By PricedOutForever @ 6:

    What are the major pitfalls to buying a condo?

    • HOA dues that will increase indefinitely and never go away (vs. a 30-year mortgage that is eventually paid off)
    • special assessments
    • value is only in the structure
      • guaranteed to eventually be worth zero
      • virtually infinite potential future supply (i.e. – “they’re not making any more land” doesn’t even apply)
    • petty HOA boards can be a real PITA sometimes
    • there’s usually nothing to stop filthy renters from filling up your building, bringing down your precious home value

    That’s just off the top of my head.

  8. 8
    wreckingbull says:

    RE: PricedOutForever @ 6

    Renting a condo != buying a condo.

    Note that everything that Tim just mentioned are not concerns of the renter. I have rented a condo in the past and will admit it was a good setup. If I were to have bought that same unit, it would have cost me double what I paid in rent, and I would have had to deal with all the other overhead such as a wenchy HOA, a water intrusion issue, and eventual depreciation.

    Be real careful. I can almost assure you an ownership experience will not be as good as your rental experience.

  9. 9

    I don’t know that there’s necessarily anything wrong with living in a condo. It’s just not my style. For those who like living close to neighbors, and have amenities on site, I suppose it can be a good thing. There sure are an awful lot of them around, which leads me to suspect that at least for the the time being, they’re less likely to hold their value.
    And yes, there are pitfalls. Such as poor management, squandering money on stupid and unecessary things, or deferred maintenance to keep the monthly dues low which results in very high special assessments.
    I guess I’m too much of an anarchist to be able to appreciate a condo.

  10. 10
    D. in Ballard says:

    Out of all of the things Tim mentioned, the petty home owners association is the one that most bothered me. Having said that, I was able to live in a much better neighborhood buying a condo as opposed to a house. And it wasn’t a dump. But I did have an assessment and I did live under a tent for a year. I vote with some other prerequisite.

  11. 11
    Wondering says:

    Well my wife and I own a condo. She had bought it before we married and we have had renters in it for the last 7 years. The rent pays the HOA fee and mortgage but the value of the property has not gone up much. (1920s building with 12 units overlooking the cut) We are wondering if we should sell it in this market or wait. Might be a nice place to have in 15 years when the kids are away in college but who knows. (BTW really dislike the HOA. Very petty and obnoxious. Fees for no real reason other than other people pay for stuff)


  12. 12
    The Kid says:

    Condos always struck me as the worst aspects of apartment living combined with the worst aspects of homeownership.

    Cramped conditions, sharing walls with neighbors, annoying management (or HOA in this case), draconian noise restrictions, crappy parking, no external space plus mortgage, interest, depreciation, expensive maintenance, sudden expenses, difficulty moving if you have to, difficult and expensive to resell.

    None of the benefits of home ownership including control of your space, the appearance of your home, significant remodel or upgrade, outdoor space, easy parking, etc…

    None of the benefits of renting either, relative ease of moving, tenants rights, obligations of management, insulation from sudden housing related expenses.

    No, condos blow. It kind of baffles me why anyone buys them at all. Even those swanky little places right in the middle of major metro areas are highway robbery compared to renting.

  13. 13
    Fabuladocet says:

    Anyone who answers that they would buy a condo without any other prerequisites, please feel free to contact me for some fantastic buying opportunities!

  14. 14
    The Tim says:

    By The Kid @ 12:

    None of the benefits of home ownership including control of your space, the appearance of your home, significant remodel or upgrade, outdoor space, easy parking, etc…

    For me one of the main reasons I want to buy a home is so that once I pay off the mortgage, my only housing overhead expense will be the property taxes. With the perpetual HOA dues you lose that benefit of ownership as well.

  15. 15
    DrShort says:

    By The Tim @ 14:

    By The Kid @ 12:

    None of the benefits of home ownership including control of your space, the appearance of your home, significant remodel or upgrade, outdoor space, easy parking, etc…

    For me one of the main reasons I want to buy a home is so that once I pay off the mortgage, my only housing overhead expense will be the property taxes. With the perpetual HOA dues you lose that benefit of ownership as well.

    I’ve owned a couple of condos in the 1990s. I always complained about the “outrageous” dues and occasional special assessments.

    Then I bought a house.

    In seven years I paid for a new roof, plumbing repairs, painting, deck repairs — all the these things would have been paid for out of HOA dues had it been a condo. But for some reason, paying for these repairs on my house didn’t generate the same emotional response it did when the association had an assessment for the new roof, for example.

    I guess my point is that HOA dues pay for a lot of stuff that you’ll have to cover if you own a house — repairs, water, sewer, garbage, yard maintenance, etc..

