7 key questions every condo buyer should ask
BY LISA SCONTRAS
With no lawns to mow, great amenities and panoramic views, condominiums offer a carefree lifestyle to those looking for an inexpensive starter home or to empty-nesters hoping to downsize.
But these home units also present potential buyers with a unique set of considerations. Here is a list of questions to ask before accepting the keys to your perfect condo:
Are there any current assessments in place or planned for in the near future?
When homeowner’s associations encounter unexpected repairs, they have the option of making a special assessment a charge to each homeowner in addition to the maintenance fee.
“This is one of the most important questions to ask when purchasing a condo,” says Stephanie Chan, Realtor and partner at
Prudential Locations. “Some assessments may last for a year or two, but assessments for up to 10 years are not uncommon either.”
Big-ticket repairs for elevators, roofs and lanai railings can quickly deplete condo reserve funds, and any of these types of projects could result in an extra assessment cost to you as an owner. Older buildings tend to have more issues.
The advice is to compare monthly fees with those at similar buildings. Fees that seem either too low or too high could be red flags. Also, review the homeowner’s association budget to see if the financial reserves are sufficient.
Can I rent out my condo?
If you plan to buy a unit as an investor, be aware of rental restrictions.
“Don’t just assume you can rent out the property however you please,” says Chan. “Depending on the building, there may be a minimum number of days 30 days is most common required for a rental.”
Other properties may be zoned “resort” and allow for day-to-day or week-to-week rental. Check this out in advance before purchasing the property.
Finally, ask your lender if there are any owner-occupancy minimums required to get approved financing. For example, you may have to commit to a down payment of 25 percent or more.
Is it OK to keep mypets? Find out if the building allows for cats, dogs and other pets you may have. And make sure to read the house rules carefully.
“Pet-friendly buildings typically limit the size and/or weight of the pet,” says Chan. “Some only allow cats, while others allow dogs and/or cats. In addition, they can limit the number of pets per unit. Some buildings may charge a one-time registration fee for the pets of about $50 to $100.”
Have any additions or improvements been made to the unit? Ask to see the necessary city and county permits or the condo association approval letter.
“Buildings often require the use of a licensed contractor to do the work,” says Chan. “If you purchase a unit with an enclosed lanai, check with the seller’s agent to confirm the work done was legal and permitted. (Permit history is available online.) Otherwise it may be in violation of the house rules and association.”
Does the condo meetrequirements? Check with your lender first because as Chan says, “Many banks won’t lend if a building is involved in ongoing litigation. You might be able to find a bank that can offer a portfolio loan, with a higher interest rate.”
If you plan to apply for a government loan program, such as a Veterans Administration (VA) or a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, verify that the building has been VAor FHAapproved before making an offer. Many condos don’t meet the minimum owner-occupant ratios.
Does the unit include parking? Don’t assume that every unit comes with assigned parking stalls. How many stalls are included in the sale? Are they covered or secured? Are there other parking stalls available for rent if needed?
“Should a parking spot be necessary, check in advance,” Chan says. “Make a point to go look at the spot to make sure your car will fit into the space. Some may not be large enough for a van or large SUV.”
May I have a copy of your house rules, bylaws, and covenants and restrictions?
“As boring as it may sound, you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches and concern by carefully reading all of the relevant documents prior to committing to a purchase,” Chan says.
Restrictions can be varied and far-reaching, and can include rules/restrictions on issues such as home businesses, furnishings, adding air conditioners or even type of window coverings. Keep in mind that upgrades and improvements almost always need association approval before you start work, especially if they are visible from outside the unit.
For more condo issues to be aware of, get help from a professional real estate agent so you will be fully informed.