Welcome to another Team Diva home buying guide, specifically on how to buy a townhouse in Seattle, also known as buying a townhome, rowhome, zero-lot-line home. These are homes with some form of joint maintenance agreements and corresponding CC&Rs, which distinguish them from single-family homes on their own lot. Whew…
Buying a townhome in Seattle means buying a property where the title review is one of the most important parts of the home buying process. More on that later.
First things first. Buying a townhouse from a process standpoint is no different than buying a Single Family Home. Our Seattle Home Buying page will let you dive in and get the details. Below is a comprehensive blog that will get you ready to master the process of being a confident, knowledgeable home buyer.
Buying a Townhouse in Seattle Guide
Buying a townhouse in Seattle is all about location, condition, and convenience. Very few townhouses have homeowner’s association dues like condos. They are easier to rent in case you have to move, and most of them are located in urban dense zones, which means walkability. They also tend to offer light-filled spaces with soaring ceilings and other architectural details that single-family homes often lack.
If you are considering buying a townhouse in Seattle take a day and explore the various neighborhoods where they can be found. Some neighborhoods where you will see a lot of townhouse opportunities are Capitol Hill, Ballard, Fremont, North Beacon Hill, Columbia City, Judkins Park, and Greenwood.
We are going to explore the points to keep in mind when buying a townhome that are slightly different from buying a condo or a single-family home.
Why Buy a Townhouse versus a Condo or a Single Family Home?
Buying a townhome in Seattle is a great alternative to owning a condo, where you generally have upstairs neighbors and homeowner’s dues. Condos have a lot of rules and regulations on usage, renovations, pet policies, and rental rules that make some homebuyers feel confined. Some homebuyers are really into larger dogs and the majority of condos will only allow pets that are 50 pounds or less.
Meanwhile, single-family homes come with more personal maintenance. But townhouse homebuyers don’t just enjoy lower maintenance costs because of shared lots/walls. Most of the townhouses in Seattle are only about 10 years old, built at the height of Seattle’s green build movement and standards. That makes them newer and extremely energy efficient. Most older aka single-family homes requires home buyers to come in and make updates happen…and if that is your thing, we applaud you!
**Quick note – some townhouses are condos. It is an old hybrid from the 1990s. Please reference our condo blog below.
Buying a Townhouse in Seattle – READ THE TITLE REPORT
When buying a townhouse in Seattle, the number one thing you need to do is to REVIEW YOUR TITLE REPORT.
I’M SERIOUS! The title report is the least reviewed document during the home buying process and it is one of the most important. It is even more important if you are buying a townhouse. Why?
In the title report there is a sneaky little thing called a “Joint Maintenance Agreement.” The Joint Maintenance Agreement includes rules of how you and your neighbors agree to maintain the property. State laws require condos to have a homeowners’ association to maintain the building. Townhouses are much more loose regarding how and when maintenance can and should occur.
The Joint Maintenance Agreement should clarify how the neighbors agree to do regular maintenance, uphold noise ordinances, choose exterior paint colors, order sewer work, et al. However, a majority of the documents in the Joint Maintenance Agreement in the title report is a simple page stating that “The Neighbors Agree to Maintain the Property“—but no details about how that is to be done. That might be fine unless all of your neighbors are renters. Read and understand that you might have some work to do if you are buying into an older complex.
Below are two excerpts from the blog for you to reference
- CC&Rs – CC&Rs are more typical in a Townhome or a Condo, or if you are out in the burbs. They are the rules and regulations for a PUD (planned unit development). They tell you what you can and cannot do to the property or house. Like, “no, sorry, you can’t paint your home lime green or add a chain-link fence to the yard.”
- Joint Maintenance Agreements – JMAs are also mostly found with a townhouse. A good townhome community will have a long list of rules about building maintenance. Some examples would be what you can do and not do to the shared walls. As a homeowner, you can work with the other owners to beef up these rules if the community you are buying into has pretty light rules.
Buying a Townhome in Seattle – Do an Inspection
Buying a townhouse in Seattle should ALWAYS include inspecting the home. As a listing broker, I have seen several homebuyers make an offer on a townhouse and not do an inspection. I am always stunned. But there is a false sense of security when buying a townhouse because they are typically newer.
As a buyer’s agent, I have seen some fascinating things when inspecting a townhouse with Team Diva’s smart and savvy home buyers. Hence do us all a favor and order an inspection.
A couple of my favorite Townhouse Inspection Finds Are As Follows
- Water in the crawl space
- Plumbers not taking out a sewer gap in the sewer line before turning the new home over to the buyers.
- Rocks in sewer lines
- No access to the attic, and mold accumulating in the attic as a result of no air vents.
- Flat roofs flooded with water because of construction debris in the scuppers.
- Venting for the stoves not properly installed
- And the list goes on…
The bottom line is that you need to go and get an inspection separate from the developer or the home seller before you buy a townhouse. Be smart! Be a Seattle Home Buying Diva Dweller!
Buying a New Construction Townhome in Seattle
Buying a new construction townhouse has slight nuances for a savvy Seattle home buyer. Specifically, the builder will have a contract that they want you to sign that is different from the standard Purchase and Sale Agreement. YOU WILL NEED TO DO SOME READING!
No, really you have to read the contents cover-to-cover to make sure that you are aware that you have minimum recourse in the process of buying the home.
The other key item is that you are responsible for doing your own inspection (with an expert obviously). The city only makes sure it is livable. We have already provided some of the worst-case scenarios above… Oh what a joy they were! So do your own due diligence.
More juicy details about how to buy new a construction home in Seattle here
Did You Know That Some Townhomes Are ALSO Condos?
Yes – your townhouse can also be a condo! Back in the olden days (say, in the 1990s) Seattle did not have zero-lot-line permitting. Basically, if you wanted density or a townhouse experience you had to build that complex as a condo building. One of our most recent sales in Beacon Hill was an older condo/townhouse complex that was built as a condo. The benefits of buying into one of these complexes are that they require more robust maintenance of the building and they limit the number of renters. Check on the specifics to see if this is the right options for you.
Guide to Buying a Townhouse in Seattle
Buying a townhome is very similar to buying a house. There are a couple of items to keep in mind when you are making the big leap to homeownership in Seattle. Want more information about the entire home buying process? Download our Seattle Home Buying Guide.
The following items will help you buy a townhouse in Seattle like a smart Diva Dweller.
Buying a townhouse in Seattle is a great way to get into one of your favorite walkable neighborhoods. Some of the spaces are extremely well laid out, have high design Built Green elements, and are stunning to be around. They are also a great alternative to buying a condo (more regulations) or a single-family home (more maintenance).
Call or text Team Diva if you are ready to start buying a townhouse in Seattle +1-206-271-0264.