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Curbed U: Buying Condos & Townhomes

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Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to the tipline.

Condos and Townhomes

Atlanta is known as a house and a yard kind of place, even in our most “urban” areas. In many cases you only have to step a block or two away from the buzz of Peachtree Street to find porched homes under a verdant canopy. That doesn’t negate the fact that you can also live the condo lifestyle (and live well, thank you very much). Besides most often being cheaper than single family homes in the same area (although that’s not always the case), condos and townhomes offer the luxury of little to no maintenance and a “lock and leave” attitude. Plus, their location can often place you in the heart of things, allowing you to leave the car behind (as often as is possible in Atlanta, anyway). Potential downsides can be unwanted neighbor run-ins, too many stairs (townhomes), limited parking, and Fido not having an instant outlet for energy depletion. If the potential upsides outweigh the downsides in your mind, read on.

Highrise vs. Lowrise

Atlanta condo buildings come in all kinds of ages, styles, and heights. From small, ground-hugging complexes in Inman Park to Buckhead’s Mansion, you’ve got a wide range to choose from. If you haven’t already made up your mind regarding what type of building you desire, consider what each offers.

It’s hard to resist being seduced by the views offered by many mid and high-rise buildings, and you might find yourself mentally canceling out negative features like small square footage or a bad kitchen in exchange for the opportunity to wake up to that every morning. But be careful. Just like living at the beach, you’ll eventually grow accustomed to an impressive landscape, and you’ll still be left with a cramped pad. Larger buildings also usually mean higher HOA fees, but you could be getting some worthy perks, like pools, gyms, a concierge and the like. Parking spaces are usually allotted by the number of bedrooms in a given unit, so if you need to purchase an additional space, there’s more likely to be a few for sale with a big building than a smaller one, if it includes a parking area. A greater number of living units translates into greater anonymity, which could be a plus or minus depending on how you look at it. Do want to really know most of your neighbors or are you fine with doing your own thing?

Beyond the size differences, Atlanta condos can be categorized in a few other ways. Let’s take a look!

Glass towers: Often (but not always) associated with the developer Novare Group. Appeared around the year 2000, and went strong until the housing collapse, the style is now being adapted for apartment buildings. Characterized by tons of glass (usually blue, green, or bluish-green), lots of exposed concrete, parking podiums, and repetitive balconies. The amenities at these complexes are often top notch. See: Spire, Viewpoint, Metropolis, Plaza Midtown, Twelve Atlantic Station, Twelve Centennial Park, Gallery, Realm, Sovereign, 1010 Midtown.

Loft conversions: Plenty of vintage buildings around town have gotten a new lease on life as living spaces. Features can include high ceilings, large windows, wood or concrete floors, and one of a kind floorplans. Castleberry Hill, the Marietta Street Corridor, and Fairlie-Poplar are known for their high concentration of lofts. They’re almost non-existent in Buckhead, they are somewhat rare in Midtown (with the exception of 805 Peachtree, Peachtree Lofts, and some of the units at Cornerstone Village). The Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts in Cabbagetown are notable for their dramatic character.

'Soft' lofts: At some point (1998?), developers in Atlanta honed in on the fact that a certain segment of the condo market wasn’t ready to go all the way with converted lofts. Thus, the “soft loft.” Sometimes these are lofts in name only, but you’ll also find brick accent walls, high ceilings, exposed ductwork and usually some industrially-inspired exterior architecture. Soft loft buildings include the Buckhead Village Lofts, Brickworks, and Glen Iris Lofts.

Early 20th century apartment buildings: These can range in size from modest 2-story buildings to a grand statement like The Ponce. Sometimes they’re really your only choice in neighborhoods such as Virginia Highland and Candler Park. On the whole, expect fewer amenities, uncovered parking, less storage space and a lot of historic charm.

Buckhead stand-alones: Condos in Buckhead, at least the ones built up until 2000, valued privacy and security over integrating into a meaningful urban fabric. Buyers in these buildings want the conveniences of condo living without needing a truly walkable lifestyle. You see this in the vicinity of “Jesus Junction” and points north. Units can be quite luxurious (and expensive) for the highest and largest ones, but more affordable options can be found on lowers floors and with units that need renovation. Examples would include Plaza Towers, Park Place on Peachtree, Park Avenue, and 2828 Peachtree.

A Few Words on HOAs

Homeowners Associations are common in metro Atlanta’s newer subdivisions and all condominium buildings. The purchase agreement you sign doesn’t give you the choice to opt out of the HOA. You’re subject to a bevy of regulations, and fees are required, but look at the bright side: property values are maintained, and often times you have access to amenities you might not otherwise have, such as pools and tennis courts. The economic downturn put plenty a homeowner behind on their HOA fee payments, and the results have been brutal. Georgia is one of 30 states where the HOA can foreclose on your home for non-payment, so they’re not to be taken lightly. Upon closing, you’ll be given a copy of the association’s covenants and by-laws.

Membership in an HOA allows you to vote for board members, who discuss neighborhood/building issues at monthly meetings. Depending on the situation, your money could be going toward landscaping, some utilities, trash pickup, hallway maintenance, and so on. With condos, keep in mind that the larger the building and/or more amenities, the greater your HOA fee is going to be. In older single family neighborhoods, especially ITP (inside the Perimeter, more on that later), civic associations are much more common. Membership is optional, and perks include security patrols, listing in the neighborhood directory, newsletters, and even discounts at nearby businesses.