    But, yes, condos are sort of the worst of renting and home ownership. I think for some personalities they work well, but for most people not so much.

  16. 16
    Pegasus says:

    Not now, not ever. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER!

  17. 17

    By The Tim @ 14:

    By The Kid @ 12:

    None of the benefits of home ownership including control of your space, the appearance of your home, significant remodel or upgrade, outdoor space, easy parking, etc…

    For me one of the main reasons I want to buy a home is so that once I pay off the mortgage, my only housing overhead expense will be the property taxes. With the perpetual HOA dues you lose that benefit of ownership as well.

    Except that depending on the association, the dues are really just part of ongoing expenses with ownership. For example, maintenance, insurance, landscaping, and possibly pool expenses.

  18. 18

    By PricedOutForever @ 6:

    What are the major pitfalls to buying a condo? .

    To me the biggest problem is having your finances tied up with those of your neighbors. If a significant portion can’t afford a special assessment (or even worse the regular dues), all sorts of things can happen. On the same line of thinking, if the board isn’t good at planning for events, that could be trouble too.

    Also, financing on condos is tougher right now.

    The rest of the stuff isn’t that bad unless you’re the type that doesn’t give a crap about your neighbors, and think they should listen to your music after 10:00 p.m., etc.

  19. 19
    zipzippygc says:

    Other pitfalls:
    – renters inevitably take upstairs units, torturing downstairs
    – upstairs notorious for ignoring HOA covenants and converting to wood from carpet, torturing downstairs
    – upstairs, especially upside down and silent owners who provide rentals, rarely proactively upgrade to a new water hearer, until it leaks, torturing downstairs neighbor
    – leaks, leaks, leaks, especially poorly installed plastic from 1998 on by sloppy installers with scant inspection. Units in Lynnwood are commonly incurring 150K total repair bills by internal wall leaks, all flowing to downstairs neighbor
    – HOA’s effectively bankrupt, no reserve, common areas unable to be repaired
    – assessments only paid by the few fiscally healthy; many getting away with paying nothing because of legal cost and incompetence in pursuing lein
    – high preponderance of shift workers and high occupancy units , torturing neighbors
    – no external wall insulation causing freezing conditions, even in spring\summer, more common than you would think
    – mold, mold, mold; if not directly in the unit, pervasive under exterior sheathing
    – roaches, bugs, moisture ants; if your neighbors got em, you got em

    That said, with decent houses costing 400-500K , many will never get out of condos in the NW megatropolis.

    I always thought a politician could do well with voters by promising better inspection and build standards for condos.

  20. 20

    RE: The Tim @ 7 – BTW, on the rental thing, the main problem with tenants is that financing options go away if there is over a certain percentage of non-owner residents. Limited financing does reduce values. Many condos do restrict the percentage of tenants because of that.

    On the same topic, there will likely be a group of owners that blame any problem on tenants. We had that in the condo I used to own, and one of the worst series of events I remember was discovered to be caused by an owner, but prior to the discovery many were blaming it on tenants.

  21. 21
    zipzippygc says:

    One more pitfall: NO HOA board. No volunteers. Very common in associations with primarily upside down owners, large percentage of renters and language barriers. Worse than a picky board. The Management Company becomes the landlord and starts siphoning off funds with little oversight.

  22. 22
    Mike Orb says:

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 3

    Kary, why would you only buy a house or condo build before 2000? I’ve been considering relocating to Seattle and buying or building a home. All things being equal, I usually favor the newer home, given some break in period has passed or it is brand new and under a good warranty. Set me straight. As a general rule did everyone cut corners in the 2000s?

  23. 23

    RE: Mike Orb @ 22 – I just don’t like some of the newer technologies (e.g. plastic pipe) and a building that’s been around a while has proven itself to some extent. You’re not as likely likely to have flooding, defective siding, etc.

    About the only thing better in new than old is the electrical, and going back to about 1990 there’s not really much improvement to today.

  24. 24
    wreckingbull says:

    Allow me to throw in one more disadvantage of condos – and I must admit I was naive to this before I rented one – the parking garages are crime festivals. Far more crime happens inside the locked garages than outside on the street. It gives the crack fiends a nice sense of security and peace being locked in a warm garage while they bust your windows and steal the coins from your ashtray. It got so bad that I just left the doors unlocked, as I got tired of replacing glass.

  25. 25
    Dirty_Renter says:

    By The Tim @ 7:

    By PricedOutForever @ 6:

    What are the major pitfalls to buying a condo?

    there’s usually nothing to stop filthy renters from filling up your building, bringing down your precious home value

    …like me.
    Dirty Renter

  26. 26
    PricedOutForever says:

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 18

    The special assessments seem like the biggest concern to me too. I’ve always considered HOA payments a reasonable alternative to the maintenance fees associated with owning a home as DrShort commented. However from the other comments here, there seems to be a underlying theme of bad management and politics to deal with. I guess there is a lot that is hidden from me as a filthy renter.

