April 20th marks the one year anniversary of the closing date of when we bought out condo. Anxious first time buyers,
the bf and I were determined to be well-informed before we made the, “big purchase”. So we did our due diligence, read a few books, did some online research, talked to our folks and watched far too many episodes of Property Virgins on TLC.
Despite all of this research, there were a lot of things thing came as a relative surprise to us. Let’s just say, there has been a bit of a, “learning curve”. But so far nothing we couldn’t handle, thanks to a solid emergency fund, and moving help from Mayflower.com. Out little condo has fit our needs just fine and overall we’re very pleased with our purchase.
We even convinced my grandparents to come for a visit to the “Big City” this Christmas. Something my papa said he’d only do once we bought a home (at the time he didn’t realize how expensive real estate here is, so he’s been waiting a few years for us to buy). So without further ado, below are a a list with the things we thought are particularly important for couples or singles purchasing their first condo to be aware of.
Before You Buy, Know the Following:
- Condo fees-Know how much they are and what they cover. When are they due and what happens if another owner falls behind? Is there a separate fee for garbage disposal or snow removal? Is landscaping included in the condo fees if there are common yard areas? Ask as many questions as you can. You don’t want to be stuck with, “hidden” expenses after you buy.
- Know Your Neighbors-What are the approximate ages of the other condo owners/tenants? Do they have little kids or teenagers? Are they college kids who come home late and play loud music? Our first night in our new condo our upstairs neighbors (tenants not owners) threw a raucous party. Their music was so loud I could hear it, word for word, through our ceiling. I was so mad (and so scared that we’d made a horrible decision to buy our condo) I cried. I later learned it was someone’s birthday, and they party like that once, maybe twice a year. Bad timing, but a good lesson in making sure parties like that don’t happen every night! Ask the other condo owners about any issues with noise before you purchase.
- Check the Reserve-Make Sure the Association has adequate funds to pay for emergency repairs. Just check out this post about the “Hidden” Costs of Condo Ownership where I describe the assessments we incurred after Hurricane Sandy. When you own a condo you should always have an emergency fund. If there are assessments you’ll be responsible for paying for your “share”, whether the damage or repairs impacted your unit or not.
- Condo Association-Does one owner like to throw his/her weight around and dictate how the building is run? Is there a condo association president? Why is his/her role? How often do all of the owners meet to discuss building issues? Is the meeting virtual (skype) or in person? Do you have to host the meeting in your home regularly? Our condo association meets very infrequently. I’d actually like to meet more frequently to discuss money and the reserve (but not everyone likes to talk about money as much as I do).
- Read the Association’s Rules-If the association has formal written rules, read them. Many of the important things you’ll need to know about living in the building will be included in the association’s rules. Want to know the policy on pets, allowing renters, and who’s responsible for what? Read the rules. Our association doesn’t have formal written rules, which sometimes causes a little confusion and frustration. I’m going to suggest that we draft some at our next meeting.
- Ask About Pets-Does your future neighbor own a dog that barks all the time? Isn’t house-trained and has accidents on the carpet in the common areas? Is aggressive and scares your kids? Our neighbor’s German Sheppard has lunged at survivor dog. Now we know to pick him up whenever, Karma (dog’s real name, go figure!) is around.
- Security-Do your neighbors keep the front doors of the building closed and locked at all times? Is there a security system or a doorman? After hurricane Sandy, our neighbors were propping open the front door of our building because they were plugging in a generator (to keep lights on in their unit, and their unit only) and storing gas in the lobby (holy unsafe!) I told them they needed to remove the gas and after about a week, they did. It got to a point where I almost called the fire department on them because I was so angry and so scared (again, know your neighbors). Additionally, with no lights and rumors of looting, I was pretty nervous to have the front doors wide open.
- Maintenance-If your condo association doesn’t contract with a maintenance company, be sure to ask about who does routine maintenance i.e. who changes light bulbs in the common areas, who salts the sidewalks during snowstorms, and who vacuums the common areas. A few weeks after we moved in I was terrified when I heard someone jiggling my lock and opening my front door. It was the cleaning lady who vacuums the common areas of the building (by plugging the vacuum in, in my apartment). Apparently this was the arrangement with the former owner, but nobody had thought to tell us (aside-change your locks when you move in, who knows how many people have keys to your apartment!).
- Cosmetics-Does the association care about the cosmetics of the building? Do they continuously make improvements to the common areas of the building (which can be expensive)? Or do they let things slide until things are in a bad state of repair and need a total overhaul (also expensive). Are most of the units owner occupied or rented? Typically owners take better care of the building then renters.
- Unwritten Rules-Sometimes there are ridiculous, “unwritten rules” that pop up once you’re an owner. For example, “We don’t do laundry when it’s raining because the water from the rain combined with the water from the washer floods the basement apartment” or, “We don’t put our air conditioners in the middle window of our units because some air conditioners drip water down the front of the basement and onto the basement apartment’s entrance”. Ask about this unwritten rules and be prepared for them (because inevitability one of these with catch you by surprise and piss you off-OK maybe I’m just speaking for myself there). I don’t mind putting my air conditioners in a certain window, but someone should have told me about this before I paid someone $100 to install it.
The good, the bad and the ugly. When you buy a condo you’re not an island unto yourself. You have to interact with, and tolerate your neighbors and their idiosyncrasies. You might own your unit, but the loud neighbors upstairs and crazy neighbors on the first floor will impact your quality of life. So do your research and make sure your dream house doesn’t turn into a nightmare.
Are you/Have you owned a condo? What are some of your tips for first time home-buyers?