Condominiums are an important part of the housing market for first time buyers. Too often buyers have the income and credit score needed to purchase a home but lack an adequate down payment which can make entering the housing market prohibitive.
In an effort to promote affordable and sustainable homeownership, especially among credit-worthy first time buyers, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has recently issued new guidelines making obtaining FHA financing for condominiums an easier and more streamline process. FHA has issued an update to its condo rules, effective October 15th, that will loosen requirements for financing condominiums. Here are some of the more important changes effective this month:
- Low Down Payments Still Available. Buyers can still purchase a house or condominium with as little as a 3.5% down payment
- FHA Certification and Recertification. FHA requires a condominium community to have obtained FHA certification. It is a detailed process and there is an expense to the HOA involved, but once complete, having FHA certification makes a community more desirable to buyers and FHA financing much easier. The FHA condo certification now lasts 3 years vs. two and the recertification process has been streamlined.
- Single Unit Approvals (spot loans) Permitted. In the past, if a condominium community wasn’t on the approved FHA list, it was difficult, at best, to obtain FHA financing. The new guidelines now make it easier for an individual unit to be approved for FHA “spot loan” financing in a community that isn’t FHA approved as long as no more than 10% of the units in the community are FHA insured. (A buyer must use a FHA approved lender.)
- Owner Occupancy Requirements Eased. FHA now requires that a condo community be just 50% owner occupied.
- Commercial/Non-Residential Space. The amount of permitted non-residential space (retail, commercial, parking) has been increased from 25% to 35%.
These updated FHA loan guidelines will now allow thousands more condominium units to qualify for FHA financing, opening homeownership opportunities to many buyers. Homeowner associations are encouraged to obtain and maintain FHA certification. Opening the window to homeownership will encourage more people to buy and occupy homes resulting in fewer investor owned units, higher owner/occupancy levels and stronger communities.
Living in communities close to workplaces, shopping, dining and other amenities is becoming increasingly important to buyers when searching for a home. A recent survey conducted on behalf of the National Association of REALTORS® found over half of the respondents preferred to live in a community that offered smaller or no yards but was within walking distance of local amenities and offered shorter work commutes.
Buyers no longer look at just the house – equally, or even more important, is the community and access to workplaces, shopping, dining, transportation, schools, health care and parks or open space. Women tend to put more importance on walk-ability and public transit than men but overall nearly 40% said having public transit nearby was important. Sixty percent of those surveyed would be willing to pay more to live within walking distance of parks, restaurants and shops.
In Bellevue the popularity of urban living was recently confirmed when the One88 condominium residences celebrated the grand opening and sales event. Over 80% of the homes sold in just weeks with buyers committing to reservations to purchase homes that won’t be available for two years. Several new Bellevue townhome communities have experienced the same robust sales activity with buyers committing to pre-sales for homes not scheduled for completion until late spring or summer. Resale condos and townhomes throughuot the eastside, walk-able to urban amenities and workplaces, are experiencing the same high level of buyer interest.
Interest in rentals remains strong, but there’s been a noticeable slight decline in area rents this year. Even in high demand urban areas, rents have dipped slightly. With thousands of new apartments recently completed or nearing completion, and hundreds more under construction, rental supply may have begun to outpace demand.
If you own a rental property there will be more competition the next time you negotiate a lease renewal. Hundreds of new apartments are available offering modern finishes, new appliances, high tech features and a long list of community amenities and services. Tenants may not be as quick to accept a rent increase or lease renewal when, for the same money, or attractive lease-signing incentives, they can move into newer digs.
If you’ve owned your investment property for a while, this may be the time to sell and maximize your return on investment. Available inventory for sale is at historic lows and buyer demand is at an all time high – the perfect storm if you’re a seller. Properties sell quickly, often with multiple offers. Renting or selling, your property needs to be in good condition, but any minor cosmetic investment will translate to a major return when you sell.
Need market information? I’ve lived and worked in downtown Bellevue for over 30 years – there isn’t much I don’t know and love about the city. A Realtor® and condo specialist for over two decades, I combine my knowledge of the city with years of condo experience to advise and guide clients through the process of buying or selling a home.
An article in the Puget Sound Business Journal this week compared the available local condominium inventory to New York City. Granted, NYC is a much larger and more expensive market, but currently NYC has 388 condos for sale priced less than $500,00. At the time the article was written there were only five condos available for sale in Seattle priced under $500,000. Here on the greater Eastside there are less than 100 condos available for sale – not nearly enough to satisfy demand.
We are fortunate to live in a region where the economy is thriving, employers are hiring, housing is relatively affordable (compared to some other major metropolitan areas) and its a beautiful place to live with a temperate climate and year-round recreation options. Recent U.S. Census Bureau reports show that nearly 250 people move to the Seattle/Bellevue metropolitan area every week (for all the reasons just mentioned). Its also a great place to retire because of the mild climate, vibrant arts, entertainment and social scene and world class health care services, so people aren’t leaving in great numbers either. Because retirees stay in the area and because job opportunities bring hundreds of people a day to the area, it doesn’t appear there will be much change or relief to the tight inventory or escalating housing prices in the near future. Continue reading
It’s a common misconception that a minimum 20% down payment is required to purchase a home. Buyers, saving to put 20% down on a home purchase, could be missing the opportunity to buy a home, and instead are watching prices continue to escalate.
There are excellent loan programs available with 5% or 10% down (even as little as 3.5%), requiring less cash out-of-pocket for buyers. A lower down payment may likely result in a somewhat higher monthly payment, but when you consider that houses and condos in the Seattle/Bellevue area have increased in value 14% or more so far this year, and expected to continue to increase in value next year, waiting to buy could prove to be more costly. With rents also on the rise, it could make more sense to buy this year and start putting money toward building equity rather than toward another rent increase next year. Continue reading
How does commute time impact local home values and buyer’s decisions on neighborhood selection?
