Seriously, Which Floor Should I Buy? [Analysis]

by Osman Parvez

Is a top floor worth more than a bottom floor?  Of course it is - but how much more?

How about 21%?   That's the peak price difference between top and bottom floor units at Aspen Grove, a popular Boulder condo development.  

At the moment, I have two clients interested in buying units at Aspen Grove - prompting this analysis.    One wants a condo for investment purposes.  The other as a personal residence.     

I've advised both to consider only 3rd floor units.  Here's why. 

Show Me The Numbers
As my clients know, I like to have numbers to back up my opinions. Intuition has its place too, but fundamental analysis tends to hold up better over time. If nothing else, there's less hand waving.   

Let's look at the numbers. 

The chart above shows the average sale price of condos at Aspen Grove.   All units are 2 bedroom, 2 baths and about the same size.    2013 is year to date (YTD) as additional sales could occur this year. 

Value Added, Indeed
The difference between the average sale price of 3rd floor unit and a 1st floor unit has ranged between $7,819 to $32,367.   That's a decent chunk of change.   

Q: Why are buyers willing to pay as much as a 21% premium for a top floor unit?   

A:  Nobody lives above you, which translates into a quieter living space.    Top floor units also have better views and, in the case of Aspen Grove,  a more private patio.   Top floors have better light, feel more airy, and are less claustrophobic. 

If you're an investor, think about the additional attractiveness of a top floor unit to your potential tenants.   You might get more rent and have an easier time finding a high quality tenant.   

Rubber Meets Road
Occasionally, I'll find myself negotiating against another agent who would - for self serving reasons - prefer to think that floor choice doesn't matter.    

It does.   

If you're thinking about writing an offer or listing your unit for sale, you also need to pay attention to location within the complex, orientation, updates, and view corridors.   (Note:  call me for further factors to achieving maximum value.  303.746.6896). 

How's the Market?
As of this writing, there are only two units on the market at Aspen Grove (link).   I took a client to see the first floor unit (#C112 - asking $164,500) in early October.   Although pitched as not having flood damage, the ceiling told another story (pic).  After I sent the listing agent the pic, the owner took it off the MLS, presumably to make repairs, and brought it back a couple of weeks ago.   It's now under contract.  

I saw the top floor unit (#A327 - asking $189,900) a couple of days after it hit the MLS.   Priced $25,400 more than the bottom floor unit, this one wasn't updated but featured good views to the mountains and overlooked the pool.   Not mentioned in the advertising - the completely private patio (most are pseudo private at Aspen Grove).      

Days on market for the soggy, bottom floor unit?  46.    

How about the more expensive top floor unit with the views?   5. 

Is there really any comparison?    Top floor units aren't just worth more, they sell much faster. 

Impact to the Bottom Line?   
To buy the top floor unit, you'd need about $5,000 more for down payment (assuming 20% down) and about $110 more a month (assuming a fixed 5% mortgage with a 30 year amortization).   

Market conditions being equal - down the road, your top floor unit will likely sell faster and retain value better. If you can swing it, it's worth the added cost.  

Of course, neither units described above are currently available to purchase.  They're both under contract and heading to closing.    If you're looking to buy, you'll need to prepare to act quickly.  Choose your buyer's agent early. 

p.s.   Take another look at the chart.   Maybe it's an anomaly, but 2nd floor units closed the gap during the past two years.  My hypothesis is that the inventory shortage is causing buyers to overpay for 2nd floor units.  That or 3rd floor sellers are leaving money on the table.     Either way, it's reasonable to expect that over the long term, top floor units will continue to price substantially ahead of 1st and 2nd floor units.    
Like this analysis?    Subscribe to my research.       Want to meet me in person?    Attend a Boulder Real Estate Meetup.    Ready to buy or sell?  Call me at 303.746.6896.  

Note:  Buying or selling real estate involves risk.   This post in way advocates you do either.  Seek the advice of your paid, professional financial adviser before making a real estate decision. 

Please Note

This document contains forward-looking statements. You are strongly cautioned that investment results are subject to business, economic and other uncertainties. There are no guarantees associated with any forecast and the opinions stated here are subject to change at any time. Always consult your financial advisor before making an investment decision.