Should I buy a condo conversion?
September 8, 2006 9:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of buying a condo that was converted from an apartment; am I going to regret it?

I'm thinking of buying a small condo in downtown Seattle. It's in a great location for me, in the price range I want, relatively new (built in 1998), and I just like it. The only red flag is that it is in a building that was converted from apartments to condos about a year ago. I don't rent there currently; I would be buying from the first owner.

This unit is priced in line with the others in its building, but all the units in this building seem to be priced lower than similar square footage units in the surrounding area. The only obvious reason for this price difference is the fact that it was a conversion.

Are there questions I can ask to ensure that the quality is up to par? What are some signs of good / bad conversions? And is there a danger that units like these don't appreciate as quickly as 'true' condos do?
posted by bbuda to Work & Money (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I used to live in a conversion. It was fine.
posted by k8t at 9:18 AM on September 8, 2006

Best answer: I'm a bit puzzled why this would be a red flag - what is your concern?

This happens often in Chicago, where I live, and my sister and brother-in-law bought one and are quite happy with it.
posted by agregoli at 9:41 AM on September 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was (renting) in a conversion and the only problems with it were what was typical for the condo: overly political machinations and power trips from the strata council. If you can get past that, you should do fine.

However, you -are- having it inspected, as you would for any real estate purchse, right?
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:43 AM on September 8, 2006

I'm not sure why this would be a flag either. Many times, a conversion is just calling it a condo instead of an apartment, sprucing up the lobby a bit, charging condo fees, and charging more for the unit.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:44 AM on September 8, 2006

Best answer: I don't imagine you have anything to be concerned about physically, more important would be the people situation around the building. Are rentals still allowed, an owner-occupied building can be quite different from what still amounts to an apartment. Is there any bad blood between the developers and the surrounding community since they maybe kicked a bunch of people out to do the conversion, that sort of thing.
posted by scheptech at 9:47 AM on September 8, 2006

If you're worried about it being run down because of that, have an inspector look at it (hell, have one do it anyways). I've seen the same share of run down houses as apartments. Slobs are slobs, it doesn't matter if they own the joint or not. And there's as many slobs with high paying jobs and houses as there are slobs in quick stops living in SRO.
posted by shepd at 9:50 AM on September 8, 2006

How is a conversion not a "real condo"?
posted by mikel at 10:04 AM on September 8, 2006

Best answer: from-scratch condominiums and apartments are often built to different specs. thus a condo conversion is a condo built to apartment specs — this can mean "thinner walls, lower quality insulation and smaller separations between floors, builders say."

but obviously every conversion is a different case.
posted by jimw at 10:20 AM on September 8, 2006

If you have a bad neighbor who owns their unit, you cannot get them evicted. The most control that can be exercised on such a person is for the condo association to levy fines. Most associations are reluctant to do that for disputes between unit owners.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:22 AM on September 8, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks all. jimw hit on my concern - that lower quality materials are generally used for apartment buildings than condominiums; I'm wondering if there are ways to figure out if this is the case, or if this is just a fact of life.

As far as I can tell, the building is in good shape and there aren't any serious problems with it. And of course I will be getting it inspected.
posted by bbuda at 10:35 AM on September 8, 2006

Best answer: Talk to some of the neighbors. Hey, I'm thinking about buying a unit, what's this place like? Can you hear the neighbors clomping around upstairs/next door? What's your heating bill like here? Is the insulation good? Do you own or do you rent? How long have you been here, what do you think of the neighborhood.
posted by willnot at 11:34 AM on September 8, 2006

New construction == quality?


Think of it this way: remember the idiots who were building web pages in 1999? Those guys are in construction and real estate now.

Your choice is to have the superficial conversion stuff done by morons who have no business swinging a hammer, or to have the entire building put together by morons who have no business swinging a hammer. The former means your taping is crooked. The latter means your walls fall down.

I would question the sanity of anyone who buys new construction in an overheated market. None of Chicago's (for example) 4.5 story condoliths with crappy cinderblock walls will be standing in 2060. I have no doubt that our 1922 brick apartment cum condo will be around.
posted by mrbugsentry at 11:44 AM on September 8, 2006

Definitely check the soundproofing. In my experience, apartments have virtually none, while condos have such good soundproofing you never hear the neighbors. It makes a huge day-to-day difference, but is easy to overlook when on the house (condo) hunt.
posted by ubu at 1:28 PM on September 8, 2006

I just want to reinforce the validity of the issue. I'm not sure about Seattle, but in CA, condominium owners associations can sue builders/developers for any building defects up to 10 years out and often do (or so the rumor goes), so I heard builders try to prevent that to the extent that they can by overbuilding (or by not building condos).

In general, I think a lot of this stuff is really specific to the location, the industry, the economy at the time the building was built, etc. For example, if you're comparing current projects to projects a few years old, which I don't think was the original question, you might also consider that building materials are super-pricey right now, giving some incentive to skimp when possible.

You could call up the building inspection department of the city and ask about building codes, how they are different for condos and apartments, how they have changed over time, and whether that condominium liability issue would influence a builder in Washington State.
posted by salvia at 1:42 PM on September 8, 2006

while condos have such good soundproofing you never hear the neighbors

Well, soundproofing is a bit of a misnomer - there's no such thing as 'proofing', only relative degrees. I lived in a place that was advertised as soundproof, had double cinderblock walls between units, so wallboard, cinderblock, air space, cinderblock, wallboard - and could still hear the neighbours surround sound while he was watching TV.
posted by scheptech at 2:05 PM on September 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

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