Questions Rarely Asked in the Suburbs

Buying housing in the Fan (or other older districts in the City), requires a special skill set from your agent. An agent versed in selling older homes knows that there is a different set of questions asked and guidance offered to help their clients understand the home they are buying. A partial list of questions (and the reasons behind them) are listed below:

Does the Home Have an Abatement (and what type/how long)?  Tax abatement is a program put in place by the city as an incentive to renovate homes.  In effect, the City’s abatement program foregoes taxing the improvements made to a property for a specified period of time.  The abatement attaches to the property (not the individual that performed the work) and thus any abatement remaining transfers to the purchaser for the duration of the abatement.

What Parking Zone?  Due to the premium placed on parking in The Fan, permits are issued (with a cost) based on the applicant’s address.  There are two zones more or less divided along the Upper/Lower district line (Lombardy) that govern whether an automobile can be parked daily or hourly.  Residents are required to re-up annually.  More details can be found on the city’s website.

Is there Multi-Family on the Block?  As a early 20th Century urban neighborhood, The Fan is truly a mixed-use AND mixed-income neighborhood.  During its construction, multi-family apartments were interspersed throughout the district and can be found on blocks of widely varied values.  While having a multi-family property on the block does not necessarily mean that the block has less value, it does mean that few questions should be asked.  Knowing the owner and/or the management company will tell you a great deal about the property.  Multi-family can also affect parking ratios and buying a home with no parking on a block with apartments may mean a struggle to find a space within several blocks.  Understanding the effect of multi-family on the block should be part of the analysis.

What is a modified bitumen roof?  And why do all fireplaces and flue convey in ‘as-is’ condition?  A roof on a Fan home really is more of a commercial roof than those on suburban detached homes.  With flatter slopes and gutter systems that are more or less built in, the roofs in the Fan District require additional care and radically different maintenance.  Different materials are used (different metals and composites) that require different care.  Along with roofing systems whose designs are 100+ years old, the fireplaces, chimneys and flues also require maintenance that differs greatly from the suburban housing of the past 30-40 years.  Tying together fireplace flues with furnace flues inside chimneys that are commonly shared with neighbors is quite an undertaking.  Maintaining them is a chore as well.

Does it have a valid C.O.?  Many homes in the Fan District were, at some point, used as income producing property.  Many times the homes that were converted or the basement apartments that were created never went through an official permit process.  Purchasing a home with an extra apartment needs to be verified via Letter of Zoning Compliance.  A good agent knows the process.

Rick Jarvis is one of the Founders of the One South Realty Group in Richmond, Virginia. He can be found at Google+ and Twitter