Incline Village Burnt Cedar Beach

Condo or Single-Family Home?

So you want a condo in Tahoe? Or maybe a cabin of your own with a little yard, and elbow room, and no homeowner's fees. Condo or single-family home?  Close to half of my buyers flipped-flopped on this question last year, and buyers who are on the fence ask the same question: which one is better for me?  The answer depends on your goals.

Convenience vs. Constraints    

Most condos and townhomes are maintained by a homeowner's association, eliminating the need for costly exterior repairs, landscape maintenance and snow removal. The convenience of a turn-key vacation property in your favorite destination is a price worth paying for some.  If you work long hours at a stressful city job all week, the last thing you want is to spend all weekend working at your Tahoe home.  

And some communities, like Incline Village on the Nevada side, include amenities like the lakefront swimming pool and white sand beaches that are exclusive to homeowners and their guests. Burnt Cedar beach (pictured above) is one of the more popular Incline Village destinations for families, as it offers barbecue areas, grassy lawns, as well as a snack bar. It's one of three private beaches in Incline, and one reason that some Incline condo buyers will choose a complex located south of Highway 28 in those areas more walkable to Lake Tahoe.



But all that convenience comes with constraints. A garage addition, a new sunroom, or upgraded windows might be a nice addition to your Tahoe condo, but CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions) in many areas prohibit arbitrary changes to the facade of the building. And while your condo driveway might easily fit your boat or small RV, that's also not allowed in many areas. Buyers who see condos as a less expensive way to dip a toe in the Tahoe market should ask themselves how often they plan to use the property and whether the extra space for entertaining family & guests is worth the added work of a single-family home.

Lower Prices vs. Higher Homeowner Association (HOA) fees    

Condos and townhomes are generally less expensive than single family homes in the same area. (Although less expensive doesn't always mean "inexpensive.")  In Tahoe, for example, the most expensive condo sold last year was at Northstar's Mountainside, a collection of contemporary townhomes on the slopes of Northstar near the Ritz-Carlton. That was a 4-bedroom Home Run unit that closed at $2.65 million cash, not exactly a drop in the bucket; but less than half of what a single family home is asking in the same area. HOA fees at the Mountainside condos, for example, are close to $15,000/year. And HOA fees, like bridge tolls, usually move in just one direction.

Resort Living vs. population density    

From small cabins in the woods to lakefront estates, Lake Tahoe offers a unique escape from urban living and year-round recreational opportunities. Condos can offer a "resort" experience with swimming pools, tennis, and social events that would be impossible to replicate with anything less than an Estate property. The downside for the buyer who values privacy is that condos and townhomes are clustered together, with owners typically sharing common areas among neighbors and, in many cases, their renters or guests. 

Martis Camp ~ Luxury for High Net Worth Buyers

Several communities in Tahoe offer the resort lifestyle with single family home options. At the high end is Martis Camp, a luxury gated community of about 600 homesites heralded by Forbes magazine as "Possibly the best four-season private community in the US"  

Martis Camp Home Preview



Tahoe Donner pool

A more affordable option is Tahoe Donner, a community of some 6,000 homesites in the hills above Truckee that offers one of the most extensive amenity packages for the price ($2,065/year includes member pricing for golf, the tennis center, gym, pools, and a cross country ski center voted as one of the "best in North America.")

Browse Tahoe Donner Homes for Sale


 Cash Flow vs Appreciation    

Many buyers want a property that can be rented for part of the year to help defray the costs of ownership. Both condos and single-family homes rent well in Tahoe, but a condo with onsite management is way easier to handle from afar than a single-family home you're managing on Airbnb. (Think: less maintenance, hassle-free snow removal, and someone else comes out at night when a key won't work.) The price for that can be management fees of around 35%, but many of these condos rent very well with return visitors.  

Many single-family homes make excellent ski leases (a setup in which you rent your home - furnished - for an entire ski season. The ski lease can be one of the best ways to cash flow a home, but that also means you don't have access to your house for the winter. Single-family homes will also tend to appreciate better over time than condos, but some lakefront condos at Tahoe have certainly done very well over the past few decades.

Really, it comes down to a "Lifestyle" question. Not every decision in life is ruled by economics. What Tahoe offers to those fortunate enough to have a home here is an escape from the rigors of the daily work-world, a return to nature, to family & friends.

There is an intangible value to fresh powder on a bluebird day, to swimming in an alpine lake, or a hike where the only sound you hear are the birds.

Whether you find that through the convenience of a condo, or the permanence of a single-family home depends on your goals. If you'd like help deciding, contact me, or give me a call. I'm happy to offer a tour of local resorts or condo complexes to help you decide ~ Jackie


Posted by Jackie Ginley on


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