Sunday, January 07, 2007

Townhouse Comparison: All in A Day's Work

We decided to devote some time today to check out some of the townhouses offered for sale. So we called up a friend who has been living in the vicinity of Temple Terrace and New Tampa, two areas that we have in mind, to accompany us on the mission, but more importantly, to offer a perspective from one who has gone through the process and is familiar with the areas. The friend, Ling, gracefully agreed to be the site guide. And we arrived promptly by her house at 12.30 pm to receive some house buying tips. Unfortunately, Bill, Ling's husband, had to work at the USF Library for the day. Otherwise his experience on looking out for structural defects would be most valuable. But we were comforted by the fact that these are not individually owned homes that we would be looking at. So the chances of any structural defect not attended to are likely slim to non-existent.

We first had lunch at the Lin Garden along N 56th St., which was packed with patrons who had just finished their Sunday morning church service. It was a buffet lunch, and the restaurant offered a variety of Asian and Western cuisine in the form of prepared dishes. A unique d├ęcor of the restaurant is this repetitious design on the ceiling, which features a dragon and a phoenix, two legendary Chinese animals that signify prosperity and serenity. This was supplemented by paintings and designs depicting nature with chinese calligraphy celebrating the various virtues hung on the wall. All add up to render a feel of ancient chinese aura.

The food was OK, not unlike those that we have tasted at South Tampa. But the pot of tea that we ordered was something else. At first my wife was apprehensive about the darkish color, but Ling explained that it is characteristic of the Pu Er tea from China. And it tasted good, with a lingering taste, and was effective in reducing the oily feel of the typical food cooked the Asian way. And the smiles said it all.

The first site is the Sunridge Condominium along N 50th St just across from the USF campus (the image is courtesy of the project website). This was a former apartment complex for rent, built in the late 1980s, that has been upgraded to a condominium, a process called conversion. It is an ungated community fringed by a woody area behind. The houses comprise two-storey townhouses and 1-, 2, and 3-storey villa homes but we only visited two show units, both 3Bed/2Bath, one is an intermediate (Solaris: 1,161 sq.ft) and the other an end unit (Crescent: 1,244 sq.ft).

Ling helped us to locate the potential units, guided by the time-tested criteria that it’s away from the main entrance and that it does not face the afternoon/evening sun. As a practical matter, my wife added that it should not be within sighting, or rather smelling, distance of the garbage disposal unit. We soon narrowed down to two potential units, taking into account that hardly ten units were left.

Being next to USF, the site enjoys a busy setting, but not to the extent of crowdedness. Most shops are within easy reach, with MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry) of the body parts exhibit fame, and Busch Gardens Theme Park another stone-throw or two farther away. According to Mapquest, it’s about 13 miles from my office, via I-275, which can be quite a harried commute, especially the after-work traffic. After we were given the contact number of the lenders, we bid farewell to Amanda, the sales agent who showed us around and who has previously worked at my current apartment complex at South Tampa. Talk about a small world!

Then we cruised along the Bruce B. Down Blvd., heading for the Equestrian Parc at Highwoods Preserve, just beyond I-75. The first thing that struck us when we reached the site was the plentiful greenery surrounding the site. On the way we passed the Tampa Palm development comprising many phases, which contributes perhaps to the notorious gridlock along the Bruce B. Down Blvd. We will have to think about that.

Karen, the attending sales agent, explained that the development is not associated with any horse-riding activity despite the name. It’s a sprawling gated community comprising 3-storey apartment complexes (the image is courtesy of the project website). Similar to the Sunridge community, it is in the process of conversion to apartment homes, but it’s much newer, being four years old.

The 3Bed/2Bath homes are featured in the Clydesdale floor plan, at 1,386 sq.ft. The show unit looked positively inviting, and more pricy too compared to the first site. But you pay for what you get. The downside is it adds another 8 miles to the traveling distance to my office, and via the much dreaded Bruce B. Down at that. We will have to discuss further the logistics with our D who would have another one and half months of long commute to her school at South Tampa at the end of our current lease and before she is done with high school, if we decided to take up the unit.

Each of the site advertises a saving galore for potential buyers comprising price rebate, closing fee incentive, etc., reflecting the fierce competition engendered by the sluggish housing market. The agents added that the saving package changes month by month, perhaps with a slight hint that good things may not last.

Buying a home is an important decision and requires comparative shopping the depth of which is beyond any other purchase that one could have made in a lifetime. This is just the start of our house hunt and already I’m feeling the fatigue, some of which was considerably ameliorated by a pot of Earl Grey tea brewed by Ling, our ever gracious host for the day, before we headed for home. Considering that my wife was wearing a Polo shirt, and that I belong to the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Horse, we do take a special liking to the Equestrian Parc site. But that’s hardly any rationale on which to base the purchase decision of a home.

We came home close to 6 pm, almost 6 hours of mission time but with only two sites to show. I think we have to be more efficient if we were to close one before our current lease runs out. Otherwise, it will be more of renting, and with that, more money down the drain as far as building a home equity is concerned.


CY said...

Ooo!!! Looking to BUY, huh?? How exciting! But yeah, don't know about buying property in Tampa... I mean, look at those people in New Orleans... Happily ever after--or so they thought!!! On the other hand, the money will be going toward an investment. Hm...toughie! I look forward to reading more about this search, as well as looking at the pictures!

Say Lee said...

Our over-riding consideration is to buy one that is at least out of the hurricane evacuation zone in the event of a hurricane induced storm surge, which means flooding and inundation. Yes, like The Big Easy.

The commute time will also be another factor. So we can't look too far.

The third is cost.

So at the moment it's still a toss up between buying and renting.