912 S. Curtis Road 

Some friends of mine are looking for affordable housing. They would like to purchase property and earn equity, but not be house poor due to high payments. As I looked through the paper, I noticed an ad for the Bench Condominiums, and was surprised at how inexpensive they are.

The developers of these condominiums have purchased a 72-unit apartment complex on five acres. They are renovating the units and selling them as condominiums. The first thing I notice on arriving is the attractive landscaping. There is lots of lawn, and there are many mature trees. The grounds look like a park.

The new metal front door of the model is a dark color contrasting with the tans and creams of the exterior. All the locks--knobs and deadbolts--are being changed to ensure complete security. The stoop railings are newly painted, and the cinder block area surrounding the entrance is also newly painted. The buildings are mostly covered in what looks like brand new siding, but it is, in fact, the original siding.

Stepping inside the model unit, there's a modest-sized, cozy living room to the right. The floor is carpeted in attractive brand new black and tan speckled carpeting that covers all the floors except the kitchen and bathrooms. There are attractive built-in shelves, and a big under-stairs closet. All the windows in the house are newer and double-paned. They are all also covered in blinds. All the walls have been freshly painted muted colors. On the other side of the entrance is the dining room/kitchen. The electric appliances are included in the sale, including a garbage disposal and refrigerator. There is no microwave but there is a shelf especially built for one so no counter space is lost. The vinyl flooring is either brand new or like new.

Behind the kitchen is a half-bath. A few feet away, at the end of the living room, is a stairway with white wrought-iron railings that leads to the second floor, where there are two bedrooms. There is a niche in the corridor housing a stacked washer and dryer, which are included in the sale. All the lighting fixtures in the house are new and there is a ceiling fan at the head of the stairs. The bathroom has a tub with a shower, and there is a mirror and a mirrored medicine cabinet. There are smoke alarms, one hard-wired, in the house.

There is a $95 monthly association fee for these units. This includes a lot of services: water, sewer, trash, cable, landscape and pool maintenance and exterior insurance. All the owners need to pay are electricity and renters insurance for the interior of the house. That insurance would run $187 a year, and I'm told, with level-pay, the electricity costs $55 a month. The houses are all electric, heated with radiant heat in the ceilings. There is an air conditioning unit at the top of the stairs that cools the whole house. Each unit has access to two covered parking spaces under carports. The condos are on a bus route, and the site is centrally located close to Overland and Franklin Roads.

Pros: The park-like setting is quite striking. Most of the units are set quite a ways back from Curtis Road. There is a swimming pool for the owners, and also a play area for children. These affordable units will appreciate in value. As a matter of fact, a unit that just sold appraised at $10,000 more than the selling price.

Cons: Some of the interior walls are painted cinder block, which is not to my taste. I would see if I could plaster over the blocks to make them look like regular walls.

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