Wednesday, February 28, 2007

When a Home is Not a House: Condo Pros and Cons

Many real estate watchers can remember when buying a condominium was most would-be homeowners' second choice. These properties were considered a half-way measure for people wishing to break out of renting but not quite able to obtain a house. Now, condos are not only seen as a smart step between the two stages, but are an increasingly sought-after option in their own right.
It's not just that condos are an attractive intermediate move, though this is an important recent reality of homeownership. Condo values have been appreciating faster than those of single-family homes, making them a good start for first-time homebuyers who would like to build equity for a house purchase a few years down the road.
Condos are now viewed as a great middle ground for people at opposite ends of the homeowning spectrum: first-time homebuyers appreciate the still-competitive prices of condos as compared to single-family homes, and retirees like the convenience of condo living (with affordability certainly an attraction for the seniors and simplicity an appeal to busy young professionals, too).
A condo can keep benefiting its buyer even after they move (if they even ever want to): some owners keep their condo as a rental investment when they switch to another kind of home. Still, as with any living arrangement, you want to make sure the situation is right for you.
One big consideration is the ways in which a condo's conveniences come with certain trade-offs. As in a conventional apartment complex, most maintenance work and many other homeowner hassles will be taken care of for you, but not without expense. All residents must join an association which requires dues and makes certain decisions in concert that homeowners would otherwise make themselves.
You will want to carefully check out what restrictions apply - are pets allowed? Home offices? Can you paint and garden as you wish? You'll want to find out if the fees are within your budget, and how they might go up (for instance, to pay for any big repairs if there isn't already a responsible reserve fund). And you will want to be sure you're comfortable with the communal decision-making process in general.
You also owe it to yourself to make sure that any current boom has reached the condo complex you're interested in, with a good sales history and a promising future - and to figure out your financing prospects. Lenders give lower rates to buyers in developments with fewer renters and more owner-occupants (absentee ownership can affect both quality of life and property value).
These last two points are certainly ones in which the expertise of your local real estate professional can come in handy (ERA Select Homes is one company that has them both covered). With the right research, a condo can become not a compromise you can live with, but the place where you'd most like to live.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Doubling Your Investment: Do Income-Generating Properties Pay?

Buying or selling a house is one of the biggest decisions most people will ever make with their finances and their lifestyle. Getting the best bargain in the purchase or making the most profit on the sale give buyers and sellers so much to think about that many may never stop to consider keeping that old house - or buying another - as an income-generating property. But the rewards, in savings, profits and problem-solving, can be high.
One option for buyers who otherwise might consider home prices beyond their reach is the property that pays for itself: a house you live in part of and rent the rest of. This offers not only an obvious balance of cost and income, but perhaps lesser-known benefits in taxes and mortgage. The rental units can be depreciated over time; considered to offset the rental income, this can lower your taxes on that income. At the same time, the rent's addition to your finances helps you qualify for a larger mortgage, and investors who occupy their rental properties can, under certain conditions, get interest rates lower than those who do not. Of course you'll want to decide if the demands of being a live-in landlord are for you.
If being an offsite landlord is more appealing, you could always keep your current home as a rental after you move into the new one. Your long-term familiarity with the home's features and condition could lend a certain confidence both to yourself and your potential tenants. As with any investment property, you'll first want to calculate whether the rental income will make up for the needed expenses. (This is another consideration in which a qualified real estate sales professionals can help, with his or her knowledge of the local rental market and its prospects over time.) And of course being a landlord has its headaches too, so you have to enjoy the challenge and be ready to meet the needs.
But if solving problems appeals to you, then you may even prefer a fixer-upper to your familiar former home. With a thorough inspection to answer any questions, and a realistic budget and disciplined schedule to handle all improvements, your outlays can prove to be well worth it. Renovations can range from reconfiguring the floorplan to simply replacing a now-unfashionable d├ęcor. The attraction of "move-in" quality can draw renters who share your appreciation of state-of-the-art living but not your passion for the do-it-yourself effort behind it.
Owning an income-generating property is not for everyone, but-from younger buyers offsetting their purchase costs, to seniors easing the expenses of their retirement years - it can be for all kinds of people. Talk to a real estate sales professional to find out if rental property would be double trouble or two times the success.