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Condo crazy

As Clark County prices itself out of the start home market, condominiums are following fast behind

For the first time in Clark County, the area has priced itself out of the starter homes market. With the rising cost of construction and the demand for housing, the average price of a residential piece of property in the county has risen dramatically to $263,900.

Enter: Condominiums.

“In the past, houses were affordable enough that people could buy houses; only now have condos become the choice for first time homebuyers,” said Mike Lamb, an associate broker with Windermere Vancouver.

As of the middle of August, 122 condos were available in the county and 472 had been sold to date this year, 8 percent of total residential units sold. The condo “demographic” – although new to this region – fits the typical buyers in other saturated markets: empty-nesters and retirees, first time homebuyers and singles. The others are “lifestyle” buyers, said Lamb – those who will purchase condos at the Vancouvercenter or on the waterfront. Although new condos in the area are pushing $200,000, the average price for a condominium remains at $183,759, and they have been a mixture of conversions and new constructions.

Tom Young – quick to point out he is not the banker Tom Young – and his wife Julie have converted their vintage downtown apartments into condos under the name Academy Square Condominiums. With 36 units in nine buildings, the Youngs opened the offering to the public in the middle of June and have sold all 12 two-bedrooms starting at $149,500 and are down to just a few one-bedrooms, starting in the $130s. The condos are unique because the building is so old – most of the features date back to the complex’s original construction in 1944. The units have been updated with dishwashers and European-style washer/dryer units. Buyers can choose to upgrade their homes with a number of amenities including marble countertops in the kitchen, custom maple bookshelves and pedestal sinks in the bathroom. Each unit has hard wood floors throughout and a decidedly vintage feel.

Six units are being saved for people who may want to combine two one-bedrooms into a side-by-side or two-story master unit at 1,040 square feet. They would be the “crown jewels,” of the complex, said Young, and would run about $260,000.

Young said they have seen no first-time homebuyers or retirees, contrary to the typical condo crowd. Instead they are selling to singles and folks buying homes for their children, and some empty-nesters who want to be close to downtown. Academy Square Condominiums is located at 12th Ave. and “C” St. Young expects to sell the rest of the units by the first of October.

Young found only three other units in the area at his prices, and–having owned the complex for several years–decided the housing market demanded the conversion.

“Part of it is that there is a real need for housing, and the rental market has been somewhat soft, so (it was a) logical conversion,” he said. “My perception was that since it’s very difficult to find something under $200,000, they would be welcomed.”

Condos generally appreciate at the same rate as homes and along the same rules – that the neighborhood doesn’t fall apart and that the neighbors are civil and respectful.

“There have been times when condos have actually outperformed the market,” said Lamb. He added that “the lower market seems to be running up faster than the higher end market because of supply and demand.”

Young owns another 42 units undergoing conversion from apartments to condos in Washougal. More typical – built in the 1980’s, carpeted and with garages – these units are more than 1,000 square feet and are expected to sell for the mid-to-high $150s. He used to own investments in Portland but sold the last in July.

Young does not think of himself as a developer.

“These are part of my retirement program. I am just doing an adjustment on my portfolio,” he said.

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