The word condo or condominium has its roots in Latin. It derives from two words con meaning together and dominium/dominion meaning ownership. But the word gained prominence only after the first condominium came up in New York City in 1881. By the 1960s, there was a large number of condominiums mushrooming all over the US. In 1961, federal legislation followed, allowing mortgages on condominiums to facilitate financing to buy them.
Condominium vs. apartment
The main difference between a condominium or condo and an apartment lies in its ownership. A condominium is a flat or a unit owned by the homeowner within a larger residential building. On the other hand, an apartment is a rented residence, often also as a part of a larger residential building. Both may be similar in size ranging from 1, 2, 3, and 4 bedroom units. They are both a single unit within a multiple-unit property in a shared high-rise building.
In both a condo and an apartment, the neighbors share the common areas and amenities. That includes the swimming pool, gym, playground, billiards room, dog-walking areas, etc.
Even though the condo owner has the title to the individual unit, he/she has to share ownership of the common areas. Condo owners typically form an association. They pay an established monthly fee to cover the expenses of common areas. They may also contribute additional fees to cover one-time-expenses such as unexpected building repairs, refurbishment of common areas, or adding new amenities approved by the condo board.
In the apartment, the person living on rent will not pay or contribute to such expenses. The rent is all he/she will pay for the individual property.
Advantages of Buying a Condo
Condos are mostly available in cities where space is a premium. Few advantages of buying a condo are:
- Due to the smaller size, they are more affordable than single-family homes. A condo is usually low in maintenance than a free-standing house—because all members share expenses like landscaping or maintaining a swimming pool.
- With neighbors around, they offer a safer environment. Most condos provide a doorman, security guards, and surveillance cameras. They even have sensors and alarms for fire.
- The condos offer proximity to all essentials, entertainment, and business districts as they are in the city.
- They are easier to manage as they employ professional management to take care of building maintenance. A team of housekeepers maintains common areas like lobbies, stairways, elevators, entryways, and community spaces.
- They offer facilities like rooftop amenities, tennis court, fitness center, more than what one can provide in an individual home.
- Insurance is cheaper in a condo, as it only needs to cover the inside of your home.
- The newly built condos come fitted with modular kitchens that have cabinets, refrigerators, ovens, microwaves, washers, and dryers pre-installed
Tips for buying a condo
Here’s a condo-buying checklist to go over as you start your search.
1. Decide on the amenities you need
Condos offer a wide variety of amenities for small families who want to live closer to the office district, schools, and entertainment areas. Keep in mind amenities like a pool, gym that can improve the value of the condo. It’s also important to know the community’s guidelines/rules, like booking common areas in advance. Are you ready to live in a condo space?
2. Check the shared community
In a condo, a group of people lives together under one roof, which means you need to be on the same page as them. Are you ready to share walls, ceilings, floors, parking spots, mailbox areas, hallways, foyers, pools, elevators, stairways, and exercise facilities with your neighbors?
3. Work with a real estate agent who specializes in condominiums
Once you decide to buy a condo, find a real estate agent who has handled condo sales. Condos require reviewing the condo association documents that are different from the home documents in a stand-alone home.
4. Review the condo association
Condo associations manage the running of the entire complex. So, before you decide to buy a condo in the building, it is suggested that you talk to the President of the Association, who can give you an idea about the funding, maintenance, and reserves that will be a cost above your mortgage.
Most services like cleaning common areas, removing snow, maintaining the lawn are part of condo association responsibilities. Also, check condo documents for special assessments/upcoming projects. In that case, you may be liable to pay the extra amount for that period.
5. Factor in HOA fees
A homeowners association fee (HOA) is a monthly payment by homeowners living in a condo towards maintaining the properties and utilizing its common facilities/amenities. Check if your monthly housing costs will include water, trash pickup, wi-fi, or others.
6. Check the financing options
Condo-specific documents are needed to obtain finance. Often lenders charge a slightly higher interest rate [for condos] and will want to see the association budgets, reserves, and maybe even the rules and regulations before considering to finance the unit. Also, if several owners rent out their condo units in the high-rise, it may increase your down payment. Get pre-approved for financing from a lender.
7. Not all condos work with an FHA loan
A Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan is a mortgage, insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and issued by an FHA-approved lender. Until around 2019, many lenders did not provide FHA financing for buyers who wanted to invest in a condo. So, check if the condo is FHA approved before putting your personal finances into the purchase.
8. Check if the condo allows pets
When you own a single-family home, the only rules on pets are by the city council. But in a condo, the rules may be more stringent. Ask for a copy of the condo’s CCRs (covenants, codes, and restrictions) to get clarity about pets.
9. Are you looking at an investment opportunity?
Owning a condo in a business district or a tourist destination could mean additional income for you. But before you buy a condo, do check with the organization’s rules about short-term rentals like Airbnb. Most associations don’t allow rentals shorter than six months, as it would fall within the hotel guidelines. Check the rental cap if buying a condo for investment purposes.
10. Inspect, inquire
Inspect the quality of the condo, common areas, and the construction of the building. Also, strike up a conversation with the neighbors or the condo association President to get some inside information.
Condominiums give a homeowner the perks of homeownership but without the tasks that come with caring for a single-family home. However, condos aren’t for everyone. If you love gardening, pets, open spaces, and privacy, then a condo is not for you. It is best to weigh the pros and cons. Do give your lifestyle and budget a second-thought before opting for a condo.