What Should I Do Before Buying a Condo?

Posted by Tamara Berryman on Friday, May 9th, 2014 at 11:32am.

Living on this tropical peninsula paradise part or all of the year is a dream of many. With super mild winters and spring and fall months that are particularly pleasant and delightful, practically everyone wants a piece of the lifestyle that can only be found right on the beaches of the tranquil Gulf of Mexico.

It’s little wonder why so many people pine to own a spot on or near the beach, with white, sugary sand, and a lot to offer just moments away. The golfing, boating, hiking, kayaking, fishing, sunbathing, relaxing, and experiences never end. Combine that with a great nightlife, many wonderful places to eat and shop, and all kinds of entertainment, and you’ve got a recipe for a sweet experience.

That’s why condos are so attractive to buyers. You get to be right on or near the beach, not far from downtown, and, it can serve as an income property if desired. Compared to the cost of a single family home on the water, and it becomes all-the-better a deal to be had, even if you’re not going to live here year-round.

While condos do provide a less expensive route to homeownership near or on the water, they have some unique differences from a single family residence. It’s helpful to know these and what each might mean for you in the present and into the future.

How Condominium Ownership is Different

First and foremost, most people don’t know what the word “condominium” actually means. Contrary to popular conception, it’s a misconception to think it means the type or architecture of a building. After all, apartments are quite similar, and townhomes also have a resemblance. The fact of the matter is, the word “condominium” is a legal term for a right of ownership.

“Some of these deals are tempting, but buyers need to think of purchasing a condo as signing a business agreement with all others who own in the project they are buying into, says New York attorney Rafael Castellanos. And as with any other business venture, learn how the place is managed and inquire about its financial stability.” --Bankrate.com

Unlike single family residences, and various townhome communities, a condo unit owner is not given a “fee simple” right of ownership. Instead, they are assigned a condominium ownership, which just means they are purchasing a percentage of the whole property, not their individual unit, specifically. While you can’t paint the exterior any color you want, neither can your neighbor do the same; and, you still own from the walls in, which means you can remodel.

This has it’s advantages and disadvantages. While you’ll enjoy the joy and convenience of homeownership, you won’t have total control over your own property. However, that can be a good thing, especially when large repairs, like a roof replacement, is needed. You also can come and go as you please without having to do all that extra work a single family home demands. Plus, you’ll likely enjoy some resort-style amenities that you do not have to personally maintain.

What You Should Do Before You Make a Purchase Offer

With a great location at a more affordable price, there’s a lot to like about owning a condo. However, before you make a purchase offer, know precisely what it is you’re getting yourself into. A little bit of homework and snooping will be well worth the time and effort. Here are the things you ought to check out:

  • Review the association minutes and public records. You’ll want to go over these to see what the owners are griping about and, to learn if there’s a bunch of lawsuits naming the HOA as a defendant. This will help prevent you from purchasing a problem.

  • Find out the occupancy rate and why. If the occupancy rate is low, that can derail your financing; and, it could also mean that you’ll be stuck with a huge expense in the form of a special assessment, which are used to pay for expensive repairs.

  • Take a look at the property reserves. Speaking of special assessments, there shouldn’t be any in the foreseeable future if the association has a robust reserve.

  • Know what is and isn’t covered by insurance. You can also request and review the association’s insurance policy. Take advantage of this opportunity and find out what is and what is not covered.

  • Have a lawyer review the bylaws. These might conflict with state, county, or even municipal law and that could present a serious problem in the future. You’ll also want to know what the association’s rules are for renting your unit out.

  • Know who manages the property. If it’s the owners, that might be okay, but those which are managed by a professional entity tend to respond quicker to requests when needed.

The bottom line is, be in-the-know before you make a purchase offer so you aren’t confronted with unpleasant surprises.

Tamara Berryman
Google

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