As mentioned in my In Defense of the HOA (Dues) article, the number one objection I get from buyers is that condos will cost them more than houses because of HOA dues. Given the age of houses here in the Bay and the amount of maintenance and upkeep they require, and given my personal receipts, I feel it’s safe to say that a condo will generally cost less in monthly maintenance. That still doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Let’s look at some myths and facts about condos vs. houses.
Note: “Condo” for purposes of this article includes coops, townhouses, and lofts, while “house” is a single-family residence (SFR).
The myth of the condo costing more because of HOA dues should be sufficiently debunked by now. For more details, see the above-referenced article here.
What about neighbors? When I left the unhappy pastures of apartment living for home ownership, I couldn’t WAIT to have my own four walls with no one on the other side of them. Then I bought a multiunit, but at least my neighbors were my tenants so if I needed a noise-related behavior changed I had the upper hand. Also, with the majority of SFR houses in San Francisco actually touching each other, one’s “own four walls” takes on a different meaning. I was misguided in thinking that ownership was going to reduce neighbor issues; backyard dog barking and dealing with fence/boundary/tree issues was no more freeing than being stuck in an apartment with Deaf Old Person and their TV and Castro Clubber and their stereo as neighbors. Our density here provides us with great walkable neighborhoods, but we’re stacked in, whether in a house or a condo. Your own four walls may need careful curation whether you’re in a condo or SFR.
For some people just entering the market and starting out, the price differential between condos and SFRs may force them into condos if they want ownership at all. Likewise, many people just entering the market at entry-level price points may find the zero-maintenance condo an easier leap than learning everything about foundations to roofs and the systems in between for an affordable old house. Many buyers are overwhelmed by the prospect of home maintenance and/or simply travel a lot or live busy lives that are too busy to babysit projects and spend weekends at Lowe’s.
To summarize, a condo can be a well-embraced choice for busy people fearing learning the guts of old houses. Also more condos tend to exist in higher-density areas, and they may be a preference for the carless urban dweller. Or a condo could be an acceptable alternative for entering the ownership market when a house isn’t going to work due to price point or location.
As your condo guide to this area, I’ve been in the majority of condo buildings listed here, and I’ve seen a lot of CC&Rs and minutes. I’ve opened and closed a lot of doors in these buildings and had conversations in elevators. So I have a great sense of which buildings have better stood the test of time and which ones have better finishes. I’ve seen interesting HOA meeting minutes, and I’ve seen some great management companies. If you have a question about local condo buildings, that’s what I’m here for. If you think that a single-family home is more your speed, it happens that I can help you with that too.