Stringent lending policies and the escalating costs of home ownership have led many prospective home buyers to consider condominiums instead of single-family homes. Condos are typically less expensive than single-family homes, which makes lenders and borrowers alike feel more comfortable. Lenders feel better because the loans aren’t as large, while borrowers are more comfortable because such loans allow them to improve their standing with lenders, potentially setting the table for a low-interest home loan down the road.
But the differences between buying a condo and buying a single-family home go beyond the bottom line. The following are a few things prospective buyers should know about condos before they view any properties.
■ Condos come with fees
Unlike single-family homes, condos come with homeowners association fees. These fees cover the cost of maintenance and repairs to the property. This includes landscaping and garbage collection, as well as general repairs throughout the condominium complex. Fees vary significantly from community to community, and the best deal is not always the one with the lowest homeowners association fees. Low fees tend to provide less bang for the buck, generally covering only the most basic services. Higher fees often mean the community offers more amenities, such as a private pool and gym for residents. Some people prefer such amenities, while others would rather find better deals on their own. But prospective condo buyers must include fees in their monthly budgets when determining how much they can afford to spend.
■ Condos come with rules
Owners of single-family homes can create their own rules for their households, while condo owners must agree to follow rules established by the homeowners association or the property management firm responsible for maintaining the community and enforcing the rules. Rules may not allow pets or only allow pets of a certain size. Other rules may restrict how owners can decorate their condos during the holiday season or how they can furnish the exterior of their properties, limiting patio furniture to a set number of chairs or tables. Some condo owners are glad such rules are in place, while others might find such stipulations intrusive. Each community has different rules, and prospective buyers should familiarize themselves with a community’s rules before buying any properties within that community.
■ Condos often have management firms
Property management firms can be great to deal with, but they can be troublesome as well. A good property management firm produces satisfied community members who speak glowingly of their communities, while a poorly run management firm can frustrate homeowners who feel they are not getting what they’re paying for. Some property management firms fail to collect homeowners association fees for months at a time, only to send letters demanding back dues down the road. Others simply don’t live up to expectations, failing to make repairs in a timely manner while letting the property fall into disrepair. If possible, speak to current community residents about how the property is managed. If residents are not available, potential buyers should attempt to attend a homeowners association meeting, which can shed light on what it’s like to live within a given community and how accessible the management firm is to community members and how well it tends to those members’ needs.
■ Condos are less private
Condos are not as private as single-family homes. Much like apartment dwellers, condo owners often share walls with neighbors. That means condo owners will have to sacrifice some privacy. Prospective buyers who consider privacy a top priority may want to continue living in an apartment until they can afford to buy a single-family home. Though condo owners rarely have someone living above or below them, sharing walls with neighbors is still not as private as owning a single-family home.
Condominiums are great options for people who want to own their homes but don’t have enough money or credit history to buy a single-family home. But buyers must educate themselves about condominium life before signing on the dotted line.