Condos

What is a condominium?

Condominiums are buildings in which individuals separately own the air space inside the interior walls, floors and ceilings of their unit, but they jointly own an interest in the common areas that they share – such as the land, lobby, hallways, swimming pool, and parking lot.

In addition to paying a mortgage, each owner is responsible for paying a monthly fee to the condo association, which is made up of the unit owners. The fee covers maintenance, repairs, and building insurance.

Most housing condominiums are apartments, although there are mobile home condominiums as well.

Why buy a condo?

They are an appealing way to enter the housing market if the cost of a single-family home is out of your reach. Condos are especially popular among single homebuyers, empty nesters, and first-time buyers in high-priced housing markets. Unlike a house, condos offer a lifestyle that is free of yard work and exterior maintenance and repairs. Many condominium communities also offer amenities such as exercise rooms, tennis courts, and swimming pools that you might otherwise be unable to afford if you purchased a single-family home.

How do you choose a good condo?

Seek ownership in a well-maintained building, and pay special attention to the financial health of the condo association. Lax maintenance may be a sign of financial trouble, which could result in higher maintenance fees and problems trying to resale the property later.

Things to consider:

  • Get a copy of the latest financial statement from the condo association.
  • Ask the board of directors – which is elected by the unit owners from among themselves – if major repairs or improvements are imminent. If so, find out how much they will cost and whether there is enough money in the reserve to cover them.
  • Check the by-laws, rules and the covenants, codes and restrictions (CC&Rs). You may find, among other things, that they prohibit or restrict pets and the renting of units. Some may require that the board have the right of first refusal on the sale of any unit.
  • Learn everything you can about the homeowners association, including legal disputes and conflicts. Start by reading the minutes of the association meetings.
  • Find out the owner-to-tenant ratio. Because many condominiums are often purchased as investments, there could be a high percentage of tenants in the building.

Are condos good investments?

They are a good way to enter into homeownership. The high price of single-family homes and the influx into the housing market of more single homebuyers have made condos relatively hot national investments. They have held their value as an investment despite economic downturns and problems with some associations. Condominium associations have also worked hard in recent years to clean up their image. Disputes and lawsuits were once rampant. But now associations have become savvier about property management and have taken steps to prevent legal problems and disputes.

How do townhouses differ from condominiums?

While most condominiums are apartments, a townhouse is attached to one or more houses and can run the gamut from duplexes and triplexes to communities with hundreds of homes. Buyers separately own their homes and the land on which the houses sit. With a condominium, the unit owners jointly own the land and this common interest cannot be separated from the others.

Townhouses can be structured in many ways. Some, particularly huge communities, have common areas – such as swimming pools – that are similar to condominiums.

What are the pros and cons of owning a townhouse?

On the plus side, exterior maintenance and repairs are minimal; there are no neighbors above or below the home like in an apartment; and because the homes are attached, they may offer a greater sense of security.

As for the disadvantages, if there is a homeowner’s association, buyers will have to pay a homeowner’s fee. There is also less privacy than with a detached single-family home. And there are limits on how you can make exterior changes to the home.