    Thanks all for an informative thread. . . :)

  27. 27
    PricedOutForever says:

    RE: zipzippygc @ 19

    The majority of what you said regarding noise etc, I’ve experienced in previous apartment rentals, but not my current place (the first time I’ve been in a privately owned condo). I imagine this would vary greatly based on the building structure. That being said, I was glad to be renting at the time, as I had the freedom to move.

  28. 28
    NSBill says:

    Full disclosure: I’m a condo owner.

    I don’t get your point about the never ending increase in HO dues with condos. If it makes you feel better, call it “maintenance”, because that’s what it is. If you own a house you don’t pay HO dues. Nope, you pay for the landscaping, you pay for the new roof, you pay for the plumbing, you pay for the siding. And here’s a tip, those things will always increase in price too. Well that is unless you want to be the guy that your neighbors hate because you don’t keep up your house. That’s why you shouldn’t only consider the PITI when you calculate what you can and can’t afford with a house.

    Of course it’s not all sunshine and light. The problem I run into is the folks in my building that don’t want to pay to keep the building in good condition. When the idea of improvements come up there is always a lot of tension (and sometimes more). That lack of control is probably the biggest problem. But you know, that’s life, people can be annoying sometimes.

    And in a somewhat related note, it’s my personal opinion that Seattle has way too many SFH. And for that reason condos are positive. This lack of density is one of the main reasons transit here is as bad as it is and it’s near impossible to live here without a car.

  29. 29
    ray pepper says:

    RE: wreckingbull @ 24

    very very funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

    Hard to disagree with all the facts mentioned. I never bought a condo but I will not say I never will.

  30. 30
    zipzippygc says:

    RE: PricedOutForever @ 27

    Can you mention what year constructed, what type of construction?

  31. 31

    RE: wreckingbull @ 24 – A good camera system and key cards can be very useful for controlling break-ins, in the garage and elsewhere. They really work hand in hand because the cameras aren’t usually good enough to help you ID someone, or they may hide their face, or they may give their key card to someone else, etc. But matching up the keycard times to the camera images will answer a lot of questions. Or if it’s a brute force entry (e.g. forcing the jam), the cameras will let you know the weakness so it can be corrected.

  32. 32
    PricedOutForever says:

    By zipzippygc @ 30:

    RE: PricedOutForever @ 27

    Can you mention what year constructed, what type of construction?

    2001 reinforced concrete.

  33. 33
    wreckingbull says:

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 31 – We had a state of the art system, and eventually one guy got apprehended from the photos. Other than that, it was useless, because the scumbags would just follow a car while the door was shutting.

  34. 34
    B&W Nikes says:

    I’m laughing here at the condo hate, especially the idea that they are somehow more expensive or more risky over time. People here in the urban west have just paid way too much for poor quality for a couple of decades across all housing, and recently built condos are particularly awful. Having spent the last couple of years (and definitely the next several) fixing up my hundred year old house and taking occasional trips across the mountains to fix my mother’s newish 15 year old house, I’ve found houses to be no bargain. There are expenses and risk in maintenance, structure, landscape, services, and taxes, aside from finding the entrances and exits to the market swings in your purchases and sales. For my mother, getting saddled with repair jobs on a fixed income (this is going to be increasingly experienced by retiring boomers) is not exactly an awesome financial position for her old age. And that’s just all risk, let alone the expense of constantly making ‘improvements’ to the property or house which is often why people buy their own ‘property’ to begin with. To fulfill their ‘dreams’ or ‘lifestyles’ or whatever we label it to sell the fantasy.

    As far as uptight associations and rules, there are just as many rules in the ticky-tacky house development as there are in the ticky-tacky condo building. Basically it’s just long past time to keep rewarding people responsible for building crappy low quality living quarters by agreeing to rent their properties as if they were desirable. Or worse – to buy them outright.

    Great story One Eyed Man! there will always be this to look up to…

  35. 35

    Buying a Condo Makes Sense

    If you don’t have a a lot of cash and are buying units at repossesion auctions, especially when there’s a HOA in place replacing roofs, painting and keeping the place generally up.

    I’ve seen cheaper units with high bids in the 20s, with cash.

  36. 36
    Lake Hills Renter says:

    I lived in apartments for many many years. No way in hell I’d buy one.

  37. 37
    Scotsman says:

    No way. Not even in Miami when I’m 70.

