127 Marcia Place
Townhomes at 127 Marcia Pl. are for sale in Alamo Heights. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

Homebuyers in Texas are turning to townhomes and condominiums in increasing numbers as they look for more affordability in urban areas high in density and desirability.

Both condos and townhomes are becoming increasingly popular, even as prices go up, according to a report by the Texas Association of Realtors, with the trend catching on here in San Antonio.

While condos and townhomes are similar in that they are conjoined properties owned by individual tenants, condos are usually in a building similar to apartments and offer various shared amenities like a swimming pool or gym. Townhomes are architecturally similar to row houses in that owners usually share at least one or more walls and often have a small yard but no shared amenities.

Though condo sales fell 2.1 percent in the state between July 2017 and June 2018, prices climbed 3.4 percent. Townhome sales went up 6.3 percent in that period of time with prices also increasing by 2.3 percent. The average price-per-square foot in Texas during this time was $187 for condominiums and $139 for townhomes.

Across the San Antonio housing market, both the number of listings and sales of condos outpaced that of townhomes, though townhomes sales remained fairly steady. There were 1,017 new condo listings and 648 new townhome listings between July 2017 and June 2018.

In June, there were a total of 63 active condo listings in Alamo Heights, up from 56 the year before. But sales activity on listed townhomes was too low to track in the 78209 zip code, according to the Real Estate Center of Texas A&M University, which produces the Texas Condominium Sales Report.

That may be changing as newer housing stock comes to market in this established neighborhood near the urban core. At the eastern edge of Alamo Heights, on a tree-lined street of quaint cottages and storied homes typical of the area, three units within a recently renovated townhome complex have sold for top dollar within months of completion.

The 208 Grandview Townhomes complex is nestled within a lush garden setting and composed of eight newly renovated townhome units offering open living areas with elevated ceilings and wood flooring, contemporary kitchens, and spacious bedrooms with spa-like baths and walk-in closets.

Originally built in 1999, the former rental property got a complete overhaul after longtime local real estate broker Todd Beebe and retired CEO Al Stinson purchased it in 2017. The updated Spanish-style exterior is now more “Austin contemporary,” Beebe said, and inside, the homes feature open floor plans that are bright and modern. The first unit sold in February.

Prices start at $495,000 for the two-bedroom, two-story townhomes, each with its own private garage. Units range between 1,600 and 1,900 square feet, and the annual home owner’s association fees are between $500 and $625. “This is a great product in a high demand area,” Beebe said.

But it’s an area where purchasing a single-family home can mean big bucks. Online real estate marketplace Zillow shows the median list price per square foot in Alamo Heights is $267 (the San Antonio metro average is $124). The median price of homes currently listed in Alamo Heights is $642,500.

Quality schools and the central location are a draw, but so is home value, which has gone up 4.3 percent in the last year and held steady even in times of recession. Condos and townhomes are giving buyers all the benefits of an Alamo Heights address, without the time and expense of ongoing upkeep in a traditional home.

“With less maintenance and close proximity to popular attractions, many retirees and young professionals prefer condos and townhomes as an affordable alternative,” stated Kaki Lybbert, chairwoman of the Texas Association of Realtors.

Belinda Pustka, executive director of the Sunshine Cottage School for Deaf Children, was the first buyer of a townhome at Grandview. Pustka bought the townhome after living in a condo she owned for almost five years at The Broadway, a 20-story high-rise with luxury amenities.

“Somebody approached me about buying the condo and offered a very good price,” said Pustka, 63. “I loved being [at The Broadway], but I needed more room for [my father to stay here], so it all unfolded very naturally.”

Her must-haves for a new place included something close to her office and within the community she had come to enjoy, but a home Pustka and her husband could “lock and leave” on weekends when they visit their ranch or go fishing at the coast.

“I think there’s growing number of people who are approaching retirement and who look at this and say it’s a great lifestyle,” Pustka said. “It provides freedom but is also in close proximity to great restaurants and grocery stores. I can be downtown in a short period of time, and we like the parks. But we don’t want to have to take care of what’s outside the front door.”

She also didn’t want a dated townhome that needed extensive renovations, which describes many of the available townhome developments in Alamo Heights, said Libby Ross, lead agent for The Ross Group and listing agent for the five remaining units at Grandview.

“We’re not the lowest-[priced] new development around, but if you want that level of finish-out, it’s about the only game in town,” Ross said. “There are a lot of condos … and  townhomes that are older that are going to require renovation, that have foundation issues. The Pustkas are very active people and didn’t want any maintenance and upkeep, but wanted style and luxury they’ve become accustomed to.”

Grandview is just one of several new residential options for all kinds of buyers – including rentals – that are popping up throughout Alamo Heights near single-family homes and in more commercial areas of the incorporated enclave city.

Two blocks south of Grandview, across the street from Terrell Hills City Hall, developer LandModern is building the four-unit Grove Place Lofts, three-bedroom townhomes that will be completed this fall. Not far away and also in place of a traditional home, the three-unit modern townhomes at 127 Marcia Pl. are going in, with the first available in September. Two blocks from there, Austin real estate developers PSW created 10 single-family homes on a pocket of land at 133 Terrell Rd. Five homes are still available, and the website lists a starting price of $565,000.

Grove Place Lofts.
The Grove Place Lofts are for sale in Alamo Heights. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

On a bigger scale, further north and within a triangular tract at Broadway Street and Austin Highway, Argyle Residential is developing a 150-unit apartment complex with 5,100 square feet of retail space and a multi-story underground garage.

In a city with aging housing stock, most restored but some decaying, where nearly half of residents own their homes, these developments are introducing the kind of growth and renewal happening further south on Broadway near the Pearl.

“Alamo Heights had let the world pass us by, but new things are happening,” Beebe said. “It’s changing now because the real estate is now in the hands of a new generation.”

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.