Month: January 2018

Buying a Condominium or a House: Factors to Consider

In this current difficult real estate market, if you are able to afford and/or secure a loan for any type of dwelling, congratulations (good for you)! If you are in the process of determining whether to buy a condominium or a house, there are several factors to consider.

One of the more obvious considerations is whether or not the place you are looking for will be for a family, a place for you and your spouse or partner, or maybe just you yourself. In other words, how many people will be occupying the living space? In general, large families need homes with several rooms, and this is not something you are going to get in a condo. If you are a family unit of 3 to 4 people or more, then most people want the comfort, security and space of a single family unit — a separate, stand-alone house. Condos are not really designed for families with more than one or two children, in most cases.


If there are children, a house will provide the room and privacy you need. You need bathrooms, plural, as well as a yard, somewhere with room for family activities. (If you are looking for a home with a swimming pool, this type of amenity will cost less in a condominium, however.)


Cost will determine to a great extent the type of dwelling you are looking for, and cost will be one of the major determining factors in your purchase decisions.


What are some of the differences between ownership in a condominium and a home?


A condominium is like an apartment. There are several condo units in one building, just as there are several living units in an apartment building, with common areas such as lobbies and courtyards shared by residents. However, if you live in a condominium, you are the owner of the unit you are living in, not a renter.


There is give-and-take when you live in a condo. Some of the advantages of buying a condo vs. buying a home have to do with maintenance of the property. You are not required, in general, to do maintenance on your unit yourself if you live in a condominium complex. Major maintenance jobs are done by someone else, a hired handyman or plumber, for example. Types of maintenance chores done for you in a condominium can include keeping up a yard or maintaining common areas shared by the residents of the complex. (You still, however, must pay for the maintenance work that is done, usually through monthly fees you pay to a Home Ownership Association.)


If you like living where there are other people close by, this you will get in a condo. One issue to consider is the fact that, because many condominium complexes are gated communities, they are easier to keep secure than individual homes. Another practical security issue is the fact that, like an apartment, there are more people around to observe and keep an eye on the property.


Some condos have amenities such as pools and saunas that you might not be able to afford if you were buying a home. If the condominium complex is new, you will have similar amenities to a newer family home, but at a lower cost. With a condominium, you can enjoy many amenities, including such things as tennis courts or fitness training centers, that would be significantly more costly if you tried to add them on to your home, or purchased a home with these types of amenities already included.


One of the primary drawbacks to living in a condo as opposed to a home is the lack of privacy. Most condos are built with a “common” wall, a wall that is shared by the owner in the unit next to you. A single home, on the other hand, is a world unto itself. Private. As with an apartment, if you live in a condo development, you are living very close to your neighbors!


Parking can be an issue also in condo/townhome living, more people with more cars in a smaller space. However, condo ownership means you will also have your own designated parking area, in most situations.


Investment considerations are also a very significant factor in making your decision, whether or not to buy a condo or a house. Condos will never have the same appreciation potential as individual homes. This is a fact of life in the real estate market, and a very important point to keep in mind if you are deciding whether or not to purchase a condo or home. In most cases, a house is going to go up in value and be worth more when you want to sell than a condo.


Another drawback with condos is the fact that you are restricted in certain ways that you would not be if you were a homeowner. Most condos require you to be a member of a central Home Owners Association (HOA). The HOA determines certain aspects of what is required by all those living in the condo complex. In other words, there are rules that must be abided by in a condo. Maybe you don’t agree with the code as prescribed by the HOA, another thing to consider if you are thinking about a condo. HOA ownership usually involves monthly fees, something that you would not pay in your own home.


Condominium ownership has increased in purchase demand as the baby boomer generation is reaching retirement age. Husbands and wives whose children have “left the nest” do not necessarily need all of the space of a single family home anymore as the children grow up and leave home. If you are someone who enjoys living in the city, in an urban setting, then buying and living in a condo may be the way to go. Ultimately, the decision to buy a home or condo has to do with your own personal needs, along with the needs of other people who will be living with you. It is an individual decision.




