Read an Excerpt
Should You Buy a Condo? Decide if condominium-living is right for you before you sign the papers.
Excerpted from How to Buy a Condominium or Townhouse by Denise Evans ©2006
Almost this entire chapter applies equally to condo, townhome, or cooperative apartment living. To make things easier on you, all of these things are referred to by their generic name common interest developments (CIDs). If something in this chapter differs for each type of CID, it will be mentioned specifically.
Living in a CID offers virtually all the benefits of traditional home ownership. Mortgage interest is deductible, including the interest on a loan used to purchase stock in a cooperative apartment. Property taxes are deductible, including your pro rata share of the property taxes paid by a co-op building. Unit value usually appreciates over time. However, life in a CID also contains some of the same drawbacks as detached housing, such as large closing costs and market risks, and often regular maintenance expenses.
Common interest developments offer two extremely important advantages over typical stand-alone homes. First, they give you the ability to live in areas of extremely high real estate prices, where the price of the land alone would make residency impossible for most people. Second, they provide you with the privilege of enjoying amenities formerly reserved only for the very wealthy-full-time security, Olympicsize swimming pools, property management, perhaps even stables and riding rings, boat slips, private airfields, on-site day care, and many other benefits that would otherwise not be available to you.
Before going further, you should evaluate how much individuality you are willing to give up to gain the benefits you want. As a general rule, co-ops are the most restrictive, then condos, and townhomes last. There are variations of restrictiveness within each group, however. Decide early on the importance of the following issues to you, and then shop for something that fits your personality, not just your financial or other types of needs.
Are You Willing To Share?
Sharing expenses in order to get more expensive things also means you have to share the things. Problems come with all the little things you never thought you would have to share. For example, you might not have a particular parking place that is specifically designated for you. Someone might become irate if you hog your share of the dumpster by tossing in some old mattresses. Finally, think about possibly sharing bandwidth for your computer, hot water for your shower, or loading dock time for your movers. Are you okay with sharing these things?
Some things cannot be shared in a CID. There might be rules against burning incense because the other owners do not want to share your fragrances. Likewise, they might be opposed to the lovely melodies coming from your wind chime collection. You could be stunned to discover that the lighted Santa Claus who always sits in your living room window during the holidays is not welcome. Not only must you share many things, but you also must refrain from sharing many other things.
Can You Give Up a Little Control?
When living in a CID, owners have less control over their environment than with stand-alone dwellings. Your ability to modify your unit will usually be limited. Rules designed to prevent abuses by other people-self-centered maniacs bent on mayhem and destruction-might actually keep you from having a perfectly civilized, late-night party at the pool with fifty of your closest friends.
However, it is hard work making all the decisions that come with home ownership, and sometimes it is nice to have major decisions made for you by these rules. Isn't it okay if someone else picks out the carpet pattern in the hallways-even if it is a color you detest-as long as someone else also vacuums it every day? How terrible would it be to buy a condominium or townhouse it be if you could not paint your front door a beautiful shade of red, but your next door neighbor also could not paint his or her door some ghastly color like mauve?
By and large, members of a condominium association have the same interests as you. They want to share amenities on a reasonable basis, preserve property values, decrease the amount of time wasted on maintenance issues, and balance privacy concerns with the very human desire to build vibrant and interactive communities. Because people have widely different views about what is necessary to accomplish those goals, there have to be multiple rules rather than one golden rule. That is the heart of CID living.
Are you Willing to Participate?
In order to receive the full benefits of community ownership, you must be willing to take part in CID government. Folks who do not attend meetings or read the monthly newsletter will probably have unpleasant surprises ahead for them, because people who are vocal and who regularly review issues and vote on them will have the most influence on rules, regulations, and enforcement policies. Your ability to live happily and productively, with a minimum of objectionable restrictions, will depend on your input into the process.
Test: Is a Condo Right for Me?
To determine if condo living is right for you, try this quick test.
1. My privacy is:
___ Not important to me.
___ Somewhat important to me.
___ So important I used to be a hermit.
2. My need to be in control of my living environment can best be described as:
___ NOT a control freak.
___ Need to be in control, at least to some degree.
___ As a matter of fact, someone DID die and make me king.
3. Amenities such as swimming pools and tennis courts are:
___ Very important to me.
___ Not that important to me.
___ I'm not the athletic type.
4. I would respond to the following statement, "I like mowing the lawn, landscaping, and gardening," with:
___ Are you kidding?
___ I don't mind it.
___ I love working outdoors.
5. The following describes my position on doing my annual maintenance chores exactly on time:
___ I thought gutters flushed themselves out.
___ I am on top of it, give or take six months.
___ I have a laminated schedule taped on the refrigerator.
6. Home resale value is important to me:
___ Because I may be moving within the next three years.
___ But I expect to be here for a while.
___ Even though I plan to live here forever.
7. Living in an urban environment is:
___ Vibrant, exciting, and convenient.
___ Something I can either take or leave.
___ Not for me-give me the country life.
8. Meeting and interacting with many different types of people is:
___ Very important to me.
___ Relatively important.
___ I hate people.
Total all your points, giving yourself 1 point for each first answer, 2 points for each second answer, and 3 points for each third answer.
Evaluate your scores as follows:
8 to 10 points: Future president of condominium association
11 to 20 points: A good candidate for CID life
21 to 24 points: Thanks for buying the book anyway
Do not get discouraged if you scored in the 21 to 24 range but truly want to enjoy beachfront property part of the year, a retirement community that can adapt to your changing needs over time, or any of the other specialized CID opportunities.
Real estate developers understand market forces. They know that not everyone is a perfect CID candidate, but they still like to attract as many buyers as possible. If you shop carefully and do your research, you can find a community that is right for you.