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Zero-lot-line homes provide privacy and low fees

Dear Steve,
I am a single, professional 29-year-old and interested in buying my first home. Condos appeal to me because property maintenance is included in the monthly fee. But I value my privacy and would really like a separate living unit. What are your thoughts? -- Evelyn

Dear Evelyn,
In many communities, there's a "tweener" option available to you called a zero-lot-line home. Also known as a patio home, garden home or narrow-lot home, the zero-lot-liner is especially popular with time-strapped, first-time home buyers such as yourself and empty nesters who want to forsake yard work, but don't want to live in a multifamily complex.

Most zero-lot line homes are built on or toward the edge of a lot's outer boundary (hence the "zero-lot" moniker), have either small front yards or small back yards (big enough for gardening), and just a thin strip of turf for side yards, thus minimizing maintenance.

The minimal yard upkeep is usually handled by a neighborhood association fee or simply a loose affiliation with a yard contractor who services the area. Or you can just hire your own contractor in many instances. In either case, it will probably cost you less than condo maintenance fees, which can range from about $150 to well over $400.

Of course, any exterior wear and tear on the house itself will be your responsibility, unlike with most condo associations.

Some cities restrict zero-lot-line developments by imposing mandatory home set-back rules that make such construction unfeasible. But more municipalities are taking to them because they allow for more efficient subdivision of property in areas where land is at a premium. They also create more residential density, which translates to more taxable living space per acre.

There are dozens of different floor plans. Many units are two or three stories high, and some have basements.

The jury is still out whether they appreciate as quickly as their full-lot cousins, but most Realtors believe they do, because they provide a lot more living space per square foot of land for less money -- which is especially relevant in high-demand areas along the Florida and California coasts, for example.

Most agents can direct you to listings for zero-lot-line or other small-lot houses.

Good luck with your decision.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy
-- Posted: June 4, 2005
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