According to the US Census, Americans rank having a short commute second only to low crime rates when it comes to determining where to buy or rent a home. One study found that New Yorkers will pay nearly $60 more a month in rent to trim just one minute off their commute. That trend is the same locally – buyers are willing to pay more for a home if it offers an easier commute. As a result, areas in King County with shorter commutes have higher home values.
Urban locations close to employment centers can be expensive, but efficient public transit will level the playing field, providing a more reasonable commute that reaches more affordable housing choices. In our area, the future expansion of light rail on the Eastside and north along the I-5 corridor will have a positive impact on many neighborhoods. Finally, developers are starting to take a closer look at demographics and buyer wants/needs, planning mixed use and multifamily housing near future light ail routes and transit centers. Continue reading
With only 24 resale condos listed for sale in downtown Bellevue there are very few choices for buyers ready to purchase. (Add in the 39 developer owned units still available at Washington Square and the total is barely over 60 in the entire downtown marketplace).
Inventory is at historic lows, prices are at or near record highs, multiple offers are the norm, higher buyer demand continues and there's no new condo construction in site . . . this year may well be your best time to sell your home or investment property. Bellevue is continuing to grow, more companies are moving to the city than are leaving, the arts and social scene is thriving, some of the best shopping and dining north of San Francisco can be found in Bellevue and the city is in the center of an award winning school district. The city has so much to offer for a variety of lifestyles and budgets. Condo prices start in the mid $300,000s (yes, there are affordable condos downtown) and can skyrocket to several million for a view penthouse. Don't miss the opportunity to maximize your return on investment if you're ready to make a change, find more space, move up to a view or reinvest in another rental property. 2016 could be the year.
Both San Francisco and Seattle have an abundance of tech jobs. Anyone in the tech industry casting a wide net in their job search could expect to find job opportunities in both cities. While both locations would provide career growth opportunities and a stimulating lifestyle, where would you move and how would make that choice?
San Francisco is a fabulous city and salaries in the Bay area can easily be 20% higher, or more, than the Seattle marketplace, but many tech workers are choosing Seattle over the Bay area and Silicon Valley higher paying jobs. No question the cost of living here is on the rise, but the Seattle area has a significanty lower cost of living when it comes to renting or purchasing housing, parking, dining out, entertainment, groceries, etc. Locating where the employment base is, and where living is more affordable, could explain why Google expanded its campus in Kirkland and Facebook, Twitter, Uber and Dropbox have located offices here.
Friends who recently left San Francisco and moved back to the Eastside were renting a small studio in downtown San Francisco for $3,000/month + $300/month for parking. While the opportunity to return to the Eastside was key in their relocation decision, the difference in living expenses was also attractive. Renting a luxury one bedroom condo on the Eastside at $2,000/month, parking included, definitely made up for any difference in salary. While home prices and rents have increased in Seattle and on the Eastside, our prices still pale in comparison to San Francisco.
A higher paying job is enticing, and San Francisco is definitely a desirable place to live, but when adding up the list of basic items that can be as much as 30 percent cheaper here than in San Francisco, maybe the city on the bay is better as a great place to spend a weekend.
Housing prices keep going up and available inventory keeps shrinking . . . this combination continues to drive prices upward with no immediate relief in sight. With Eastside home values appreciating on average 10%+ per year, finding an affordable home can be challenging.
While the suburbs are popular with some buyers, the demand for urban living is on the rise. Buyers are seeking communities walk-able to workplaces, nightlife, arts and entertainment, transportation, schools ad parks. Downtown Bellevue checks off all those boxes which is what makes it an increasingly high demand place to live. While "affordable" may not be the first word that comes to mind when thinking about downtown Bellevue real estate, there are many condo communities in or within a block or two of downtown with homes priced under $500,000. So far this year 166 condos have sold in the 98004 zip code; 45% of those sold for under $500,000. There are less than 80 condos currently on the market in the downtown marketplace (about half of normal); nearly 20% are priced under $500,000. Expanding the search to condo and townhome communities within a mile of downtown significantly increases the choices and still keeps the commute to work, restaurants, shopping and events at less than five minutes.
Whether you're a first time buyer, relocating here for a new job, downsizing from a larger home or giving up the "burbs" for city living, its possible to find the right fit for your lifestyle without braking the bank.
Condo insurance, what could be more boring. Did you know . . .
Most homeowner associations carry a master insurance policy which covers damage to a community's residential buildings and parking structures. The HOA may also carry additional earthquake insurance. As a homeowner you need to understand what coverage falls under the HOA's master policy and what coverage you are responsible for having.
- Mold is almost always excluded on the HOA general liability insurance policy. Other exclusions may include damage from water incidents, insects, animals, "acts of God" and vandalism.
- While some condo insurance policies may provide some amount of coverage for damage within a unit, the HOA's general liability insurance policy almost never covers an owner's personal property.
- Condo owners are strongly encouraged to obtain their own personal insurance policy to cover their personal property as well as provide coverage for items/circumstances not covered in the association's policy and deductibles. (Some HOAs may require owners to provide proof of insurance.)
- Definitions of unit boundaries for HOA policy insurance coverage vs. owner policy insurance coverage can be found in the association's Declarations (also called the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions or CC&Rs.)
- If a condo owner rents the condo, it is a good idea to require and obtain proof that the tenant has a renter's policy to insure the tenant's personal property.
If you are selling a condo, the HOA master insurance policy is one of the documents a seller must provide to the buyer. This document will be required by the buyer's lender and escrow as part of the buyer's loan approval and closing documents.
For more information about your condo's insurance coverage contact your association manager or your insurance agent.