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Mar 4th, 2009
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Vertical Living
High-Rises, Mid-Rise, Lofts and Townhomes Abound In the U.S.
If you ask urban professionals the difference between high-rise living in large U.S. cities compared to that in the major capitals of the world, right away they mention the value - larger space and more amenities for the price. Similar to reasonable single-home prices in the region, high-rise properties come in many varieties - lofts, condos, high-rises - that are typically located close to employment centers, major freeways, shopping and cultural venues. With the cost of fuel increasing, many are opting to live closer to work and spend less time commuting. In this section, find out if high-rise living is right for you and what to look for when you begin your search.

Selecting an Agent
Before you relocate to the area, a good idea is to find an agent who is a relocation specialist or a buyer's agent. A relocation specialist specializes in helping people move to a new area, and many are available through nationwide real estate brokerages. If you're unfamiliar with real estate companies in the United States, you can ask a real estate agent you know in your current city for a company recommendation or affiliation. You can also go online and search for companies that meet your needs and geographic location.

In selecting your real estate agent, consider what's important to you. Questions to ask include:
*    Is the real estate agent a Realtor(R)?
*    How long has the agent been in the business?
*          Does the agent specialize in the high-rise market?
*    How many transactions was the agent involved in last year?
*    Does the agent work full time or part time?
*    Is the agent a good communicator and present himself professionally?
*    Does the agent know the community you may be interested in? This will be important as you'll have questions about schools and other facilities in the area.


What's Your High Rise Style?
Before you go shopping, review the various styles of high-rise living available in your destination city to determine what's right for your lifestyle.

Townhomes
The popularity of townhomes and condominiums has greatly increased in most major American cities over the past ten years. In the U.S., townhomes are usually two or three-story residences that are individually owned and interconnected. Townhomes are virtually maintenance free, conveniently located close to business centers and shopping. Prospective buyers will find an ample selection with affordable pricing, various styles and quality features. For many, townhomes provide more space and privacy as there is generally nobody living below or above you. Oftentimes, there is a small yard for pets and entertaining.

Lofts
Traditionally, lofts were situated in low-rent urban areas. While the neighborhoods were not great, the empty spaces above were appealing to artists who needed large studio space and great light. Times have changed, and these spaces are now desirable. These characteristics identify loft living today. Spaces are usually located in downtown areas or near them, spaces have high ceilings, exposed brick walls, pipes and ducts in the ceiling, few hard walls separating rooms, expansive windows, open kitchens, hardwood floors and contemporary design accents.
High-Rise Living
While lofts are open and airy, high-rises are sophisticated and worldly. Chances are that while waiting for your elevator, you can hear several different languages being spoken as the city is a hub for international business. One delightful surprise for many is discovering the views from upper story high-rises. Despite the amount of construction within the urban sectors of major cities, these concentrated areas are very green with lush, colorful parks and trees.
One trend that is driving the move to vertical living is interest among empty-nesters to select a more maintenance-free lifestyle. With children out of the house, there is no need to do yard work, pool maintenance or gardening, leaving more time for hobbies and travel within easy access to airports. Amenities also appeal, including media rooms, concierge service, spas and lifestyle programs.
Mid-Rise Developments
Mid-rise properties are defined as consisting of buildings that are of moderate height, about five to 10 stories. Nationally, mid-rise properties are enjoying great success and are located and being built throughout the U.S. According to real estate experts, this is due to a combination of factors, including excellent locations, smaller buildings (from 70 to 100 units) and efficient floor plans. Additionally, limited amenities help keep the expenses down and overall pricing affordable.
Amenities
As with any important investment, ask yourself what's important and prioritize your needs. What amenities do you really need and which ones would be nice but are not critical? Once you've determined your list, you'll be in a better position to tour properties and not be influenced by extras that can add up. In today's competitive market, amenities can include a grocery store in the building or nearby, delivery service, valet service, a 24-hour concierge service, roof-top pool, a fitness center, special education and training activities, wine rooms and guest suites.

Fees and Costs
All lofts, high-rises, townhomes and mid-rises are subject to homeowners' association (HOA) fee, which covers most amenities, depending on the property and  also may include homeowners insurance (the building and common elements), waste disposal, garbage pick up, water, cable, exterior maintenance, lawn maintenance, pool and security costs.


Determining if the Urban Life is the Right Lifestyle For You
The urban scene may not be right for everyone, but it sure is fun! Not sure if the urban environment is right for you? Newcomers should review their answers to the following questions with their Realtor before making any major decisions.
* Where is your office/work located? Do you enjoy commuting?
Many people who live in lofts, mid-rises and high-rises can walk to work, especially if they live in the central district of their city known as downtown.
* Are you married or single?
Usually, singles love urban life. Young married couples do as well. Typically, when living in a urban environment or city center, you are convenient to shops, restaurants and theaters, and most of the time you can walk.
* If married, do you have any children?
According to real estate experts, once families grow and people begin to have children, they begin to opt for the single-family lifestyle. Many families choose the suburbs.
* Do you like to travel?
Many couples who like to travel really enjoy the versatility of urban life. They can simply lock the door and leave every care and worry behind while traveling. There is no lawn to mow or painter to call, and maintenance is always someone else's responsibility.
* How will you finance? Or will you rent?
The San Francisco market is hot and continues to become more and more popular, especially with empty nesters growing in population and more international people moving here. As a result, it's wise for potential homebuyers to have their financing ready.
Still stuck? If you still cannot decide which type of housing is best, you might try renting a loft, mid-rise or high-rise before buying.


