- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

Q: I bought the only efficiency in a new condo building February 2001. I have 738 square feet and I love my building, location and neighborhood, so I don’t want to move. My studio is actually larger than 80 percent of the 1 bedrooms (they range from 660 square feet to 700 square feet) and are currently selling for around $260,000.

My unit is on the ground floor and directly above my unit is an identical space/foot print unit, but due to where it is in the building it was left unfinished (no plumbing, walls, but with electrical panels and ventilation/heating, etc.) and turned into a storage area for the residents. It consists of wire bins that are rented on a monthly basis.

I’m thinking of approaching the condo association and offering to buy the space with a mind toward combining the units.

My argument to convince the board, and other residents, would be based around the selling of the space would add revenue to the condo association budget and allow a reduction in everyone’s condo fees overall, as well as bring in revenue from the space from my increased condo fees that it currently isn’t generating, although there are rental fees from the bins.

Everyone in the adjoining units are relatively new — there are no original owners — so they have paid so much for their existing space that they probably couldn’t afford to buy or renovate anything else. I only paid $82,000 for mine and have the equity to make the purchase of the new space plus make the renovations that will make the entire project a steal. — B.C.

A: Your logic for combining the two units and understanding the purpose of the storage unit is flawed.

First, why would all the owners around you, who are common owners of the storage areas, want to allow you to double the size of your efficiency and lose what is apparently valuable storage space? Why would they want to let you get a “steal” by sacrificing their storage area?

You have apparently lived in your condo long enough to figure that it’s really not big enough — ergo, you want to expand it.

Your condo fees would not increase so dramatically as to reduce everyone else’s monthly fees. Condo fees are not a luxurious revenue, but rather they pay for the daily operation and maintenance of the common areas.

Second, more than likely the unit above yours was designed to be storage because of the small space available in the residential units. It’s difficult to imagine a developer who would “decide” not to finish one unit because it was placed awkwardly.

My advice is threefold: Get cozy with your current situation, find a larger unit in the same building that’s for sale and move into it, or move to another, larger condo in another building altogether.

Your idea of combining units has been done before.

In many condominiums, I’ve seen units that have been purchased together and then combined. Some owners have knocked out walls to allow two flats to grow horizontally, while others have simply drilled through a floor and added stairs to allow for access to an upper or lower unit. Many a penthouse was developed in this way.

If the condo association would be willing to let an owner expand a unit in such a way, you would then need to find a capable construction engineer and certified architect to complete the plans for you — especially to ensure you don’t damage the integrity of the whole building and the surrounding units.

I also would check with the local zoning board and governing boards to assure they would approve such a project.

By the time you pay for these type of improvements, you might as well have moved — because it might cost you more than what you’ll ever get out of the unit when you decide to sell.

M. Anthony Carr has written about the real estate industry for more than 14 years. Reach him by e-mail ([email protected]erols.com).

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