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There are a lot of perks to owning a condo that you don't find with a single-family home in the suburbs, and also some drawbacks that can be deal breakers. Here are 19 tips for condo-buying before you sign any contracts or hand over any money.
1. Consider the social aspects
You'll be sharing common areas with neighbors, running into them at HOA meetings, seeing them in the hallways, dealing with individual properties that have adjoining walls, and more. What's your comfort level with a more social lifestyle?
2. Determine your ideal building size
How big is too big, how small is too small, and what does "just right" look like for you?
3. Old vs. new
Many people think of condos as new, modern developments, but especially in larger cities, that simply isn't always the case. There are plenty of established buildings that were constructed as condos or that have been renovated as condo developments.
4. Dig into the HOA
The HOA is a hugely important part of purchasing any condo because it's the entity that sets the common rules for the condo — such as "no pets" or even how long guests can stay. Ask about HOA rules and regulations, and see if you can get a sense for how it operates.
5. Do some recon on the maintenance company
The HOA is responsible for hiring the people who maintain the building, and some might require you to use the collective maintenance firm to make any repairs or upgrades to your own unit, too.
6. What amenities are important to you?
Some condos might be tricked-out with state-of-the-art gyms and laundry hookups in every unit, while others might merely offer common laundry facilities. What can and can’t you live with in terms of amenities?
7. Know the rules
When you live in a condo, you're in close proximity to other people who might not appreciate cigarette smoke or who could be deathly allergic to cats. You could face some hefty fines and the wrath of an entire building's worth of neighbors if you flaunt the rules.
8. Controlling for noise pollution
A condo is shared with other residents, which means you'll probably have some walls and hallways in common with other people. And some condo units are more soundproof than others.
9. Pets, kids, and other possible life changes
Even if you're satisfied with the condo's rules today, think about how your life might change in the future and how attractive the development will be to other people who want a similar lifestyle in the future. Those big life changes can sneak up on all of us, so think about how you'd handle them.
10. Understand the risks
There's always a risk to homeownership, and owning your own condo is no different — although the risks themselves tend to be a little bit different. Some risks involved are completely outside your control: If your neighbor goes through a nasty divorce and is compelled to sell the condo at well under fair-market value just to get out from under the mortgage, that will bring down your property’s value.
11. Find out each condo's renter-to-owner ratio
Renters tend to treat their spaces differently than an owner would, and if you buy a unit in a condo that's mostly renters, you might find yourself quickly annoyed that your neighbors don't seem to be as invested as you are in keeping it looking pristine. In this era of Airbnb and other vacation rental opportunities, there may be some developments that claim to be mostly owners but in fact are occupied by a number of short-term renters. A dead giveaway is lockboxes on doors.
12. How's the parking?
You might not own a car, but if you have friends and relatives who do — and they want to come visit — it's still a good idea to ask about parking facilities for the condo developments where you're considering purchasing a unit.
13. Development and zoning nearby
There might be a gorgeous view of the city skyline or one of the beautiful natural features near your city — but how long will it last? Before you buy a condo for the view alone, do your best to discover what kind of zoning and development exist nearby so that you can make an estimate as to whether that view is for keeps or whether it might disappear behind a bigger building or a massive development at some point in the future.
14. Price condo insurance
Condo insurance is a little different from homeowners' insurance; you're not going to be covering the entire building structure, just your unit and its contents, so it can often be significantly cheaper than homeowners' insurance. Before you start budgeting for your new buy, talk to an insurance agent about what condo insurance is likely to cost.
15. Ask the appliance questions
Are appliances included in the price of the condo, or will you be bringing your own? If they are included, what's the process for getting them repaired or replaced should that need arise? What if you don't like the brand provided — can you upgrade or change it? If you're providing your own appliances, are there any parameters around what you can and can't use?
16. Security and privacy
Condos tend to be at least a little less private than a single-family home; for some people, the trade-off is worth it. Even though you're sharing with more neighbors, the existence of an additional front door and sometimes security staff might make you feel more secure, so that's a possible benefit of condo life.
17. Not all units are created equal
Even in a condo building where all units have more or less the same floorplan, some units are going to be more desirable than others — the unit that looks out over a street instead of the garbage facilities, for example. Make sure you are absolutely clear about which units are for sale and that you can personally inspect them, preferably more than once.
18. Decide what you'll do about extra storage
You might have possessions already that won't fit comfortably into a condo unit you're considering, or maybe you just want a space to stash your camping gear during the winter months when you definitely won't be using it. Not every condo development offers additional storage in the form of storage lockers or another option, but some do.
19. Think about the future
If you can see yourself changing cities or jobs, needing a bigger place for whatever reason, or making another shift in your life that a condo won't accommodate, think hard about how you'd handle that change before you take the plunge and fork over your down payment.
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