Terminology

Mid-Rise versus High-Rise
There are a number of ways to differentiate between a "mid-rise" and "high-rise" condo. The majority of definitions place a mid-rise at no more than 12 stories; high-rise is anything beyond.

Time Share
"Time shares" are properties that have multiple "owners," each with the right to use a particular property at pre-specified times of the year.

Condo-Hotel, a.k.a., "Condo-tel"
Unlike the typical "timeshare" product, a condo-tel is privately owned by a single entity (individual or corporation), yet may be offered for rent on a short-term basis, much like a hotel room. This concept appeals to many investors who are purchasing their property as a part-time residence or vacation home. There are no specific times the property must be rented out - it is simply an option for the owner. In most cases, the condo-tel property management will handle rental arrangements.

Mixed-Use Projects
The term "mixed use" is used to describe any development that is a combination of both residential and retail components. An example is a high-rise condo project that has retail amenities on a ground floor, such as restaurants, boutiques or even office space, with residential units occupying the upper floors.

Urban Village Concept
Another popular development approach in a fast-growing city that's short on available land, the "urban village concept" is a large-scale mixed-use development. Urban villages are centrally located real estate projects that combine numerous business and retail elements with residential product. The idea is that residents have the ability to do everything - live, work, play - all in the same area.


Other Considerations
If You're Downsizing, Keep In Mind...   
*    Storage: If you're a packrat, keep in mind you'll have much less storage space in your new high-rise home.
*    Parking: How many spaces will you be allotted? Will you be able to enter and exit throughout the day and night? Is there parking for guests or only  street parking with meters?
*    Leasing out your condo or high-rise: Find out if there are any restrictions on owners leasing out their home to a tenant. For example, does the tenant need to be approved by the building's board?
*    Pets: Is the building pet-friendly? Are there limitations on the size of pets? Is there a green space nearby or more than three blocks away, which could get tiresome in cold or rainy weather.


What to Know About High-Rise Living
Are you considering buying a new high-rise residence? It's a big decision. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind as you purchase in this dynamic real estate market.

Do Your Homework
When considering a new luxury condominium, potential buyers are encouraged to scrutinize and get to know the developer and their track record. What other projects have they developed or been involved with? Who is on the project development team, including the general contractor, architect, sales staff and marketing firm? Discover if the project is properly financed and if the development has any bank mandated sales requirements it must meet before their financing is fully approved and funded. What happens if those requirements are not met? It is also recommended that you inquire as to the status of construction to help evaluate the viability of a new project. Given the variety of condominium projects offered, understand the type of condominium the project is. Ask questions and make sure you know the differences between a condo-tel vs. a residential condo vs. high- /mid- /low-rise. Find out the anticipated date of completion and occupancy. And don't forget to consider the "big picture" by researching what is happening and planned in and around the area of the development.

Think Lifestyle
When evaluating a potential condominium community it is important to carefully consider the sort of lifestyle you envision. As you prepare to begin your search, clearly define your desired lifestyle in terms of location, size, amenities, accessibility and use. Weigh these factors carefully and prioritize your must-haves vs. your wants. Understand where and in what you place the greatest value and importance. For instance, do you plan to entertain?  If so, are there features and benefits conducive to those plans? Do you have pets or any other requirements that may have specific restrictions outlined in the CC&Rs (Codes, Covenants and Restrictions). What are the amenities offered and are there additional usage charges? Be sure to inquire about the rules, regulations, and restrictions of the Homeowners' Association (HOA) that may impact your desired lifestyle.

Consider Your Use
An important factor to consider before making a decision to buy should be how you intend to use your residence. Are you purchasing a luxury condominium as a primary residence or a second home? Or, do you intend to make it an income-producing property by renting it out?  Whichever the case, ask about any investor and/or rental restrictions. It is also wise to inquire about any potential resale restrictions or guidelines.

Understand What You are Purchasing
From "designer ready" with bare floors and white walls to fully furnished and decorated, each condominium project offers different finishes and upgrades. How ready is ready? Every purchaser's expectation is different and make sure you leave no room for surprise when you take possession of your new residence. Ask if the residences are completely finished or "designer ready"? Are appliances included? Are upgrades available?  If so, what are the additional costs associated with those upgrades and how long do you have to make your selections?

Learn Purchasing Process and Options
Any major purchase can be confusing and somewhat intimidating. Get a clear understanding of the purchase process by asking questions. Is the developer simply taking reservations or are they going straight to contract? Ask for clarification about deposit requirements and determine if your deposit earns interest. Take into account the specific timeframes as they relate to your due diligence, rescission period, and close of escrow (COE). Additionally ask questions about whether you can close your property as an LLC or trust vs. an individual. Understand your financing options including 1031 exchange, self-directed IRA, cash, and bank financing. Clarify what other fees need to be considered including closing costs, monthly Homeowners' Association (HOA) dues, additional assessments, and estimated taxes.

Turn To The Professionals
Remember, you don't have to navigate the decision-making and purchasing process alone. Consult your team of professionals (i.e. CPA, Realtor(R), etc.). Consider having a Realtor(R) represent and assist you through the process. There are numerous resources and referral services available to put you in touch with a real estate or financial services professional.
Relocation Resources | 5120 Woodway Drive, Suite 6022 | Houston, Texas 77056 | ph: (713) 586-6939 | fax: (713) 586-6947
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