When looking to purchase a townhouse, you probably want to ask “is that townhouse actually a condo?” The ownership is an important point for many factors, including the owners’ rights and responsibilities.
Real estate ownership type and architectural styles of homes are not necessarily connected, and this confuses a lot of Los Gatos home buyers. We tend to think of condos as apartments that people own, for instance. It’s not that simple.
Finding out: how to know is that townhouse actually a condo
With condominium ownership, you own the inside of your unit plus a share or percentage of all the common areas (think private roads, pool, etc.).
With a condo you do not personally own the land under your unit. This can come in the form of what looks like an apartment (with other units above, below, on the sides or perhaps back-to-back), a townhouse (think “row house”), at attached house (duet), or even a free standing, detached house. Any of those can be a condo in the ownership sense.
If you look at a home, how can you tell the type of ownership? It’s seldom possible to know without looking at the Preliminary Title Report. It may be possible, buried elsewhere in the HOA docs, to learn the ownership type, but the fastest and clearest way is to read the Prelim. If you are planning on buying a home in a Common Interest Development (CID), especially if it is a townhome, read the prelim to learn is the townhouse actually a condo or not.
If you read a preliminary title report, it may say something like this, reflecting a share of ownership of the common areas:
1. THE ESTATE OR INTEREST IN THE LAND HEREINAFTER DESCRIBED OR REFERRED TO COVERED BY THIS REPORT IS: A CONDOMINIUM, as defined in Sections 783 and 4125 of the California Civil Code, in fee
If it is instead it’s another type of ownership in which the property owner does own both the structure and the land beneath it, the preliminary title report will say something like this:
1. THE ESTATE OR INTEREST IN THE LAND HEREINAFTER DESCRIBED OR REFERRED TO COVERED BY THIS REPORT IS: A FEE as to Parcel(s) One; AN EASEMENT more fully described below as to Parcel(s) Two (the easement only if applicable, as with a townhouse community)
When scouring the MLS for properties to view, Los Gatos home buyers would be wise to pay attention to the property class and land use data. A few years back, I discussed a little on this topic with this article: Is that Los Gatos house or townhouse actually a condo? Today I want to focus on the MLS information that Los Gatos home buyers are viewing online, and what to look for to understand these issues better. I’ve taken screen shots from the MLS, so what you see will appear differently on other portals, but the info should be present somewhere on the page if it shows up in our local MLS.
Getting the best info on class and land use data means getting it from a local MLS
First, our MLS, MLSListings.com, cooperates with other MLS organizations around the state. Often, though, when info comes into our system from an outside one, some info is dropped. That can be very frustrating. The most obvious one is the days on market or DOM – it is blank when it’s an out of area MLS entry. Today I was looking for examples of property class, meaning what kind of structure is it, and the land use to share here when I found this one, below:
Normally you will find info on the “class” which means the building type, such as a single family home (if detached, a house, if attached, a duet home), a townhouse, a condominium, a duplex / triplex / fourplex, etc. Also there should be land use – is it a condo, a PUD, or a single family home? (With condos and townhomes, there’s also a line for “ownership type.)
In the photo above, “Land use” is blank. Not helpful for a home buyer! This one was from a non-MLSListings.com entry. When that happens, you may want to make note of the info you could not find so you remember to chase it down later.
Most, however, will include the land use information, such as the next one:
Many of the townhouses in Los Gatos and nearby are held in condo ownership. That means you do not own the land under the unit, even though it is a townhouse. The owner of this kind of property owns the interior space between the walls and the floor and the ceiling. The Home Owner’s Association (HOA) has responsibility for the exterior of the structure, the roof, etc. The attic may or may not be community property. In some cases, there is a shared, open attic over all the units. In those cases, only one unit will have an opening to get into the attic.
What do you need to know before buying a house in Los Gatos? Particularly for people relocatingto Los Gatos (or generally to Silicon Valley) from other areas, or from parts of Santa Clara County not close to the hills, there are a few home buying tips you’ll want to know before purchasing a home in our fair town. (For locals, these may seem obvious!)
1. Los Gatos & Schools
Whether you have school aged kids or not, you’ll want to know that there are several school districts covering the Los Gatos area. School district lines do not follow the town’s boundaries. (Not too long ago I met someone with a home to sell in the Belgatos area and he had no idea that his home did not belong to the Los Gatos Union School District. This caused him to misunderstand the likely market value of his property.)
Areas closest to “downtown Los Gatos,” especially the historic neighborhoods (including Almond Grove, Edelen, Broadway, Fairview Plaza) tend to be much more expensive than those further out. The “walk to town” or “close to town” proximity makes them highly desireable, but also these regions of town are very scenic and have some fabulous Victorian and other beautiful architectural styles. Many are tree-lined, too.
