Buying a Condo in Portland: Ten Things to Know

portland real estate condos

Buying instead of renting in a tight housing market may seem counterintuitive. Portland renters, however, know that availability is low and rents are high. (Most would say it is easier to buy a Portland home than rent one right now!) Meanwhile, mortgage rates are still low. All of this adds up to mean that in many cases, overall home ownership costs including the mortgage, is more affordable than rent!

One affordable option for buying a home in Portland is to find a condo or townhome. Unfortunately, many buyers don’t consider this option because there is a perception of a lot of red tape and extra fees. However, with a great Portland real estate agent on their side, buyers can navigate the condo maze and end up with a place they love that’s within their price range. Our Portland buyers team can do just that!

Here are ten things to know before you buy a condo in Portland:

1. Condos are different.
Most do not exist as detached units — usually two walls (or more) are shared. Units at the end of a condo or townhome complex are usually priced a little bit more because less walls are shared. Few condos have a yard of any kind, but most townhomes have a small yard. If the unit has a front yard, it may be fully maintained by the HOA (homeowners association)! Condos come with HOA fees, but that is often offset by lower property taxes, lower utility bills, and lower property maintenance bills. With some complexes, it could be argued that the monthly cost for owning the Portland condo or townhome is much less than the monthly cost of owning a regular detached home!

2. Searching for condos is easy on our site! Enter the area in the big search bar, then in the search results that come up you can filter for Condo by clicking on the “Type” button in the red bar on the top right corner. Then, add more filters by clicking on the “More +” button. You can filter by the number of levels, whether or not there is an HOA, fenced yard and more!

3. Touring in person is a must. In smaller spaces like condos, it can be really hard to get a feel for the space by photographs alone. Some listing agents now offer 3D walk-through tours, which can help. But there’s nothing like walking through yourself! Contact your buyers’ agent team and we will be happy to schedule a showing.

4. HOA doesn’t stand for Home Owner Annoyance! In fact, many condo buyers love the idea of having someone else figure out how to maintain the exterior of the property, split the cost of pools and other amenities, and take care of the landscaping. Home Owners Associations do all this and more (depending on the complex of course). Reading all the rules and regulations may sound like a mighty task, but that’s the only way you’ll know what you’re getting into when you buy a condo, and your real estate agent can always help to decipher it!

5. Fees can be factored in.Condo fees are what scare a lot of buyers away from purchasing, but they shouldn’t. HOA Fees can be found on our home search website (but they are not seen on many popular real estate search sites) as well as the frequency (monthly, quarterly or yearly) of the fee. If the complex has been well managed, the fee is worth it. You may end up spending a lot more to maintain your detached home than the cost of having an HOA do it for you. Or, the complex may have been poorly managed over the years and now the current owners are paying for it with high monthly fees to make up for deferred maintenance. So the HOA fee amount is vital, but in order to understand if it is a good deal or not, you have to know what it covers and have a good idea of whether or not that compares well with other complexes (again a good Portland buyer’s agent will help you with this). What isn’t included in the listings are upcoming assessments. This is when the HOA looks at the entire facility (units and shared amenities) and figures out what major upgrades or maintenance needs to be done in the near future. Then they can charge condo owners fees to help pay for the costs. Find out what assessments are upcoming and what major repairs are in the works. Your real estate agent can help you figure in these expenses to your home buying budget.

6. Reserves are a good safeguard. Mortgage lenders are notoriously wary about condos because the assessments we just mentioned can throw homeowners off their financial game. Say you’re paying $2000/month on your mortgage consistently, plus $500 in HOA fees. Then, the HOA decides to do an assessment and upgrade the roof on all units. Most homeowners can’t suddenly fork over an extra couple grand. That’s why most HOAs have what’s called a “reserve”. This is how they (should) pay for most major upgrades. It should be about 10% of the annual budget or more, which is another document it’s a good idea to review with your Portland real estate agent before you buy!

7. Rules protect home values. Every condo association is different. Some may have few covenants, conditions and regulations (often called CC&Rs), others may spell out everything you never thought of, like visitors’ hours and how many pets you can keep. Extreme as some of these rules may seem, they do serve the purpose of protecting home values. Condos, especially in Portland, rarely go down in value. Not only do HOAs take care of exterior maintenance performed in a consistent manner, but they also prevent people from creating unsightly messes outside their homes or units that can take down home values for whole complexes.

8. Condo availability in Portland changes with the season. Just like single-family homes, condos tend to get put on the market in summer, with fewer new listings in the winter. Looking at the most recent RMLS data available for the Portland real estate market, just over 300 condos were listed in February 2017. That’s an improvement on the same month last year, when there were only about 240 active condo listings on the Portland market, but nothing compared to the peak Portland real estate season, when there were around 450!

9. Condos exist across Portland. Some may just be two or three units, inside a what was once a large single family home. Others may be huge developments in the suburbs with many, many condos or townhomes to pick from. Then of course there are high-rises downtown with hundreds of units. The definition of “Condo” can be different depending on which real estate agent you ask!

10. Portland condo owners should list now. More condos were sold in March, April and May of last year than were actively listed on the market! This is the best time of year to sell any type of home in Portland. We wrote a full report on that here. The Portland metro area is still a top moving destination, and homes are in very limited supply. During that time last year, inventory was around 1.3 months, and it’s currently at only 1.9 months in Portland (March 2017 RMLS report).

Have more Portland condo questions? Contact your Portland real estate team. We are here to help you get through the maze successfully, with zero regrets about your Portland condo purchase.

April 4, 2017

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. A Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington, he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales. Call his team in Oregon at 503-714-1111 or in Washington at 360-345-3833.

4% max to sell a home in Portland and SW Washington.
4.25% max to sell a home in Salem and Bend.
Over 2,000 homes sold.