Albuquerque, New Mexico, began marketing the beauty and vibrancy of its community as The Land of Enchantment more than 80 years ago. It was a statement and a prophecy. Today, the city stands as one of the 100 best places to live in the U.S., attracting new residents for its breathtaking scenery, healthy job market, and cultural diversity.
Before you get your down payment together for that adorable stucco house with the flat roof, however, you should be aware that those flat roofs can collect standing water if the drainage isn’t on point, and the flashing for your stucco can also cause long-term, expensive problems if it wasn’t installed correctly. And you’ll be far from the only buyer competing for the house.
To get you started, we spoke with experienced real estate agent Charlotte Trone, a first-time buyer specialist who works with 66% more single-family homes than the average Albuquerque agent, and with Jay Moore, president of the New Mexico Land & Title, to get their expert opinions about how to successfully buy a house in Albuquerque.
Establishing your price range in Albuquerque
Given the economic health and natural beauty of the area, Albuquerque may be the best-kept housing secret in the country, with a median December 2020 home price of $265,000 as reported by the Greater Albuquerque Association of RealtorsⓇ, well below the national median price of $346,800 as reported by the Federal Reserve for the fourth quarter of 2020.
But it’s possible the secret is out: The cost of homes throughout Albuquerque continues to escalate, with a forecasted growth of 10% or more through 2021. This may be great news for home sellers, but for homebuyers, it means working diligently with one of Albuquerque’s experienced real estate agents to ensure you are getting a home that is worth your investment.
Before you begin your search for a home in Albuquerque, consider what you can afford. (Check out our home affordability calculator to get started.)
In addition to the amount you plan to borrow for the mortgage, you will want to consider the mortgage interest rates that are being offered, the cost of home insurance, and your property tax rate, which generally ranges between $2,000 and $2,400 per year in New Mexico for a median-priced home.
According to Trone, the Albuquerque market was a seller’s market at the beginning of 2021, noting the median price of homes in Albuquerque rose 15.9% to $257,000 from January 2020 to January 2021.
“Our inventory decreased 60% over last year,” she said, adding that while there is plenty of new construction in Albuquerque, it is not currently keeping up with the demand.
Trone added that one of the key advantages of buying in Albuquerque is the moderate cost of living.
“Our cost of living is very good, compared to other cities, especially now when we are seeing large cities booming and getting more expensive.”
When’s the best time to buy?
Knowing the best time to buy a home in any market can help. Like many cities, prices in Albuquerque tend to go up during the high buying season, which typically takes place spring through summer, and then prices tend to moderate through late fall and winter.
“We definitely do a little boom in spring and summer, and it drops off after school starts,” Trone says, but notes that though you may have more sellers in spring and summer, you also have more buyers competing for those homes.
“When you can buy, buy. I never tell a seller to wait, either. Things do sell all year long.”
A few negotiating tips
Because Albuquerque is currently a seller’s market with historically low inventory, homebuyers must come in at least at list price, and often feel compelled to overbid.
“It’s important to make a very clean offer,” Trone says, and asking the seller to make certain concessions (such as paying closing costs) is likely to backfire when sellers are getting multiple offers on homes.
Albuquerque’s distinctive architecture
Buying in Albuquerque? You are in for an architectural treat — and a few cautionary tales.
“Our style is different from anywhere else,” Trone says. “We have adobe or pueblo-style houses with flat roofs. Traditional adobe style is sundried mud, and they have the wood vigas.” Pueblo-style homes also have flat roofs, but they will use masonry or stucco in lieu of traditional adobe bricks.
Interiors feature wood beams, including the traditional viga, or other round wood beams. Historically, the viga was the main structural beam of the house. Today, the viga is seen more frequently as an ornamental feature.
Walls are typically thick, making homes more energy-efficient.
“The old-style adobe will have brick floors,” Trone said. “They also often have display niches in the wall.”
These small carved shelves, known as nichos, are ubiquitous in the architecture throughout New Mexico. Another charming feature is the kiva fireplace, a rounded or beehive-shaped fireplace that makes an artistic addition to the living area.
In general, Trone said the features most in demand today in Albuquerque are homes that are move-in ready with an open concept.
“Homes with pools are selling like hotcakes,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of homes with pools,” and the coronavirus pandemic escalated demand for pools “with more people at home.”
