Buying a townhome – What exactly is Zero Lot Line?

townhouseIf you are shopping for a townhome in the Seattle area, you will come across two potential forms of home ownership. One is called Zero Lot Line and the other is a Condominium. The townhome you are looking at could be either one, though Zero Lot Line is more prevalent at the moment in the city of Seattle. They are also growing more prominent in the suburbs.

Despite the funny name, the concept of a Zero Lot Line is pretty simple. It implies that one of the walls of the building lies directly on the property’s lot line, which in most cases is where it is attached to the neighboring home with a shared wall. When you own a Zero Lot Line townhome, you own the land below it, the building itself, plus the sky above it. In most cases, there is no homeowners association and no dues. However, there are joint maintenance agreements bound to the title of property which require owners to cooperate in the upkeep of shared items. Often these agreements cover items like shared roofs, shared driveways and exterior painting requirements.

Condos are different. When you buy a condominium, you don’t own the land underneath the building, rather you have a shared ownership of the land with other condo owners in the community. A condo will have a homeowners association, an association budget and the monthly homeowner dues that go along with that. You may also have a shared ownership of common areas of the structures, depending on how the building is laid out. If it is a condo, it is important to review the association documents and budget before purchasing. A poorly run or poorly funded condo association is generally something to stay away from.

There are pros and cons to each form of ownership, and I wouldn’t let either form of ownership prevent you from making an offer. If you purchase a Zero Lot Line townhome, be sure to review the joint maintenance agreement for that property. If you purchase a condominium, be sure to review the association documents, budget, rules and regulations.