Parent Q&A

Process to convert condo to single family home in Berkeley Sep 26, 2017 (1 responses below)
  • Hi we are looking to buy a condo in Cambridge MA or Boston and know many in the Bay Area have lived in this area - or have experienced small unit buildings here in the Bay Area.

    It seems that most of the condos for sale in Cambridge are in 2-4 unit buildings. We wondered if anyone has experience with this and what things we might want to be aware of.

    For example, what if you buy a place you love only to find you don't get along with the owner of the other unit?  What if you do like them, but they move and now you have to worry who they sell to as you have to manage things together like sharing the yard, snow removal and other maintenance issues? It seems so intimate in these small buildings.

    What if there are issues about maintenance or expenses you can't come to agreement on? What if they rent out their unit and you feel uneasy about the tenants and because these buildings are so small, you feel now like you are sharing a home with them?

    I am wondering if we should just avoid these smaller but charming buildings and only look at the largely condo buildings with professional management.

    Or anything else that comes to mind that may be useful?

    Also any suggestions at all for buying something close to Harvard (walking, or less than 25 min public transport) or Boston (near the main Boston Public Library) would be welcome.

    I searched for experiences about owning a condo in a small association in Cambridge but didn't find anything but surely sometimes it goes wrong. I know that there are many similar 2-3 unit buildings in SF & Berkeley so experiences here too would be very welcome!

    I grew up in Cambridge in a three unit building but we lived with my aunt and uncle and cousins and only had one unit occupied by non family. As a kid, it was amazing to live in a multi-family house like that. As an adult with a small child, I wish I had that here in Berkeley. The people I know in Berkeley who live in multi-unit situations are excited when there are other families that they can connect with. The most challenging situations I've experienced have been when families with children and those with no children have different needs around noise. My cousin is still in Cambridge and is a real estate agent if you'd like to speak with someone with professional experience/advice, let me know and I'll pass along contact info.

    All condos have CC&Rs which are the rules the condo association works by. But as my lawyer once said, the moment you really have to use the CC&Rs in a small condo, is the moment your relationship has failed. In small condo buildings, as you've indicated, personal relationships are paramount. So if you are serious about buying a condo in a small building, meet the other condo owners. Your agent and the sellers agent probably won't be helpful setting this up because it's an extra reason for you not to make an offer. Also most of your questions about maintenance, expenses, renting, etc should be covered in the CC&Rs. Before making an offer, READ the CC&Rs carefully. The CC&Rs should be part of the disclosure packet. If you feel uncomfortable reading them on you own, ask a knowledgeable friend who owns a condo or better yet, a real estate attorney to review it and walk you through it. The other items to READ carefully are the financial statements, maintenance schedule and the minutes to the board meetings. In particular look at the reserves. If there is little money in reserve you may be on the hook for replacing the roof or furnace despite not having had benefit of those items for the past several decades.

    We just moved from Somerville(right next to Cambridge) in January of 2020.  We owned a condo in a 2 unit building and we never had any issues.  We were the bottom unit and our upstairs neighbor put his place on the market about half way through our time were there.  We were lucky in that the people who bought it were an older couple who were our parents age.  He also told us that he wasn't interested in selling to someone who was an asshole and luckily for us there were no problems with the new upstairs neighbors.  

    Most condo associations have bylaws/rules regarding a lot of the things you have questions about.  For instance, we had something about no short term rentals (less than 6 months).

    With regards to location, are you going to be working near Harvard/Boston Public Library?  I'm assuming since you're posting on BPN that you have one or more children? Boston Latin is a great public highschool and is in the Brookline type area.  Cambridge has excellent public schools too.  Somerville isn't quite as good as cambridge but is still strong.  Somerville is more affordable then Cambridge.  Depending where in Cambridge you're looking, it's probably on par with the Brookline neighborhood of Boston.

    Also, our real estate agent was amazing and I'd highly recommend him if you're looking to buy in the Cambridge/Somerville area or even some of the surrounding neighborhoods:

  • Does anyone have experience converting a condo into a single family home in Berkeley? We have a home that is designated as a condo, even though it appears as a single family home. The reasoning behind this is unclear-- we were told that it was originally part of one lot with our next-door neighbor’s. The original owner divided it into two lots, with each lot designated as a condo. We maintain a separate lot from our neighbor, but an easement runs on one side of each home.

    Here are my questions. Has anyone encountered a similar issue? If so, were you able to convert it to a single family home? Could you share with me the process you went through with the City of Berkeley?

    Thank you.

    Call the City. It is highly likely that the lot did not meet the minimal lot size requirements at the time (currently 5000 sf, I think) or had another restriction (e.g., a lack of parking or access from the street) that disqualified it from being a single-family lot under the zoning at the time. That restriction might or might not still exist, so the answer could be different from what it was when the lot was first split--absolutely worth a call. They should be able to look up the history, see why it was not originally done as a single-family lot, and let you know if anything has changed.