10 Things to Know Before Buying a Condo in Portland

buy portland condo real estate
December 2019 RMLS Report graph of condo activity in Portland
  1. Half of the condos in Portland are downtown. A recent real estate search found that nearly half of the condos currently on the market in Portland are located in the downtown area, including the Peal District, Nob Hill, Goose Hollow and South Waterfront neighborhoods. 
  2. Portland condos are green. For those wishing to do without a personal vehicle, buying a condo may be the best way to do it. From a downtown Portland condo, shops, restaurants and offices are steps away. Portland’s mass transit system — including light rail, streetcar and bus — will get you anywhere you need to go in the metro area. And many Portland condo highrises are built to the highest green standard available: LEED Platinum.
  3. Most condos are exempt from Home Energy Scores. The Home Energy Score program in Portland is a way for home shoppers to compare the energy efficiency of homes using a single number, much like a miles-per-gallon rating. Unfortunately, condos in multilevel buildings are exempt from the rule requiring a Home Energy Score before they go on the market. The program only applies to homes, condos and townhomes that have their own roof. The good news is, condos in high-rises do tend to be more efficient — not having that roof provides a major energy savings. Most townhomes and row houses still need to have a Home Energy Score.
  4. Condo vs. Townhouse: The difference is ownership, not structure. You might hear that condos are always apartment-like dwellings within a multilevel structure, while townhouses are the row-style attached homes that you see in neighborhoods across Portland. While this is true in general, the word “condo” is often used to describe what is actually a townhouse. The true difference lies in the way the properties are owned. With a condo, you’re buying just the interior of the unit. With a townhouse or row house, you’re getting the whole unit (including the roof and exterior) as well as the front and/or back yards (though landscaping and exterior maintenance agreements may be built into the rules of the community). 
  5. List price isn’t the only price. Generally, condos are less expensive than townhouses. This is partly because they tend to be smaller. But look out — that cheap condo could come with some pricey Home Owners Association (HOA) fees. That’s because the HOA is taking care of the exterior of the building, the grounds and all the common areas. Because condos usually have more of a community focus, there may be a communal exercise room, golf course, club house, or similar amenity, all paid for out of HOA fees.
  6. Saavy buyers check HOA reserves. Say you found a great condo (or townhouse) in the right Portland neighborhood, with fees that are affordable. You’ve verified the fees and their frequency (monthly, quarterly or annual) and determined that you can move ahead with the purchase. But wait! Fees can change. The usual reason for a change is what’s called an “assessment” — when the HOA looks over the entire property and determines what major upgrades need to take place. Assessment costs may come up all at once, or be factored into an increase in the regular fees. Either way, it could turn an affordable unit into an unaffordable one. Before you buy, find out what assessments the HOA has planned and whether they have set aside funds (known as “reserves”) to pay for maintenance and upgrades. 
  7. The Silver Tsunami will affect the condo market. According to Zillow, Baby Boomers are retiring and moving out of their single-family homes, causing a “Silver Tsunami” to wash over the real estate market in the coming years. Their localized data shows that 11% of senior homeowners in the Portland metro area will be selling their home in the next few years. What’s more, research by the Insured Retirement Institute shows that, in the US a a whole, 45% of Baby Boomers lack retirement savings — meaning they’ll need to sell their home if they don’t want to live off Social Security alone. For many seniors, this will mean downsizing into a condo. As a result, condo buyers in Portland should expect more competition over the next couple of decades (but not right now). The condo real estate market in Portland right now is cold, a buyer’s market, and your best buy in Portland real estate right now.
  8. Condo inventory has already dropped. According to the most recent RMLS report, there were over 700 condos on the Portland market this time last year. In December 2019 (the most recent month data is available), there were only 600 condos on the market. Since 2017 the Portland condo real estate market has been dropping and this is the first good sign we’ve had in years that the condo market might stabilize here.
  9. Fall is the best time to buy a condo in Portland. In general, spring is when most Portland condo buyers hit the market, and sellers have the advantage. Those looking for a good deal on a Portland condo would be wise to wait until late summer/early fall, when inventory peaks in September. With more condos on the market, sellers are more willing to make a deal.
  10. Not all real estate agents know condos. Buying a condo or townhouse in Portland is different than buying a detached single-family home. Condo transactions must take into account the added rules and restrictions of the homeowners or condo association — in fact, buyers and their agents should research the HOA just like they would inspect the home itself! Is your real estate agent up for the task? Are you connected to the home inspectors, lenders and other industry professionals who also understand the particularities of condos? If you’re not sure, try our buyers’ team, with hundreds of condo sales under our belts in the Portland area. Meet up with our top 1% Portland buyers agents who have extensive condo buying experience.

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January 20, 2020
AUTHOR

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. and a top 1% agent in the Portland Metro. Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales in the Portland Metro area. Call him direct: 503-714-1111.

Pay less (4.5% commission max.) and get more with his top 1% listing team or buy your next home with his excellent top 1% buyer’s team. We work from Salem, Oregon to Vancouver, Washington and beyond. Check out our full services areas on the top menu.