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Top 5 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Condo

If you're considering buying a condo, there are a few simple questions you should be sure to ask. Condos may look alike to someone on the outside, but the truth is that every complex is vastly different, and finding the right one for you is a matter of doing your research.

Question 1: What are the condo restrictions?

The Home Owner's Association (HOA) of the condo is responsible for decisions regarding how the building looks and what improvements are made to the property. To that end, the HOA will most likely have rules regarding things like paint color, lawn displays, and even holiday decorations.

Before you buy your condo, check over the building's restrictions carefully. The whole point of HOA restrictions is to prevent degradation to the building's appearance, and that's a good thing. But their idea of degradation might be your idea of good decorating.

Question 2: How does the Home Owner's Association (HOA) operate?

Most condos have homeowner's meetings about once a month. At these meetings, issues that impact the entire complex are discussed, and votes are taken to see where money should be spent and what types of rules should be set up. You might not be interested in attending HOA meetings, but we strongly encourage you to examine minutes from the last several meetings anyhow. You will want to see how things are operating and whether or not they're going smoothly. If the other condo owners are fighting like cats and dogs, you could be buying yourself a big headache.

Keep in mind that even if you don't contribute to the condo's decisions, you are still responsible for paying for what they choose. Part of the price of your condo includes a stipend for improvements to the building, and if you don't like the decisions that are being made you may want to purchase elsewhere.

Question 3: How is the condo maintenance?

One of the major benefits of condo ownership is the fact that you are not personally responsible for most maintenance jobs. Again, your condo association dues will be covering repairs to the building as well as to your personal unit, but you won't be out there with a lawn mower on a hot summer's day. However, just because you're paying for repairs and maintenance doesn't necessarily mean they're done in a timely fashion.

Check out the reserve account in the condo's association checkbook. There should be a decent supply of cash being saved for any repair emergencies. If the condo doesn't have much cash on hand for these situations, chances are excellent that your dues are going to be increased in the very near future.

Question 4: What level of privacy can I expect?

There are a few angles to this question. If you are purchasing a condo in a brand new complex, chances are good that the units are soundproofed very well, and that privacy was taken into account. However, with new construction you will also most likely be sharing your building with a lot of other tenants. New condos, while they're being built to updated standards, are also being built much bigger.

If, on the other hand, your condo is in an older building that has been converted, you might be dealing with some minor sound issues and other small annoyances that will remind you there are other people in the building. Windows might not be placed for utmost privacy. Parking might be limited. The water heater might not be able to handle everyone taking a shower at once.

Of course, older buildings also have the advantage of fewer condo owners to a complex. Then again, when it comes to paying for maintenance (and older buildings tend to need more of this, too) you might want as many people involved as possible. The type of building you choose is really up to you. Just make sure you inquire about all the issues that might intrude on your personal enjoyment of the condo.

Question 5: Is the condo involved in a lawsuit?

Almost half of all condo associations have been involved in a lawsuit at some time (or will be in the future). Most lawsuits are between the condo and the original developer or a contractor, although once in a great while they will pop up between the condo and an owner. This is not to say that a lawsuit means your condo is shady. It's actually a typical byproduct of the complex legal issues that surround the condo business.

But here's the problem: Your condo association fees, and the reserve fund which you pay into, will be covering any settlements that are reached. Lawsuits are expensive. Find out if the condo you're considering is currently involved or is on the brink of being involved in any sort of litigation. You could save yourself a lot of expense by doing so.



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