What Is A Villa?

An ever-increasing number of aging baby boomers are becoming empty nesters and coming to the realization they no longer need that 3, 4 or even 5 bedroom home they own.  In addition, many of them, also find themselves tired of the upkeep that comes with the big house on the large lot.  These issues, along with a desire for a lifestyle change, has led to a growing demand for alternative types of housing including condominiums and villas with the latter being the most popular.

What exactly is a “villa”?

The interesting thing is, even though the demand for villa’s has skyrocketed, StLouisVillas.com saw a 95% increase in sessions during the past 30 days from a year ago for example,  many buyers, and even real estate agents, have difficulty defining what a “villa” is.  Many buyers, and even real estate agents, assume all villa’s are condominiums, which is not so.  Most think villas are one-story with no exterior maintenance for the villa owner to worry about as the association takes care of everything and, while that may be true in some cases, that is not true in most.

When I talk with people that say they are interested in a villa and ask them what they are looking for in a “villa” what I find is that most will describe a lifestyle more than a particular architectural style of home or type of ownership.  Granted, it’s not that important that home buyers know what a villa is, as what they care about is that whatever housing they are looking at will meet their needs.  However, I do think it’s important for buyers to understand the different types of ownership villas may have as well as have an understanding of what to look for in terms of what the villa association actually takes care of or maintains.

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The ironic thing is a true “villa” is almost an exact opposite of what villa buyers are looking for.

The origin of the term “Villa” dates back to Roman times when “Villa” referred a large country estate owned by a wealthy person.  Hardly that single level, modest sized, “built for 2”, low-maintenance villa lifestyle everyone is looking for….ha ha.

If villas are not all condominiums then what are they and how can I tell the difference?

Ok, this is the tricky part and my answer is going to sound very self-serving, but you really need to have a buyers agent represent you that has a good understanding of villas.  Having said that, it’s relatively simple, kind of.  In Missouri, most residential property ownership is either “fee-simple” or “condominium”.   Most detached single-family homes are fee-simple, meaning the owner owns the land itself, as well as all improvements (like the house) on the land.  Apartment style condominiums in multi-story buildings are condominiums, so that’s pretty simple too.  Now for the tricky part, a villa can be fee-simple, meaning you own the lot as well as the improvements (the villa) or it can be a condominium, meaning you own your “unit” as well as a percentage of the common elements such as common ground, recreational areas, etc.

If the villa is part of a duplex, it must be a condominium, right?

No.  There are many villas that are built duplex style, meaning there are two separate villas with typically one shared common wall.  Just because there is a shared common wall does not mean it is a condominium, in fact many are not.  If fee-simple, the lot line would go down the middle of the shared wall so you would still own the lot as well as the improvements upon it, but when it comes to the shared wall you would just own to the center of it.  In this case you would want to make sure there is a shared wall agreement on record so that you are protected in case of fire or other damage to the shared elements.

If the villa is a condominium then all the exterior is maintained by the condominium association, right?

Wrong.  While that may be true, just because the villa is in fact a condo does not automatically mean that any of the exterior is taken care of.  Granted, it would be unusual for the condo association not to maintain the grounds, but there may be little or no exterior maintenance of the villa itself covered.

How to figure it all out and know what you are getting when you buy a villa.

I think I mentioned this earlier but,  just in case you forgot, you really need to have a buyers agent represent you that is knowledgeable and experienced in this area.    Next, here are some suggestions I have:

  1. Find out if the villa is a condo or fee-simple and don’t just take the agents word for it, ask for proof.  The best proof is a copy of the title commitment (or current owner’s title policy) which will indicate “fee-simple” as the ownership if it is fee-simple and, if a condo, will indicate a unit # and percentage of common elements owned.  If you can’t get the title commitment or policy, ask for the legal description of the property, which is public information and readily available, it will either have “lot #…” for fee-simple, or “unit # and % of common…” for a condo.
  2. Get a copy of the sellers disclosure statement and pay particular attention to the first section near the bottom of the first page titled “Subdivision, Condominium, Villa, Co-Op, or other shared cost development”.  Read everything in that section carefully as it will disclose the type of ownership (fee-simple or condo), although I would still verify it in the manner I suggested in #1 above, the assessments, what the assessments cover and much more.  If there is not a seller’s disclosure available, I would be concerned and, at a minimum, request it in the contract and make the contract subject to your review of it (the St Louis REALTOR standard contract has this clause available).
  3. When you make an offer, make sure your contract includes the “Condominiums, Villas or Similar Lifestyle Community Rider”. This will require the seller to provide you a Condominium Resale Certificate, if a condominium (state law requires this as well) or a “Villas or Similar Lifestyle Communities Resale Information”.  If using the standard St Louis REALTOR Residential sale contract and rider, this will give you 5 days after receipt of the aforementioned information to review the information and back out of the contract if you don’t like what you see.
  4. If the villa you are buying is a condominium, I would make sure you actually receive the resale certificate referenced in #3 above and make sure it is fully completed, with all questions answered and it have all the information required by the state condominium statute which includes:
    • (1) The effect on the proposed disposition of any right of first refusal or other restraint on the free alienability of the unit;
    • (2) The amount of the monthly common expense assessment and any unpaid common expense or special assessment currently due and payable from the selling unit owner;
    • (3) Any other fees payable by unit owners;
    • (4) Any capital expenditures anticipated by the association for the current and two next succeeding fiscal years;
    • (5) The amount of any reserves for capital expenditures and of any portions of those reserves designated by the association for any specified projects;
    • (6) The most recent regularly prepared balance sheet and income and expense statement, if any, of the association;
    • (7) The current operating budget of the association;
    • (8) A statement of any unsatisfied judgments against the association and the status of any pending suits in which the association is a defendant;
    • (9) A statement describing any insurance coverage provided for the benefit of unit owners;
    • (10) A statement as to whether the executive board has knowledge that any alterations or improvements to the unit or to the limited common elements assigned thereto violate any provision of the declaration; and
    • (11) A statement of the remaining term of any leasehold estate affecting the condominium and the provisions governing any extension or renewal thereof.
    • NOTE – the information above is NOT OPTIONAL and is required by Missouri State law.  In fact, the condominium statute requires the condo association to provide this information within 10 days of request.
    • Don’t miss this part – Another reason to make sure you get the certificate is because of this next sentence from the condo statute- “A purchaser is not liable for any unpaid assessment or fee greater than the amount set forth in the certificate prepared by the association.”  Several years ago I bought a condo in a Clayton high-rise as an investment and, shortly thereafter, received an invoice for a $29,000 special assessment to cover extensive tuck-pointing and waterproofing work needed on the building.  This special assessment had not been disclosed in my condo resale certificate so I ended up not being liable for it!
  5. If the villa you are buying is fee-simple, then make sure you receive the villa resale information referenced in #3 above and review it carefully.  Unfortunately, there is not a state law stipulating what must be in this information like there is for condominiums, but, at a minimum it should have the current assessments, any contemplated special assessments and what is included in the assessment in terms of upkeep and maintenance. If what you received is not complete, ask for more info.  If you can’t get what you need to feel comfortable, then exercise your right to walk under the rider.

There you have it…the short answer to “what is a villa”.



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