The value and savings of smaller condo buildings

Physicians Mario and Katie Gray DeAngelis at their Old City condo in an eight-unit building.
Physicians Mario and Katie Gray DeAngelis at their Old City condo in an eight-unit building. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 25, 2013

Smaller condominium buildings in the Philadelphia region continue to draw buyers, who are attracted by the convenience of condo living without the high owners' association fees and hotel-like feel that come with many high-rises.

Of the 1,218 condos sold in the city in the first 10 months of this year, 82.8 percent cost less than $500,000, according to data from Trend Multiple Listing Service in King of Prussia.

Buying in a Center City condo tower can mean spending $1 million or more. Thus, for many, the appeal of a smaller building is financial.

Mario DeAngelis and wife Katie Gray DeAngelis, both of whom are physicians, were renting in Waterfront Square before purchasing their 2,000-square-foot Old City condo in an eight-unit building.

"Initially, we started looking at larger buildings," said Mario DeAngelis, 35.

The couple found the dry-cleaning and chauffeur services, gyms and doormen offered at buildings with more expensive monthly fees unnecessary.

"There comes a point where there is zero benefit," said DeAngelis, who pays about $500 a month in fees.

A smaller building also attracted first-time buyer Mike Foley after he found the monthly fees at larger buildings to be surprisingly high.

"They ended up being almost as much as a mortgage payment," said the 26-year-old Foley, who works for a private-equity firm. "I didn't see the benefit."

With monthly fees under $200, a 1,400-square-foot condo in a 10-unit converted factory on the 1100 block of Shackamaxon Street in Fishtown offered a more intimate setting at an affordable price, he said.

And, many homeowners say, with fewer units and fewer residents to represent, the condo associations for such smaller buildings can meet their needs more often.

For Foley, who bought his two-bedroom condominium in June, and his neighbors, affordability is the priority.

"Everyone in the building tries to keep the condo fees down," he said.

The larger buildings had an impersonal vibe, too, Foley said.

"They feel less like home and more like a hotel," he said.

That's a sentiment, said Katie Gray DeAngelis, 38, that steered her and her husband to refocus their hunt on buildings of 20 units or fewer.

Plus, the potential for their vote to have a greater impact in a smaller association was appealing, she said: "Here, we make the decisions."

Having to accommodate the needs of residents in only eight units helped the association pinpoint the best video-intercom system for everyone and to evaluate whether hiring a private trash-collection service was truly worthwhile, Mario DeAngelis said.

"The bigger the association," he added, "the less say you have with what happens to your money."

Adam Novick, who is condo board president of his five-unit Washington Square West building, reiterated the significance of a low-member association.

"You get more control," he said. "In a large building, you don't need to get involved."

Novick noted that he passed on units in nearby high-rises because they had less square footage and lower-quality finishes.

"I found there was more value in some smaller properties," he said. "They are not cookie-cutter."

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