“Condo Mania”: Port City LIFE (January/February, 2006)
The first condominium I ever heard of was a vacation home in the hot sun of Florida, and back in the 1970s it seemed a part of the American dream. Condos continue to equate with that dream, but in a new way. Today they have become primary residences and a luxury lifestyle choice. Condominiums are a fast growing segment of the single-family market, and development is sweeping across parts of Maine. In Portland alone there are plans for more than 600 condos in the city; they are expected to sell for more than $300,000.00 each. Depending on size, custom-built features, and potential views of Casco Bay, some could sell for more than a million dollars.
“Right now is a unique time in the Portland market,” says David Gooch of Old Town Mortgage. “Mortgage rates are at a historic low, and there is great value out there. The condo market in particular has tremendous opportunity, as there are a plethora of good projects to choose from, with quality construction and well run coop boards.”
The condominium dweller owns everything from the walls inward and has rights to common areas such as elevators, hallways, pools, and clubhouses. Maintenance of these areas becomes the responsibility of a condominium association. It is apartment living with equity. For those who don’t want to be bothered with external maintenance or the responsibility of lawn care, condominium living is a great bet.
In southern Maine there are a variety of such housing opportunities – urban, coastal, and suburban. I took a brief tour of a few with Interior designer, Joanne Larman, owner of JML Casual Home. A favorite project of hers is in Foreside Commons in Falmouth. Originally built in the 1980s, it was in desperate need of a facelift.
The current owner’s changes from the original floor plan show how the desire for luxury has taken over today’s design choices. Purchased by a single dad to share with his teenage son, the condo’s small, cramped spaces were opened up, and this home is now equipped with three living rooms, a gourmet kitchen, and stone baths. Larman says, “This is a perfect example of affordable luxury, and everybody wants it.”
Larman’s redesign of 99 Silver Street in Portland occupies the opposite of the condo spectrum. The design here feels more like a yuppie playground. The tri-level space has been fitted with slick, shiny surfaces and technological updates. This project was designed for a single, busy, traveling executive. It is a tranquil enclave set within the bustling city.
This urban aesthetic holds a keen interest for Tracy Davis, founder of Urban Dwellings, a new design firm on Fore Street in Portland. “Urban style is not normally associated with Maine. We are used to seeing a cottage look. Condominiums are all about using smaller spaces more efficiently. The urban design I utilize has smaller scale furniture and an entirely new color palette. Smart design will make use of the histories of our area and incorporate those details unique to Maine,” she enthuses.
Jed Rathband of Stone’s Throw Consulting, who works with local developers, concurs. He warns against “megaplexes” in Maine and instead advocates a more boutique approach to condominium development, paying attention to historic height limits mandated by the city.
But no doubt about it, the condominium housing option offers a fresh approach to living in Maine.