Buying a townhome

Buying a townhome - consider the grounds! Photo of townhomes in west San Jose - Cabernet Vineyards Circle, San Jose CA 95117 Front of home & walkwayBuying a townhome in the next year? Here are some pointers to help you get up to speed more quickly.

There are a number of things to ask about and learn to make sure that you are happy with the end result of your townhouse or townhome purchase. There’s tremendous variation in townhomes across Silicon Valley, how well the property is managed, how well the finances are managed, how happy the residents are, and so on.

I’ll put my tips into 3 categories: (1) before you go, (2) things to consider while there, and (3) research if you are serious about a particular property.

  1. Before you go – there may be things that will take the property off of your short list, such as the property condition, HOA finances or rules. There may be natural or environmental hazards that cause you to skip it. Usually these can be learned before you ever visit the property, and they can save you a lot of time.
  2. Things to note or consider while there – some tips on what to perceive while in and near the property.
  3. Deeper research if you are serious about buying a townhome or townhouse

Buying a townhome: a little pre-visit recon

Your real estate agent may help you with this – I do with my buyers and we can sometimes eliminate non-starters with a little research. Most people interested in buying a townhome or condo will check these out upfront:

  • Maps: Take a look at Google maps and see what can be learned from Google street view and the satellite image, if possible. Street view may provide info on how crowded a complex is and if there’s a parking problem if the townhomes are directly on public streets.
    • Sometimes there are undesirable buildings or structures right next to the complex you’re planning to visit which may be visible from either the satellite or street view. The negatives usually don’t make their way into the MLS photos, so look at these other views to get a more complete sense of the area. Recently I saw a power sub-station directly next to a unit my client wanted to see. We did visit it anyway, but many home buyers would have skipped it. You can often identify high voltage power lines from the maps, too.
    • The Google Satellite View will alert you to undesirable neighbors. Recently we saw a unit that backed up to something odd looking – turned out to be a gas station.
  • Odors: If you are buying a townhome in South County or in an area where farming takes place, be sure to zoom out on the map view to see if the property might be impacted by farm smells. In Gilroy, San Martin, and Morgan Hill, mushroom farms can be smelly if you are downwind. And…garlic happens. In Milpitas and North Valley, there are a number of odors, particularly as you get closer to the bay.
  • Natural and environmental hazards: you can find out upfront if the property is in a 100 year floodplain, liquefaction zone, near gas transmission lines or near a Superfund site. There are links to maps for almost every kind of hazard out there.  For example, the Cal OES My Cal Hazards Awareness site can provide info on liquefaction, flood, quake, and fire zones.
  • Disclosures: you may be able to get them upfront and skim for the local hazards, expensive repairs needed, etc. Most of the time we can provide these before you see the home. Keep in mind that no condo, townhouse, or house is perfect, and most do need thousands of dollars in repairs, replacements, and upgrades. A good rule of thumb is to budget 1% for a condominium or townhouse.

In person visit – when you visit the townhome

Again, your Realtor should help you to see what’s amiss or what’s a big plus as you go through the grounds and the home. No home is ever perfect (not even new construction), but it’s imperative that buying a townhome you have as full knowledge as possible about it upfront.

Once in awhile, a buyer will not get the value of this input. The majority of buyers, though, appreciate it if their buyer’s agent makes sure they see things upfront, while there together. (more…)