Is Condo Living Right for You?
If you're in the market to buy a home and are looking for increased living conveniences, less space to take care of, fewer maintenance requirements, or perhaps a typical single-unit home isn't in your price range, then you may want to consider a condominium.
First, what is a condominium? It is housing type whereby the owner purchases and owns a unit of housing in a multi-unit building. When you buy a condominium unit, you're buying all the space contained within the walls and a portion of the community’s common areas. The owners of a condominium community share financial responsibility and governance for common areas by forming an association to manage the building. The exterior of buildings, the landscaping, surrounding roads and driveways, and all other common areas are all owned by the condo association, a group made up of all unit owners.
How do you know if a condominium is right for you? Start thinking about the following as you consider a purchase:
- Your living needs. Condos typically offer less space than single-family homes, usually only containing two or three bedrooms and minimal storage space. You’ll want to consider future space requirements as your household evolves.
- Outdoor space. Some condos offer a pool, roof-top decks and terraces, and common health club or exercise facilities. On the other hand, some condos don’t offer any of these common spaces. You’ll want to decide how important these communal spaces are and how often you may utilize their value, as you’ll be paying for them through association fees. Pick the community that is the best fit for your entertainment, pet, and children related green-space needs.
- Amenities, features, parking. Does the property offer features such as roof-top decks and other entertainment areas, lobby/reception areas, fitness equipment, street-level retail inside the building? Are there additional costs to use on-site facilities? In many areas, especially downtown, parking is a major issue. How many spaces per unit are included? Are other spaces available? Is street parking available? Is the parking covered?
- Stairs and elevators. Many condominium units are multi-level and therefore require frequent trips up-and-down stairs. Most condo buildings will include an elevator to access upper floors. Check the number, size and speed of the elevators – some may be difficult to move furniture in, or may be slow if too many units share one elevator.
- Security. Some developments have electronic exterior doors and gates that require a user code to enter. Most downtown condo developments offer controlled access. Look for good lighting around buildings and strategically designed landscaping to minimize burglary risks.
- Association fees and reserve funds. You'll want to ask about the monthly fees and whether increases are planned. These fees may pay for general maintenance of the buildings, insurance, landscape and grounds upkeep, pool maintenance, security, and various administrative costs. Ask how much the association collects each month to pay for big repairs and improvements? Is the reserve fund adequate? Are any "special assessments" planned?
- Maintenance and insurance. Most of the exterior maintenance, including roofing and painting, is typically included in the cost of the association fees. But you'll also want to look closely at what you can and can't do. Some associations won't allow you to plant your own shrubs or plants outside your front door, or accent the trim of your door in a new color. The association typically covers the insurance for the grounds and exterior. However, condo owners are generally responsible for insuring their personal belongings.
- Association governance. A condo association is a form of government and there are more rules and standards than with a fee-simple, stand-alone house. Go through your condo declaration documents so you’ll be clear about what you can and can’t do.
- Ask about the issues that are important to you. Can you have a pet? What about a home office? Can you grow vegetables in the back?
While condo living isn’t for everyone, it is definitely a great choice for those seeking the maximum in convenience, location, amenities and value. As you weigh the pros and cons of condo living, think about your current lifestyle and household and how these may change over the next five years or so. Perhaps, condo living is worth taking a look at.