UT Reader Asks: New Condo Versus Old

by UrbanTurf Staff

UT Reader Asks: New Condo Versus Old: Figure 1

In this week’s installment of UrbanTurf Reader Asks, a reader who wants the character of an old condo and the amenities of a new one calls on the UrbanTurf audience for advice.

I’m a single, 40-something government employee with almost no debt. I don’t own a car, and I want to stay in DC. My dilemma: Do I stretch my budget a bit and go for a new condo downtown near work, or should I choose an older place with the kind of character I adore (crown molding, hardwoods, built-ins, etc.)? I’m not up for the maintenance on a house, and I probably can’t afford one anyway.

Aesthetically, I prefer old buildings, but central air, an in-unit washer/dryer, etc., amenities which are harder to find in older condos, are also important to me. As I discovered in looking at some pre-war buildings, things I take for granted like an elevator and trash chute often aren't present.

In addition, I fear surprise expenses that might accompany an older building, like repairs and upkeep of ancient plumbing, heating, and electrical systems. I'm curious whether those who picked to buy in a pre-war building versus a new one are pleased with their choice after a couple years, and vice versa (Are those who went with a newer property happy to have the modern touches despite the lack of "charm")? Thanks!

Post your thoughts in the comments section. If you would like to submit a question for UrbanTurf Reader Asks, send an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

See other articles related to: urbanturf reader asks, dclofts

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/ut_reader_asks_new_condo_versus_old/5139


