Everything You Need to Know Before Buying a Condo
Owning a condo has many perks outside of the freedom to personalize your space. See why condo ownership might be the right choice for you and which questions to ask before closing.
If you're wondering, “Should I buy a condo?” but don’t know where to begin, we’ve got you covered. We talked with real estate experts to find out the biggest considerations for purchasing a condo. Read on as we cover the pros and cons of buying a condo, plus the top questions to ask before closing.
What Is a Condo?
A condo is a unit within a larger residential building, much like an apartment. The key difference? Ownership. All units in an apartment complex are owned by a single landlord or property management company and are rented out to tenants who must follow the same rules. Condos, on the other hand, are individually-owned units, and often provide more freedom for residents looking to update and personalize their space. Common areas and amenities in condos have shared ownership. “The condo owners govern their ownership through their homeowners association,” says Amanda Pendleton, Zillow lifestyle expert. “In essence, you can think of the homeowners association as the owner of the land.”
Homeowners associations, or HOAs, cover the maintenance of the grounds, which is a major draw for condo buyers. HOAs are also responsible for setting specific rules for what residents can and cannot do. These guidelines vary and are put in place to maintain a certain standard of living and lifestyle agreed upon by its residents.
Zillow research finds that older generations are most likely to buy a condo, 7 percent of which are Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, and 13 percent are from the Silent Generation, those born between 1925 and 1945. According to Pendleton, this indicates a lifestyle split between those who want fewer home-related responsibilities and those who still want a yard. But having your lawn mowed for you isn’t the only upside of condo living. There’s a handful of other perks that attract buyers of all ages—millennials included.
Pros of Buying a Condo
Before you hand over your down payment, it's important to weigh the pros and cons of buying a condo. Below are just a few benefits:
Accessibility: Many urban condos feature single-floor living. This is a huge plus for some, including retirees and those with young kids just learning to walk.
Amenities: Pools, tennis courts, and manicured gardens are just a few of the amenities that attract condo buyers. And because you don't own the land (unlike townhouse owners), you don’t have to deal with the upkeep, which is handled by the HOA.
Walkability: According to Debbie Wong, a Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate® agent, what really sells the condo lifestyle for all generations of buyers is walk score. This includes close proximity to eateries, coffee shops, and other amenities like a pool, fully-equipped gym, shared outdoor spaces such as parks and greenbelt areas, job paths, and assigned private parking spaces. Naturally, this walk score is higher for condos, as they tend to cluster in more urban or vacation areas.
Community: Having access to shared amenities, activities, and events make condos a popular pick for those looking to socialize.
Investment: Is buying a condo a good investment? According to Pendleton, owning a condo has many of the same benefits of owning a single-family home. “You can build equity and benefit from the tax incentive that comes with homeownership as well as the stability that homeownership provides,” she says.
Cons of Buying a Condo
Although condos offer bonus amenities, they can also come with added fees and rules. Here are some of the downsides to purchasing a condo:
Cost: Zillow research shows that median condo values nationwide have increased 26.9 percent in the past five years, with the average condo value sitting at $235,300 as of March 2019. That’s higher than an average single-family home, which was valued at $226,700. This can make the choice between buying a condo versus house even trickier.
HOA fees: “Condos have HOA fees that can be much higher than expected depending on the area, the condo value, and amenities,” says Connie Hall, a realtor at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate®. Buyers must weigh convenience versus cost and should consider how much wiggle room they have for potential costs outside the monthly fees. Unexpected assessments such as emergency repairs or higher-than-normal gardening costs can add up quickly.
HOA rules: HOA rules vary widely from condo to condo. While some offer many of the same freedoms that come with owning a single-family home, others can be quite strict. So if things like pets or patio decorations are important to you, you may want to consider other housing options.
Noise: With shared walls, you can’t always count on your neighbors to keep quiet. Plus, if you purchase a condo in an urban setting, the convenience can come at a cost. It’s only natural to hear the sounds of traffic and busy streets if you’re in the heart of things.
Buying a Condo Versus Renting
Buyers looking to rent their condos for an extended period of time, whether it be for vacation or as a way to earn additional income, should ask the condo’s HOA about feasibility and restrictions. “If buying for a rental, there is a rental cap,” says Bridget Franklin, a designated broker with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate®. “Most of the information can be obtained through the resale certificate, so it’s very important to read it closely and have your questions answered within the contracted timeframe allowed.”
How to Buy a Condo
To find condos listed in your area, use real estate sites an apps like Zillow or Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate®, or reach out to an agent directly to help guide your search and help you find exactly what you’re looking for.
Just like single-family homes, you’ll need to apply for a mortgage. Your lender can help you review building operations and board documents. In addition to an application and list of references, some condos request an interview with the HOA board. When meeting, you’ll want to ask the right questions up front, so there won’t be any surprises later on.
Questions to Ask When Buying a Condo
When considering a condo, you'll want to know the answers to several key questions. Ask the following queries before buying a condo:
- What are the HOA fees?
- What are the HOA rules?
- What does my HOA pay for and what is there funding for?
- Can I look at the past year’s HOA meeting minutes?
- Are there any major repairs coming up?
- Are there pet restrictions?
- Can I rent out my unit?
- What kind of community events are held?
- Do owners socialize or tend to keep up themselves?
- What kind of noise level can I expect?
Note that condo residents are required to obtain insurance for their individual units, while the building tends to have a shared master policy that is paid through condo association fees.