Defining Low Rise Condominiums in Center City Philadelphia

Here in Center City Philadelphia, low rise condominiums (LRCs) are numerous and are often favored by many buyers. LRCs are generally characterized by buildings that are less than four stories tall and generally have less than twenty condominium units in that particular association. They can be found in converted brownstone buildings or possibly small warehouse buildings throughout Center City. Many buyers find low rises advantageous for a number of reasons; probably the most significant would be the generally low condo fees. Since these buildings, in nature, lack services such as a front door man, a swimming pool, an attended parking garage, and sometimes elevators, naturally your condominium fees are going to be lower than you might find in a full service high rise condominium (HRC).

LRCs tend to have more charm than what you might find in an HRC. The reasoning is a lot of the brownstone that are being converted into LRCs were built 200 years ago where you have the big moldings, the thick doors, the fireplaces, the arched entryways, as opposed to a newer HRC which was built 25 years ago and wouldn’t have the elements of style and architecture. So the LRC buyer is generally very motivated by the low condo fees and the style and the architectural elements inherent in a lot of these old brownstones or warehouse buildings where you might have high ceilings and lots of exposed brick.

A few disadvantages that I hear buyers discuss when thinking about an LRC is sometimes a lack of an elevator if the unit they like happens to be a third floor walk-up. That can limit the “resale-ability” of an LRC. Also, the lack of a large association; in a LRC, buyers are more involved in the operation of the condominium because generally there’s four or five other people making decisions about where the money is being spent. As opposed to a high rise, where you pay your condo fees and, generally speaking, the board takes care of it. In an LRC you’re more apt to be involved in the board, and some people just don’t want to be bothered. However, the small board offers the opportunity to bend the rules a little bit. Say you live on the top floor of a five unit LRC and want to put a roof-deck in. The board is much more approachable than a 200 member board in an HRC, to make such condominium document alterations.

Another potential drawback we see in LRCs is that someone buying into, let’s say, a five unit building where there has been clearly very, very low condo fees being paid and therefore very little maintenance being done to the building over time. Like a high rise, and like a single-family, low rise buildings need to be maintained consistently over the years, otherwise buyers might find themselves buying into a low rise that is in need of significant improvements, and the cost is therefore only split between, let’s say, four or five other people. That hardship sometimes does have a tendency to alienate the LRC buyer.

There are a number of examples of LRCs here in Center City Philadelphia. From the “PUDs” (planned unit development) which are characterized by one condo being stacked upon another condominium and running down a city block. The other style of condominium that we commonly see is the brownstone conversion, where a very large single-family would have been converted into condominiums in time. Lastly, we’ll find LRCs prevalent in the small warehouse buildings primarily in the Old City or in the Northern Liberties area, where someone’s taken a small building and converted it to anywhere from four to twenty units. So, LRCs are a viable option for potential condo buyers here in Center City Philadelphia.

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