She said the pandemic also inspired some minimal demand for office space, which she successfully found for a recent client. “I closed on a home yesterday, and their kids are home-schooled, and the father was working from home, so that home office was a big deal for them. I am definitely getting a little bit of that — but move-in ready is big because people don’t want to make repairs.”
… And the cautionary tale
There are three areas of concern that homebuyers should pay close attention to when buying in Albuquerque: cooling systems, flat roofs, and the stucco exterior.
In Albuquerque, there are two types of cooling units: traditional air conditioning and swamp coolers.
“If you are coming from anywhere else, you are used to refrigerated air,” she says. “But here, a lot of houses have swamp coolers or evaporative coolers. The swamp coolers don’t get as cool as you might be used to.”
Evaporative coolers are most efficient in low-humidity climates like Albuquerque. They cool the air by passing air over water-saturated pads and can lower the temperature by as much as 15 to 40 degrees. Most importantly, they cost nearly 50% less to install, and use nearly 75% less energy to run.
If it is an older home, Trone recommends having the flat roof inspected as well as the stucco exterior. Flat roofs don’t have the natural ability to drain water that a peaked roof offers, and if water is left standing on the roof due to drainage issues, it can cause a whole host of problems in the house you’re about to buy. They can also be more susceptible to leaking.
Stucco does crack and needs to be maintained and/or replaced. It’s especially vulnerable to water damage, and if water isn’t draining away from your home’s sides properly after rain, or the roof was leaking, the water will damage the stucco and leave stains. Sewer line inspections are also important, especially with the older homes, because there could be deterioration of any older materials.
Choosing your enchanted location
The city’s charm is credited in no small part to its geography and climate. Ranging in elevation from approximately 5,000 feet where the Rio Grande River snakes through the city to more than 6,500 feet where the city climbs towards the Sandia Mountains, Albuquerque enjoys 300+ days of sunshine and a climate that offers a full four seasons, despite its location in the desert southwest.
There is no lack of price range and choice when shopping for homes in Albuquerque. You can explore a wide range of distinct neighborhoods to determine your must-haves.
Young couples are often attracted to the Nob Hill neighborhood, where the University of New Mexico is located.
Running through Nob Hill is Central Avenue, which is a section of the famous Route 66. One of the hippest areas of Albuquerque, the area is bustling with popular brewpubs (check out La Cumbre), taquerias, and food trucks (Tacos la Mordida and Mystique are two favorites). Nob Hill also boasts clothing boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, and the ever-popular Guild Cinema.
The Rio Grande, which runs through the middle of Albuquerque, separates the older portions of the city from the newer builds.
“The east side of the city is where Albuquerque grew from,” says Trone. “This is where the older homes are, and they are more expensive. West of the river is the newer area and more affordable. The west side is where the expansion is happening.”
Getting to the closing table
Closing the deal in Albuquerque is straightforward, according to Jay Moore, president of the New Mexico Land and Title Company, a New Mexico-based title company that serves 13 counties in the state.
Once the title commitment is done, the title company orders the survey of the property, gathers the necessary information from the homeowners association, communicates with the seller about all payoffs that must be made, and then pulls together the necessary documents for the seller and homebuyer to sign.
“The big thing is for the homebuyer to be prepared and know what they are signing,” Moore says. It’s crucial to raise any issues that you see in your Closing Disclosure (which you’ll get three days before closing) immediately, or it will delay closing.
According to Moore, the biggest snag in the closing process is often on the seller side. “Our biggest problem is getting an authorization from a seller to get a payoff. If the seller does not pay attention to that, it can slow down or delay the closing,” Moore says.
Although e-recording is available in most counties in New Mexico, the state has not yet passed legislation that allows for fully digital closings.
In March 2020, due to COVID-19, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham did sign an executive order permitting remote notarization by video conference under specified conditions, and has renewed that executive order throughout the pandemic. Homebuyers should inquire if this service is still available in 2021 and beyond.
Find the right agent for the Albuquerque market
There is nothing more critical to navigating the home buying process than finding an experienced Albuquerque real estate agent to guide you through the process.
From finding the right neighborhood to negotiating the best deal to arranging for those all-important inspections, a top agent in Albuquerque can save you $41,691 on your new home — which will fund quite a few of your trips to your new favorite neighborhood taco truck.
Before you know it, you’ll be waking up every morning in the pueblo-style home of your dreams.
Header Image Source: (Sean Pavone / Shutterstock)