Should I Buy a Condo or House? (accessed November 9, 2009)


Udy, Lisa. 2009. What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Buying a Condominium? (accessed November 9, 2009)

How to Buy an Older House in San Francisco Bay Area

As we searched for our first home in the Bay Area, we fell in love with older homes, ranging from the 19th century Victorians, the Bungalows of the 1920s-1930, to the Eichler homes of the 1950s. An older home has much more characters than a cookie-cutter planned development unit (PDU). However, it often has a lot of issues. Our search went on for a year. We’ve got in contract twice. Each time we had to cancel the contract due to $100000-$150000 needed for repairing the house.Through the process, we learned quite a few lessons and would like to share with other first-time home buyers.

One of the major concerns with older homes is the foundation. Most real estate agents would recommend you to stay away from brick foundations. Brick foundation is typically the original foundation. It has been with the house since it was built. Most brick foundations will need to be replaced at some point. It also significantly affect the resale value of the property. The cost of replacing brick foundation ranges from $100,000 to $150,000, depending on the size of the house.


Perimeter concrete foundation is another type of foundation that you often finds in older homes. It is important that you check the quality of the foundation. If the house has a crawlspace, I typically crawled down and used a screw-driver to poke at the foundation. Bring a screw-driver and a flash-flight on your second tour of the home before making the offer. Ask the seller for permission to get in the crawl space. If you see the concrete is highly porous or crumbles when you poke at it, it is the sign that the foundation might need to be replaced very soon.

If you see efflorescence (which is a white powdery deposit) on the concrete, or moisture in the crawl space, there might be an indication of improper grading or too much water in the foundation during rain seasons. Often a termite inspector or a home inspector will be able to tell you whether the foundation is still servicable and what you might need to do for repair or upgrade in the near future. For more information on foundation issues in older homes, please check out .


In most older homes, the foundations are not anchored or earthquake retrofited. If you are buying a home that has not been retrofitted, you may plan to do it in the near future to reduce damages to the structure of the house during earthquake.


If you plan to buy a house close to an earthquake fault line, you might need to check whether the property is in an active landslide zone. For instance, for a property in Berkeley or Oakland Hills, you may want to check Alan Kropp Landslide map at . If the property is indeed in an active landslide zone, you might want to bring in a structural engineer to access landslide risk and the stability of the structure. I have seen several multi-million-dollar properties ended up selling for $200,000-300,000 due to landslide issues.


You can check for what has been done on a property by checking its permit history. For instance, if you are buying in City of Alameda, you can check for permit history at . You can do the same thing for a Berkeley property at . Most cities keep a database of the permits requested for a property. Some might be dated back to the 1950s.


The permit history can tell you a lot about the property, for instance, when the last time the roof was replaced or when the concrete foundation was put it. If you find out that the foundation was earthquake retrofited 5 years ago, it is very likely that the foundation is in a good shape. You can also check whether the electrical system has been upgraded through the permit history.


Another way of checking whether the electrical system has been upgraded is to check whether the outlets have two holes or three holes. If the outlets have only two holes, it is very likely that you are dealing with an out-of-date electrical system. It will take $8000-15000 to fully upgrade the electrical system in a 3 bedroom – 2 bath.


If the furnace is old, it is most likely that the ducts have asbestos. Removal of asbestos may cost up to $3000-$5000.


You should also check whethe the chimney is vertical or not. Some chimneys of older homes tend to lean due to exposure to wind/rain. Such chimney might be unstable and hazardous to your family and neighbors.


Good luck and we hope that this short guide will help you to navigate the complex process of buying an older home in the Bay Area.




1) Permit history of City of Alameda,

2) Buying a home with foundation issues,

3) Electrical upgrades,


4) Berkeley permit history,

5) Alan Kropp landslide map,