Living in a trendy urban neighborhood is the increasingly common dream of many young professionals who work downtown. They're drawn to the wealth of amenities that a revitalized city center offers -- from quick access to restaurants and clubs to a laid-back commute. These, along with the autonomy that comes with ownership, are among the reasons more renters in their late 20s to early 30s now hanker to own a city place.
"After you've rented for several years, you get very tired of your landlord dictating what you can and can't do," says Mark Nash, a real estate expert and author of "1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home."
Besides the lifestyle advantages of condo ownership, many young professionals, who typically have few tax advantages available to them, look forward to a mortgage interest deduction. In addition to these advantages, Nash urges buyers to factor in potential drawbacks before going ahead with a condo purchase.
"The odds are you'll have to stay in that condo for at least four to five years to get enough appreciation to cover the costs you'll face when you sell," he says.
Obviously, the future is hard to predict for people of any age. But as Nash notes, young adults are especially likely to change jobs, go back to school for an advanced degree or enter a new relationship. That means they're often more transient than older people.
He says those in a settled relationship or marriage should think especially carefully about buying a small city condo if they're planning to start a family in the near term.
"Not long after having a baby, most folks start thinking about schools, which usually leads to an eventual move to the suburbs," Nash says.
Yet, even after taking into account these factors, many young adults still want to go forward with a city condo purchase.
"They enjoy city living, but don't want to keep making rent payments with nothing to show for them," Nash says.
Here are a few pointers for urban condo buyers:
-- Choose a city neighborhood that suits your residential side.
Many young professionals who work downtown are in service fields such as law, banking or insurance. In many cases, their offices are housed in the financial district of a city. And the convenience of living very near the office might appeal to them.
But Meyer says it could be a mistake to buy a unit within the financial district if that part of town feels cold and unwelcoming when the offices are closed.
"The key point is to look at the neighborhood at night and on weekends to see if there's enough activity there," he says. "To find out, you need to visit during those times, walking around the streets to see how the area feels."
-- Focus on the best condo building in your favorite area.
Tom Early, a real estate broker and past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (www.naeba.org), advises urban homebuyers to be "very choosy" about the building they select.
"Either a new or older building could be a good choice for you. But be absolutely sure the building you pick is solidly constructed and well-maintained," Early says.
According to Meyer, you shouldn't rule out a building solely because it has retail outlets on the ground level. But be cautious about accepting any place with one or more retail vacancies.
"This might be a red flag that people don't want to shop there and that this part of town is unpopular. You have to investigate and find out why those stores are vacant," he says.
-- Seek out a building where noise is unlikely to be a problem.
Did you grow up in a single-family house, where, for example, you could throw a party or play a saxophone without arousing neighbors' complaints? If so, you may not realize how problematic the issue of noise in a condo building with poor soundproofing can be.
"If the walls are thin, this can really limit your life. It's unpleasant to have someone next door pounding on your wall just because you're watching a movie or have loud friends over to see a game. Likewise, you don't want to suffer through your neighbors' noisy parties," Early says.
In the design and construction of some new condo buildings, extra attention is often given to soundproofing. However, well-constructed older buildings with very thick walls might also be a good bet.
-- Request documents that give you an in-depth look at a building.
Because they live in close quarters, condo dwellers have to abide by homeowner association rules, which can be very restrictive. That's why Early recommends that potential condo buyers obtain a copy of these rules before they commit to a unit.
"By looking at the rulebook, you'll get a feel for the culture within the building and whether you'd be comfortable there. For example, maybe you'd be unhappy living with the building's restrictions on pets," he says.
Also, Meyer encourages you to obtain a copy of the minutes of recent condo association board meetings.
"You're entitled to have these documents, which tell you about the association's finances and whether an increase in fees is expected soon. You can also find out if you'd be likely to soon be hit with special assessments for such capital projects as a new roof or elevators," Meyer says.
-- Don't skip a home inspection.
Many condo buyers have the impression that they don't need a professional inspection before buying a unit. But Early says it's important that all condo buyers hire a skilled home inspector prior to committing to a purchase. He recommends they find the name of a local inspector through the website of the American Society of Home Inspectors (www.ashi.org).
"Make sure your inspector checks more than just the interior of the condo you'd like to buy. He should look also over the entire building to make sure its plumbing, electrical and fire-suppression systems are all in good working condition," Early says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)