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Townhouse may make better home than condo

DEAR BOB: I've rented my apartment for 14 years, but recently the landlord gave me a substantial rent raise.

After shopping around, I realize my rent is still below market. However, I think I should be building some equity. When I read newspaper reports about how home values are rising, I know I should have bought years ago. But I wasn't sure I would remain in this area. I've been looking at condos and townhouses for possible purchase. Which do you think is best? _ Greta A.

DEAR GRETA: As an owner of a condo second home, I have some experience on this topic. In my opinion, most condos are glorified apartments. They can be great personal residences if you buy in a well-managed condominium complex.

The No. 1 complaint of condo owners is poor soundproofing, so check carefully. Also, before making a purchase offer, ask your prospective neighbors what they like best and least about the complex. Additionally, check the reserves and financial condition of the homeowners association, as well as any pending assessment increases. You will soon know if that condo is right for you.

Although most townhouses legally are condominiums, they are much different. Most townhouses have two stories, with the bedrooms usually upstairs. In many townhouse communities, each owner owns the land beneath the townhouse. However, townhouses usually share party walls so, again, check the soundproofing.

Given a choice between a comparable condo and a townhouse, take the townhouse for its many advantages, including easier resale.

DEAR BOB: We built our house two years ago but still need to finish the interior trim. We plan to sell it this spring. We started using vinyl trim, which is prestained and fake, because of time and money constraints. But we have only trimmed the bay window and around the patio doors. Should we continue in this manner, or should we start over using real wood trim? Will there be a significant difference in the appraisal by using the vinyl trim? _ Pam and Darin W.

DEAR PAM AND DARIN: I've never seen an appraiser who wrote "vinyl trim" on the appraisal and cut the resulting estimated market value. What you should be concerned about is how the trim will look to prospective buyers.

Having inspected many model homes, I've found it very difficult to tell the difference between quality vinyl trim and wood trim, except upon close inspection. Some vinyl crown moldings, in my opinion, look better than wood moldings and usually are less expensive.

Unless the vinyl trim looks cheap, I see no reason to change your plan. Of course, if the vinyl molding appears cut-rate or inferior, then changing to real wood might result in a quicker, easier sale for more money.

DEAR BOB: Following your sage advice, my wife and I have been renting an apartment for almost a year after I was transferred here. I'm glad we rented because we almost bought a nice house in a bad school district since we didn't know about the bad schools at the time of our move.

Now we are sick of apartment living and eager to buy a house. Virtually every weekend we look at new houses and Realtor open houses. However, we can't decide if we should buy a new house, with all its great up-to-date features, or an older house in an established neighborhood. Which do you recommend? _ Marty H.

DEAR MARTY: There is no right or wrong answer to your question. Personally, I like older established neighborhoods in top-quality school districts. The big risk of buying a new house is you can't be certain how the neighborhood will develop. If you can find a remodeled, up-to-date house in an older neighborhood, you'll have the best of both worlds.

_ Tribune Media Services Inc.