Ask Us: Converting from Condo to Duplex or Single Family

Where readers ask and we try to answer:

Looking to understand how to change a 2 unit condo (1 building, 2 separate addresses, 1 owner) to a duplex or single family residence.

How this happened: We bought the upstairs, and when the bottom unit became available we bought the bottom unit.

Problem: Now deemed “unwarrantable” because we own more than 50%.

Result: Difficult and expensive to insure-paying commercial rates.

Also, increases interest rates and makes fewer loans available to us for refinancing.

Anyone who knows options, cost involved, pros & cons,please respond.


It’s not everyday we hear of people wanting to convert the other way, but it sounds like you’ll want your first stop to be here ( Then you’ll want to go down to the counter and actually pay them a visit and inquire about what it is you’re looking to do.

Have you thought about selling the downstairs unit, or do you need the space? What about selling both units and buying a single family? Having two separate condos is much more valuable than one “duplex” and possibly even a single family (depending on your location.) It might even be less of a hassle than what you’re thinking of doing. Just a thought.

Condo lottery results were in, who missed out? [theFrontSteps]

9 thoughts on “Ask Us: Converting from Condo to Duplex or Single Family

  1. I can tell you that converting from a two unit to a single family home was nearvery difficult. We live in Bernal Heights and had an unwarranted lower unit that was almost unliveable. So we decided to do the “right thing for the house” and put a stairway in to connect the two levels and bring back what we thought was the original state. The tax assessor came to look at it and agreed that the house divided as two units was not a positive thing and thought it would be an easy conversion. The house was built in 1900 the second unit magically appeared in the 1920’s. Because there was a history of two gas meters it was going to be hard to turn it back- I guess there is someting about reducing housing. So the tax assessor could do little to help us. Luckily the parcel listing was vague in some areas so Planning passed us on all inspections. It still reads as a two unit but now we have a reasonably sized single family home. It’s a tough road.

  2. C – so you didn’t actually finish the project with the Planning Commission to convert it? Just got the DBI to sign off on the work?

    On our project, we have approval from the PC to convert 2 units to a SFR, but haven’t finished with building permits yet. So… I don’t want to talk about it to much. :) But dealing with the PC was quite stressful!

  3. Nope we didn’t actually do the conversion because everyone told us that it was futile because the two gas meters had been in place for so long. Believe it or not, they had a picture of the lower unit front door from the mid-40’s in the tax assessors files. This was approximately 20 years after the unit had been built poorly and maintainted poorly for another 40. We’ve left it as a two-unit on the records as I guess it could be converted back.

  4. Perservation of units where the units are an abomination of the original structure is a classic example of city stupidity.

    Folks who reclaim the original building footprints are improving neighborhoods, and investing in communities.

    It’s a sad state of affairs when two units in one building is worth more than a Single Family Residence. There should a premium for not having to share your space.

    Write your supervisor and the mayor about planning.

  5. Agree with Kathleen’s comments! The tax assessor definitely agreed with us and met with us twice and followed up with us twice more to try to accomplish the conversion. Since it ultimately landed in Planning and they were road block bitches (sorry there is little we can do since the assessors office has record of two meters and pictures of two front doors) there was not much for us to do. Sounds like 65 Caselli may have had some of the same issues.

  6. Well we decided after all, to not combine the 2 condos. And, with the economy we are considering selling the bottom unit. We also are considering refinancing, however with the condo being unwarrantable we are not sure refinancing will benefit us. Any of you have anyone you recommend for refinancing an unwarrantable condo? Any experience with this…ours has always been higher interest rates because they seem to think we own a huge complex even though its just two units and one owner. I look forward to your responses.

  7. Hi C,

    We purchase a home in the outer richmond that has two separate gas meters, but it is physically – a single family residence. Records show that permits were obtained to remove the upstairs kitchen and convert the front porch to single entry, but it appears that it is still a multi-family unit on record, while it has been existing as a single family home for decades. It sounds like you are saying that it’s not worth trying to officially convert it to SFR, with the 2 separate gas meters, and the difficulty of justifying reduction in housing for possible rentals in SF?


  8. so what is the rule of converting a single family unit into apartments (3). we were unaware of the buyers plans and will now have an apartment next door and not a s.f.u. should they have recvd a special permit, posted a special notice advising the neighbors….’cause there was nothing and now it’s for sale!

  9. i’M a former real estate broker (I let my license go inactive when I moved out of state) and current mortgage banking professional answer:
    Sorry to tell you that you cannot convert your condo into a duplex or a single family. What differentiates condo’s are they do not own the land they sit on 100%-they share it with all the unit owners in the complex. Your condo would have to be side by side like a townhome style to be convertible into a townhome. But yours has the 1st story as a complete unit, and the 2nd story as complete unit. Someone lives up above or down below. Therefore neither one of you own the ground below you 100%-you share 50/50%. Your legal description “1/50th” ownership in your condo complex. Just by the legal description alone tells us your condo complex comprizes of just 2 units. Absolutely impossible to change your condo status. I feel your pain. In my biz, Condo’s are considered the STDs of real estate. Difficult to finance, more expensive to finance and harder to sell due to the marketabity. Definately tougher to sell than a single family or duplex, or townhome. Condo’s are much more expensive to own because your state has condo laws which imposes requirements for condo $$$reserves in your condo budget. It all hits you harder in your pocketbook than if you owned a duplex or townhome/SFR. A single family or a townhouse or a duplex (2 units with adjoining walls) do not have those state imposed requirements for reserves and replacement funds. Condo’s need a licensed manager to handle all the complex budgeting, state filings, assessments, liens and foreclosure filing actions for non-payment of assessments, adherence to ByLaws etc…. the list goes on and on. Only those who live in condo’s that are styled like townhomes that sit on their own piece of ground beneath them with no one else owning above them, have any chance of converting from a condo to a townhome/SFR(single family residence. I personally hate condo’s, because I know from being in the biz all downside. A home is the most expensive thing anyone could buy and not to have total control of my destiny with my own home and in my pocketbook with regard to it, would absolutely terrify me. Ignorance is blind. Condo is just not another name for a home. Its much scarier than that, trust me! Those who do not know all the nuances of a condo before they buy one are in for a world of hurt. BUYER BEWARE! i can’t stress that enough. The only way I would ever consider owning a condo or a townhome within an HOA, is the number of total units in that complex. The fewer the better.. 4 or less is my rule.

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