Condo Questions you haven't
Are you sure that you want to buy a Florida condo rather than a house?
Let's talk about the advantages.
- You can lock the apartment's door and travel to Paris or Disney. If you own a house, it becomes a small project. Who's going to take care of the lawn? And the pool? And what if there is a leak while you am away? Or somebody tries to break in?
-You just pay the condo fees and that takes care of the insurance, the landscape, the pool, and the repairs. No more of these pesky bills.
-You will possibly meet more people in the elevator or just sitting at the pool. You can make more acquaintances and social life can be better in a condo building.
-There might be a nice gym and it's so convenient to just go downstairs instead of taking the car!
-A problem? Just call the condo management or the maintenance man.
-They have this nice clubhouse, where you can just relax or watch TV while you talk to one of your neighbors.
-Security is not a big concern if your condominium has implemented some kind of 24-hour surveillance.
On the other hand:
-These condominium fees are really high! The pool service at your old house cost about seventy dollars, and if you didn't want to do your own lawn work, the landscape wouldn't be more than a hundred dollars a month. Repairs? You mean fixing the fence every ten years? Or the pool pump? That doesn't even come close to all these payments the condo association is bleeding you every month.
- Parking is a hassle. Going through the entrance gate, park the car, take the elevator! If it was a house, you just park anywhere and you're home.
- You have 2 grown-up kids and 3 cars. There is only one parking place per apartment. Guess who has a big problem?
- You would like to make some minor changes in your condo and the homeowners' association doesn't want to hear about it. There might be an old lady who is so intrusive and mean in the board of directors:
- When you moved in, you didn't know that this building was falling apart. You just got an assessment for elevator repairs which will increase your monthly payment by more than 50% the next 18 months!
Evidently, you forgot to ask some questions. Let's see:
- You had the right to go through the condo association documents. But you didn't do your homework. You could read some of the board's meetings minutes. You would have found out that some major repairs had been postponed for a few years.
-You would have found out that the Association's reserves hadn't been kept at a reasonable level. Remember that, the older the building, the larger the reserve. You were so happy that the monthly maintenance fee was low. Did you suspect that they weren't putting aside enough funds to cover the unavoidable roof repair, or the air conditioning's old age?
Or perhaps they were not maintaining the elevators adequately? Condo owners hate to see an increase in their monthly fee. A good measure of a well managed building is that a reserve fund is maintained for every item, taking into account its remaining life expectancy. And there are well established rules about how a reserve fund must be managed. So, if you had asked to see their budget, it would have made sense.
- Maybe you should have talked to some of your future neighbors and heard about their complaints. For example, you might have found out that a few owners haven't paid their dues for a long time. And guess from which pockets the deficit is going to be covered. You would be surprised how often it happens. Any lack in the condo association funds will be covered by the rest of the homeowners.
- It wouldn't hurt to have your lawyer examine the condominium papers and bylaws, to check about any inconsistency. At the same time let him check if there is or have been a lawsuit against the association; maybe by the condo owners themselves.
- Did you check if they allow pets? How many? What size?
-What about their policy about renting your apartment? Many communities restrict the rental of their units. They could have screening policies for prospective tenants. They could altogether limit or prohibit renting. If renting is allowed now, things could change next year. A condo association can change its rules at any time.
- In general, does this owners' association behave in a rational and organized way? Ask around and make sure that they have usually been sound and balanced in their decisions, taken well care of the premises, and not tried to make life more difficult than it already is. There are more than a few cases when dictatorial boards became the condo owners' nightmare.
- Don't forget to check the building insurance. See if it covers adequately whatever your own homeowner's insurance doesn't. Usually it should include coverage of what is outside your apartment's walls. Check their hurricane coverage if it's the case. Check their coverage for unexpected code non-compliances that force the building into costly expenses.
I don't mean to scare you. I have only mentioned the worse-case scenarios. Condo living is usually very pleasant and there are lots of advantages in making this choice.
You just have to choose the right place.
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