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Condo buyers urged to look behind-the-scenes

The stunning grounds at Kalele Kai offer residents a resort-style setting on Hawaii Kai’s marina. Unit 3312 at Kalele Kai is currently listed for $1.6 million by Tommy Kim (RA) at Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties.

BY LISA SCONTRAS

With no maintenance worries or lawns to mow, condo living offers an unfettered lifestyle that is tough to pass up. And when you add upscale amenities and other cool perks, like a clubhouse or concierge service, what’s not to like?

But while you’re falling in love with that super-convenient exercise room, or the amazing view, it’s important to also take a hard look at the not-so-obvious condo feature: the Association of Apartment Owners (AOAO).

All that beautiful landscaping, grounds keeping, pool cleaning, roof maintenance, elevator repair, plumbing, and overall upkeep don’t just happen. The AOAO board of directors manages it all.

According to Casey Paet, vice-president of Cadmus Properties, prospective condo buyers are wise to check out what’s happening behind the scenes of any condo purchase they might be considering. “Question the fiscal condition of a condo association and the functionality of the board of directors, as well as the physical condition of the property.”

“The AOAO board of directors is a group of volunteer owners tasked with running an organization,” added Paet.

Ideally, the association president has management experience, and is able to lead as well as bring people together. Board members may also bring special skills and together the board comprise a talented team capable of making the budgetary and maintenance decisions that best benefit the homeowners collectively.

Along those lines, prospective condo buyers may find it helpful to meet with the board president to ask questions. What issues/challenges is the board currently dealing with? This is a great way to get a feel for the personality of the property, and to evaluate their attitude, as decisions made by the board are the heart of an association’s health.

One of the most common problems boards face, according to Paet, is deferred maintenance. “Waiting until something breaks until you fix it — being reactive instead of proactive — can end up costing the owners a lot more money.

“For example, once moisture gets in through cracks in paint, rebar rusts, wood rots. And the longer you let it go, the worse it gets,” he added. “A $200,000 repair can easily turn into a $400,000 or even a $600,000 repair on larger buildings — all because a paint project was deferred.”

The fundamental elements of any association’s budget should include a study by an outside expert outlining projected maintenance costs. Known as a reserve study, this survey determines what and when capital improvements should be made, along with an estimate of costs.

“But the board needs to stay updated on those costs,” said Paet. “A project originally budgeted for $100,000 may have gone up to $200,000 and the board must make adjustments. Even proposals obtained in 2018 may need to be updated since many of the building materials come from China, and the new tariffs could potentially mean significant increases in cost.”

Be informed before buying. Paet suggests condo shoppers be proactive and investigate the functionality and health of the AOAO. Ask for a copy of the reserve study and budget. Read board meeting minutes. Speak with the association president and residents. Then, once you’re satisfied, enjoy your new condo, cool perks and all.

Paet maintains keeping property values up is a balance between managing the physical condition and the fiscal condition. “If you have a good balance between these two things, property values should remain up and keep the property desirable,” he said.

For a list of Hawaii condo associations and board presidents, condo buyers can visit https://cca.hawaii.gov/reb/files/2019/02/AOUOContact1902.pdf

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