Related to both #1 and #2, the public schools are not all that close to downtown Los Gatos. (St. Mary’s Catholic Elementary School is in the downtown area, as is the adjacent Los Gatos Parent Nursery School.)
3. Hillside locales
If you buy a house close to a hill, among some hills or on a hill, you will need to pay close attention to issues which are less common in flatter areas further from slopes. Among them are foundation, water and drainage concerns. Some flat areas near the hills may have a high water table, may springs that come seasonally or in very wet years as well as runoff problems.
Water is often far more damaging than termites but it is not really uncommon to find water in a crawl space during the rainy season. Learn about it and pay heed to property inspectors’ suggestions regarding remediation if it’s a condition in a house you want to purchase.
I wrote about this on my Valley of Hearts Delight blog (covering all of Santa Clara County, but mostly the west valley) and suggest these two articles:
Some homes with a “Los Gatos address” may not actually be in the town of Los Gatos. Many are in a county pocket or area (and may not have all the services of the town). A very few are actually part of either Campbell or San Jose but were assigned the Los Gatos mailing address for ease of the US Post Office.
How can you tell if a residence is part of the town of Los Gatos, is unincorporated or part of another city? The website for the county of Santa Clara has a lookup service. First you must accept the terms of service (see link above), then you will be allowed to input an address. If you type in a location’s address and it says “not found”, either you’ve got a typo in the building number or a mistake in the actual city, so perhaps it’s unincorporated or belonging to another adjacent municipality.
What difference does it make? The actual address (not mailing address) will impact a variety of things such as services (sherriff vs Los Gatos Monte Sereno police, free access to Oak Meadow Park), planning (any additions, remodels etc. will need to be approved by your actual city), voting in Los Gatos elections, etc.
5. Los Gatos is a town, not a city
Los Gatos is a town. (Monte Sereno, with whom we share some services, is much smaller but is a city, not a town.) This means our government is run a little differently. For instance, we don’t vote for mayor. Instead, we vote for town council members. They, in turn, vote for mayor. (Usually it’s a rotation.)
According to Wikipedia: “There are 481 incorporated municipalities in California, of which 459 are called cities and 22 are called towns.” [Edit: this quote was accurate as of Feb 28, 2011, but has been edited since. On Oct 24, 2017, the page lists 482 municipalities, 22 of which call themselves Towns.] I was surprised that there are so many towns – had thought it was only a handful!
Los Gatos is an interesting, fun, welcoming town. If you’re moving to the area, it’s a vibrant place you should check out. Please call or email me if you’d like more assistance.
Are you tempted to look at online, auto valuation websites to check Los Gatos real estate values? Those online home valuation sites (including mine) can be very tempting. After all, who wouldn’t want a real-time update onhome sale prices?
A few times, I’ve had clients or potential clients who relied very heavily on a well known real estate portal for information on “what that home is really worth“. The trouble, of course, is that the folks running the algorithms haven’t been to that street or to that house. They don’t know if it’s exquisitely updated or if it’s in a state of ruin. They don’t know if it seems well loved or if it has terrible odors.
Usually the portals have a very wide target. One of them claims that they want to be within 20% of the market value 80% of the time. Let that soak in. For a million dollar home, that’s a range of $800,000 to $1,200,000 not all the time but 80% of the time!
More convincing than my saying, “hey, that site is usually way off”, I like to just demonstrate what happens when I plunk a property’s address into a number of these auto valuation sites. I find the range of estimated pricing to be very compelling. Please have a look at the wide range of projected values – all for the same home & land!
Online valuation sites. (Weiss Analytics is by paid subscription.)
How would you like to own a home worth $2.6 million and hear that it’s worth $1.6 million from online home valuation sites? Or what if you put your condo on the market based on this kind of pricing, only to find that it was 20% off?
No, the better approach is to have a relationship with a local Realtor who can help you determine the probable buyer’s value for your home. It’s never going to be one exact price, because each buyer will have different terms, motivation, ability, and so on. If you get a lot of offers all at one, it will shoot the price high. If it takes more than 3 weeks to sell and you get just one buyer, it will be lower.
Online home valuation sites can be fun, but please remember that most of the time, they aren’t very accurate. Want help knowing if you have enough equity to sell? Please call or email me and we can meet and go over market conditions, the comparable sales, improvements that will give a good return on value, and the marketing needed to obtain your best price so that you can make an informed decision.
Helping Nice Folks to Buy and Sell Homes in Silicon Valley since 1993
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