  1. Found said at 9:06 pm on Wednesday February 15, 2012:
    An excellent question and one that I struggled with during my search. I chose a new condo close to downtown and don't regret it. Some of the character elements you alluded to I miss, but having all the modern amenities you mentioned outweigh not having the character. (Central A/C!!) Being close to my office was a big consideration for me and I can't tell you how nice it is to be able to walk to work. Good luck with your search!
  1. StringsAttached said at 9:13 pm on Wednesday February 15, 2012:
    As a married man (this is supposed to give me some clout as I comment on a woman's view) I would highly suggest going with the new condo hands down. By reading your question, it seems as though you would love the old home but you know in your heart that you don't want to deal with the stresses of owning one. I'll put it to you like this; horse drawn carriages are really romantic and have a ton of charm but if given the choice, would you choose that over a modern car? We call them "technological advances" for a reason 😃 Go new...you won't regret it.
  1. Coming2NoVA74 said at 9:29 pm on Wednesday February 15, 2012:
    I agree that a new condo would most certainly be the way to go. Like you, I do enjoy the charm of older units with the crown molding, plaster walls, original hardwoods, etc. But I most certainly would not give up my C/A, W/D, thermal windows, SS appliances, etc. So I suggest this - look for an older unit that's been renovated. There will certainly not be a ton of these around, but it's worth the effort if you like both. If nothing is available, then most certainly go for new. You'll never say to yourself "I wish I had gone for the beautiful old unit without A/C" in the middle of summer. Good luck.
  1. SloppyJoe said at 9:33 pm on Wednesday February 15, 2012:
    Don't let the name fool ya. I chose a hybrid of the 2. I purchased is SW at Potomac Place which is a conversion building which is an older building which has been renovated. The neighborhood is amazing, the price was cheap (compared to downtown) so I could get much more for my money here. I don't have w/d in unit (kind of a bummer) but we have a pretty cool laundry system that works via internet so it ends up being very convenient.
  1. Susan Isaacs, Realtor said at 9:35 pm on Wednesday February 15, 2012:
    To be really happy with your choice, you'll need to factor in your own preferences, lifestyle and budget. While other folks make good points, they are not YOU. Construction projects--no matter their age--are also unique, even if they may appear similar on the surface. Quality, location, project size, proximity to transport, shopping and entertainment venues, finishes, amenities and price point are all important variables. There are sometimes opportunities to add washer/dryer units to old condos/co-ops and in a smaller unit, window AC units are often just as effective as CAC. Some people love clean, modern lines while others prefer character. Some will trade off ambiance for a trip to the dumpster twice a week, others won't. Start with location, narrow to project, then to price point and size, and finally, factor in your interior wish list. You'll end up in the right place. Make up for any lacking features or finishes with decor. Have fun out there!
  1. Lisa said at 9:44 pm on Wednesday February 15, 2012:
    One thing to be mindful of in newer construction is that the standards used now aren't always as quality as the ones used in older buildings. Particularly sound-proofing--if you get a condo in a newer building that isn't on the top floor, definitely vet whether you can hear the neighbors walking around at all hours. If it's a newer building, also see how quickly the units have turned over. Talk to some neighbors, too, if you can.
  1. Wendy said at 10:24 pm on Wednesday February 15, 2012:
    Remember, you can also add crown moulding, large closets, beautiful older fixtures (to conform to your taste), etc. I bought on the newer side--the condo fee is low because of low maintenance needs, and while I'll be the first to say that the place lacks charm, it's possible and actually enjoyable to add charm. No regrets. Happiness is walking to work (and a washer/dryer in the unit!) Best of luck.
  1. Mike said at 1:50 pm on Thursday February 16, 2012:
    I was looking for a condo with the crown molding, old hardwood floors, etc. and found one that was totally re-done. They kept the original door frames, door handles, etc. and I love it...but I also love the modern washer/dryer, SS appliances, etc....yes, you can get BOTH.
  1. Ellen said at 2:02 pm on Thursday February 16, 2012:
    what about a unit in one of the older building's in Kalorama? they have older charm, but many have now been updated with central air and in-unit washer/dryers, i think.
  1. a said at 4:18 pm on Thursday February 16, 2012:
    I sold my older condo a few years back rather than retaining it as a rental unit, largely for some of the reasons mentioned here. Newer units are available and have greater demand/lower overhead, which makes them easier to sell or lease. The condo fees went up annually, even with decent reserves, as the cost of everything had immediate budget impact (boiler and chiller expensive to keep up). Nothing was efficient and everything was subject to expensive repair (roof, pointing, etc). I don't think older units retain their value as well relative to the market, where amenities like central AC, in unit washer/dryer and parking are more readily available. I liked the old unit, and it had character and some amenities (elevator, retrofitted CAC), but if I had to make the choice again I'd go new.
  1. DV said at 5:51 pm on Thursday February 16, 2012:
    Recently bought a brand new condo and couldn't be happier with my purchase. Also some developers include a warranty with the home so it almost feels like I'm renting since if something breaks, they will fix it. Def go with a newer condo with a warranty so there will be little maintenance worries!
  1. ls said at 6:40 pm on Thursday February 16, 2012:
    i think there are pros and cons to both, but its a big mistake to think that just because something is new and shiny that its good quality and won't cause headaches or cost a lot of money. new construction is almost always crappy, even in the super expensive buildings, and you could easily have lots of problems right when you move in. and you will definitely pay more for the "new" factor. it happened to me. and really sucked. if you want older unit, i would first inquire as to when the major systems and roof were last updated, how often they have raised the HOA and/or had special assessments, and how much in reserves they have. that will give you a sense of how well the building is run. good luck.
  1. saladman8283 said at 9:50 pm on Thursday February 16, 2012:
    Frequently with brand new buildings there is a lot of litigation, uncertainty and turmoil until things fall into place. Brand new board of directors, new property manager, inevitable construction defects, etc. If buying new, I would wait until the project is 5 - 8 years old until all this shakes out.
  1. swested said at 5:48 am on Friday February 17, 2012:
    I think @saladman has it right. The best places to choose are newer condos or apartments that have been "broken in" a bit. Brand new can be just as nightmarish as an older place that's falling apart, so just find the sweet spot of modern construction and conveniences with most of the kinks worked out.

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We've collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!