  38. 38
    johnnybigspenda says:

    RE: The Tim @ 14 – HOA fees are a monthly cost… BUT they are not generally something that makes a profit… ie. That money goes into paying the building’s expenses such as: maintenance, cutting the grass and future reserves. You’d have to pay many of these costs if you owned a house anyways.

    The problem is: you don’t get to opt out of a service that you would rather not pay for (ie. I can cut the grass myself) and you don’t get to decide exactly how that money is spent (at best you get a vote).

    I also didn’t like that the financial health of a smaller condo is generally limited by its weakest link: ie. one owner who can’t pay their bills or the assessment or worse, their mortgage. You can personally have $1mm in the bank, but someone in your condo gets foreclosed on and YOU end paying some part of that bill.

  39. 39
    The Tim says:

    By johnnybigspenda @ 38:

    The problem is: you don’t get to opt out of a service that you would rather not pay for (ie. I can cut the grass myself) and you don’t get to decide exactly how that money is spent (at best you get a vote).

    Exactly. And you are relying on the board and the other owners to make sure that the building is kept up properly, thus avoiding expensive special assessments down the road despite the monthly HOA dues. When your house is yours alone, you can know that it is being properly maintained, and as you pointed out, you can do much of that maintenance yourself, saving quite a bit of money in the long run.

    Of course I get that not everyone is into doing their own home maintenance. But for me, one of the main advantages of owning is having that option. Condo ownership removes that choice.

  40. 40
    BillE says:

    I just don’t think I’m a condo kind of guy. It’s a matter of personal space and privacy for me. That, and having a big garage for toys.

  41. 41
    The Tim says:

    By BillE @ 40:

    That, and having a big garage for toys.

    Fear not! You can have a condo and a garage, thanks to the innovative pioneers at GarageTown!

    Tired of setting your money on fire every month, renting storage?

    Lots of you… have stuff you love or hobbies you love with no good place to put it or do it! GarageTown solves that problem forever, while you make a smart investment in commercial real estate.

    But you already knew that.

  42. 42

    There are some condos that have fairly big garages (private).

  43. 43
    Scotsman says:

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 42

    Perhaps, but the HOA won’t let you do or keep anything in them. It’s just not the same as, say, White Center, or the country. Some of us like to spread our junk out. . .

  44. 44
    BillE says:

    The idea of renting/buying a storage space somewhere away from home just doesn’t sound convenient.
    Since I’m not interested in a condo, I haven’t looked at any. But the condo garages I’ve seen are nothing more than a large closet for storage.
    I can see how some people find condos appealing if they don’t want to deal with a yard or maintenance. They’re just not for me.

  45. 45
    wreckingbull says:

    RE: Scotsman @ 43 – That is funny, I know I mentioned this before, but I got fined $50 by the HOA for swapping out an oxygen sensor in my truck. It only took me 10 minutes, but one of the Dudley-Do-Rights reported me.

    In defense of the HOA, they probably need to have these rules because all it takes is one guy with zero judgment, that decides to drop his tranny, spewing ATF all over the place.

    Heck, I require at least two shootin’ cars (and at least one washer) in my front yard. Which leads me to an idea I have always had – why not make condos for gearheads? Not like ‘GarageTown’ but a place you can live and work. The garages would have reservable bays with hydraulic lifts, parts cleaners and compressed air.

    I guess the answer is “the lawyers”. :)

  46. 46
    One Eyed Man says:

    RE: Scotsman @ 43

    “It’s just not the same as, say, White Center, ”

    Not only can you spread out your junk, but how many other places can you find a good Tijuana Brass cover band these days.;-)


  47. 47
    Pegasus says:

    Condo HOA Mentality
    Baltimore condo may use DNA tests to identify guilty pooch.

    A swanky Baltimore condominium is considering using technology — usually reserved for cold case murders and revealing paternity — in a case of whodunit.

    The culprit is furry, friendly and likely has no idea he’s done anything wrong. The crime? Pooping all over the Scarlett Place condominiums.

    All dogs in the building would be swabbed for DNA testing, under a proposal by the condo board, according to The Baltimore Sun. Dog owners would pay $50 per pup, covering the costs of tests and supplies, and an additional $10 per month for the cost of having building staff scoop the poop.

  48. 48

    RE: wreckingbull @ 45 – The condo I was in had a no working on cars rule, but they applied it in a reasonable manner, allowing people to do minor maintenance like oil changes, etc. Of course, that was probably because they had at least one reasonable board member–me! ;-)

    Which brings up my next point. If you want to live in a condo you do need to consider the possibility of joining the board. Condo living can be easier, but if you join the board it can also be harder.

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