Buying a loft or a condo is different than buying a house, but in Tacoma there are some additional considerations that don’t apply in other cities. We have very few high-rise or mid-rise condominiums, and a lot of our buildings are conversions. This comes with some separate considerations and different questions that you ask if you want to make sure you buy a great property and get a good deal!

Owning a condo or loft in Tacoma has a lot of advantages—for the most part, it’s less work that maintaining a house—but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to do some due diligence before you buy.

Here is our list of questions to ask as you look at lofts and condos in Tacoma:

1. How is it deeded?

Boy oh boy is this a boring seeming question, but it’s super important. Is it deeded as a townhouse or a condo? This has huge implications for which repairs you are individually responsible for and which ones the community pays for. Here’s a video Tacoma Real Estate Marguerite Martin made about the differences between the two:

The biggest takeaway is to figure out whether you responsible for just the walls in (condo) or whether you are responsible for the whole structure (townhouse). Oftentimes the dues on townhouse communities are much lower because when the time comes to paint or repair the roofs, everyone will pay as though it’s a house. Speaking of which…

2. How much are the homeowners dues?

A rookie mistake that a lot of first time Tacoma condo buyers make is looking for the buildings that have the lowest dues. Real talk, friends: If you buy a condo in a building with two elevators and a pool, those things are going to require maintenance. Roofs need to be replaced, shared driveways and parking lots need to be repaved, gym equipment breaks and needs to be updated, and on and on. Which leads us to…

3. Can I see the reserve study, please?

Savvy loft and condo buyers know that while getting an inspection on a condo is a smart thing to do, they also know that the second half of the inspection is the association’s reserve study. Ask your Tacoma real estate agent to make sure to negotiate a review period to look over the building’s reserve study. There’s a ton of information in the reserve study, including all of the projected expenses for the building over the coming years and how much the building SHOULD be saving to cover those expenses. It will also show how much the building is actually saving. If it comes time for your building to get a new $150,000 roof and the association has only saved $50,000, the remaining $100,000 will be divided up by the owners and everyone will have to pay a “special assessment.” If you’re not expecting it, those special assessments really suck. If you’re not a numbers person, have your accountant look over the document with you!

4. What are the pet restrictions?

While most condo buildings in Tacoma allow pets, the rules for which species of pets are allowed, how much they can weigh, and how many you can have vary wildly. Hopefully the condo you are buying is being listed by a condo specialist who knows to provide you with any pet restrictions up front, but if they don’t, make sure and ask to see a copy of the HOA rules. If you have dogs, find out in advance where folks in the building take their dogs for walks and see if that fits your lifestyle!

5. Who manages the building?

Typically in larger condo and loft buildings the management falls to a property management company. It’s valuable to ask how long that company has been managing the building. If they’ve had a lot of turnover in management companies, that could be a red flag. Sometimes in very small condo buildings where there are only a handful of units, owners will “self-manage.” This usually means one or two people do a ton of work to make sure everything is done, and if one of those people moves away, things can fall through the cracks. Be extra vigilant in vetting self-managed buildings in Tacoma and make sure everything is being run professionally. 

6. Have there been any lawsuits?

During the last housing boom, Tacoma had a lot of buildings converted from commercial buildings to condos and lofts. Some apartment buildings were also converted to condos and lofts. Some of them were done well, but some of them had issues that the HOAs felt were caused by the builders not doing a good job. Sky Terrace sued their builder about the siding, Mercado sued their builder about a plumbing issue. All kinds of stuff. The important thing to understand is that when an HOA is suing someone, typically it is not possible to get a loan to buy a unit in that building. Suddenly the only way to buy a loft or condo in a building with a lawsuit is cash. After the lawsuit is settled, lenders for future buyers will need to see the judge’s provisions. They want to make sure that if repairs were supposed to be made, they were completed per the judges instructions. This part can be complicated, so make sure both your lender and your real estate agent are Tacoma condo experts.

7. Are there any LIDs coming up?

Ahhhhh the LID, or “Local Improvement District.” This is a way for property owners in Tacoma to get together and pool their resources to do big improvements in their neighborhood. Famously the Broadway LID improved the streets, added parks, improved sewers, added lighting, and a bunch of other stuff. Condo owners along the street divided the cost with other property owners in the community. The thing about LIDs though is that the money isn’t assessed until the project is pretty much over, so oftentimes buyers who bought condos in these buildings didn’t realize they were going to need to pay thousands of dollars for improvements they didn’t realize they were financially on the hook for. This is why using a Tacoma agent who KNOWS CONDOS is so important. Out of area agents and non-specialists are often not aware of things like LIDs and don’t know to ask on your behalf. If you know in advance, you can try to negotiate it. ASK THE QUESTION!

8. Where do I park my car and my bike?

Urban living does not guarantee you a parking space in your building. Some Downtown Tacoma condo buildings don’t have any deeded parking at all (such as The Bridge). Others have parking for some units, but not others. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. Many condo owners with cars and no deeded space simply rent spaces in nearby garages. But this is definitely an important question to ask. Some buildings have bike storage for the community, but many expect you to keep your bikes in your own storage or in your unit. Ask up front! Don’t assume.

9. How is the building heated and cooled?

The type of heating units and air conditioning (if the units have it!) depends on the year the loft or condo was built or converted, and this varies wildly from building to building. Make sure to ask what kind of heating/cooling system the building and units have. How old are they? Are they energy efficient? Who owns them? Are the costs included in your maintenance fees? If not, how much are utility fees? Your home inspector can give a lot of insight into this during your inspection, but you still need to ask.

10. Where does the sun rise and set?

I know I know, this one seems obvious, but since the weather changes so much from season to season in Tacoma, it’s worth pausing and thinking things through. All that gorgeous light pouring in during the gloomy winter will become quite toasty in the summer! Will you need blinds? A/C? Natural Daylight lamps to stave off winter depression? 

Obviously these questions are only the beginning, and there are several more things you will want to consider when you buy a condo or loft in Tacoma. The thing that I most want to emphasize is that it’s essential to work with a local specialist who has sold a fair number of Tacoma condos in the last few years. Marguerite has been helping buyers in Downtown Tacoma for 15 years, and she’s happy to connect you with someone great. Feel free to reach out with questions or for an intro to an awesome Tacoma real estate agent.