One of life’s exciting challenges is deciding on what type of home ownership fits best. First time buyers are often trying to decide on a single-family starter house, townhouse or a condo? Other existing homeowners decide they are tired of maintaining their house and yearn for someone else to do the upkeep allowing plenty of time to explore their interests. Yet others may be quite happy with their existing house but have their eye on a well-deserved vacation condo on the beach, waterfront or the countryside.
Before writing a check and putting their names on a contract to purchase a condo they may wish to consider the benefits and drawbacks of a communal lifestyle and what it means to live in a condo. Condominium Association By-Laws, Documents and all Amendments must be carefully reviewed. They are often large and cumbersome docuements with many amendments. Buyers have a limited number of days as specified in the contract to review and accept or decline and rescind the contract. The so-called “Condo Docs” are in essence the rules and regulations everyone agrees to live by when living in a particular condominium community. The condo documents will specify if pets are allowed and restrictions on the number, types, weight and acceptable breeds. Common condo property will be described in detail as well as who is responsible for upkeep. Restrictions on what can be done to the inside of the condo will be spelled out. Carpeting may be required on floors above ground level (except kitchen). If not specified tile may be allowed anywhere. Remember flooring can become a significant noise factor for anyone living on lower floors in a condo. Don't under estimate the annoyance factor.
Violations of the condo rules and regulations can be handled differently depending on the strength of the condo association board of directors. Lesser violations usually begin with written warnings to the condo owner. Violations that persist may result in monetary fines or legal action. A prospective buyer should understand the due process for an inconsiderate renter or owner that lives next door. Problems may take weeks or months to resolve and often not to the condo owners satisfaction.
When it comes to maintenance, exactly what is the condo owner responsibility? Doors and windows are usually not considered common condo property and are the owners responsibility. Unit decks on your condo may or may not be considered common property. Inside plumbing and electrical usually is a condo unit owner’s responsibility. Special consideration for oceanfront living including corrosive factors for the heating/cooling system, automobiles if left outside and doors and windows should be taken into account. Regular maintenance and monthly wash downs will increase useful life.
The financial condition of the Condo Association is as important as ones’ personal finances. The annual and monthly reports should be reviewed carefully. The Condo Association may be fully reserved for future financial obligations or only partially. Many Condo Associations partially reserve for future repairs/replacements and then assess all owners when the time comes. There are many pros and con’s of partial reserving but it generally favors the unit owners who sell prior to reserve calls and disfavors newer condo owners. The age of the complex should be considered carefully in determining upcoming major repairs.
Prospective condo buyers should consider whether they would like to become active in the Association or let others make decisions for them. Major changes and issues usually require the majority of unit owners for approval. The Board of Directors or the management company typically handles routine matters.
Communal living is not everyone’s ideal living situation. The proximity of neighbors, availability of parking for residents/visitors, pet noise and loud voices should be considered carefully. The floor level selected may enter into the decision process. Are there elevators or stairs to reach the upper floors? The top floor (or penthouse) assures no overhead noises like footsteps, paw steps, parties, guests et al but the adjoining units may be a different story. Condo Association rules signify if unit rentals are allowed and the minimum duration. The comings and goings of renters and their entourage of visitors can translate into a nuisance to some residents.
Condo complex property insurance must be sufficient to fully restore the unit or complex in the event of damage or destruction. Owners are required to purchase their own property insurance to cover the interior usually from the walls in. If an oceanfront condo is being considered, coverage may be expensive and difficult to obtain, particularly during hurricane season.
Condo resale potential should be considered. New units may still be available when its time to sell. In larger complexes, new phases may be planned in future years. Should circumstances dictate a sale prospective buyers may prefer a new condo.
Knowing what you are buying and all the considerations can make the difference between a carefree lifestyle and possibly regretting the condo buying decision.
Carol Lorenc & Richard Lorenc work with Watson Referral Realty, Inc., and live in St. Augustine. The Lorenc’s have lived and worked around the world in Asia, Europe and Latin America and specialize in working with retirees.