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Owning a Condo (+/-)...
Old 08-13-2010, 11:57 AM   #1
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Owning a Condo (+/-)...

I'm asking opinions of those folks on this forum that currently own a condo, or have done so in the past.

We're currently looking to purchase a unit (2BR, 2BA) within a few miles of our home, to be used by our (disabled) son.

The situation is that we will be making the purchase on a cash basis, we're aware of the HOA fees, and the "apartment style" living challenges he will have (he has lived in an apartment for the last five years, so we're aware of the problems of close quarter living, along with the challenge of poor apartment management.)

Just trying to get some personal opinions while DW/me consider this possibility in the next 4-6 months.

What were your likes/dislikes as current/former owners?

Thanks...
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Old 08-13-2010, 12:11 PM   #2
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Positive aspects:

No gardening (outside your patio fence) and exterior maintenance which is all covered by the association. You won't need to spend half a day every week mowing, weeding, trimming.

Negative aspects:

Noise, parking, close proximity to neighbors, privacy, group decisions on spending association money you may not agree with.

Condo (aka Con-dough)
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Old 08-13-2010, 12:15 PM   #3
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Not sure if you have seen this thread or not...it might help.

Condo purchase advice
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Old 08-13-2010, 12:32 PM   #4
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Greatest thing for me is no landscaping or shoveling to do. But I wouldn't say it is worth it and I totally want a house.
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Old 08-13-2010, 12:38 PM   #5
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I've owned one since 2005, and it has been a net negative experience. (Hard to think fondly of something that has lost 70% of its market value in a few yrs.)

Anyway, what I would most warn you about is potential BS with your condo association. For me the BS has been sinister, costly, at times surreal, and seemingly endless.

Before buying, read your association's CC&Rs. Then read them again. Then take them to a lawyer and have him/her read them. You're looking for red flags.

Do the same with all the minutes from all the association meetings in the past three yrs.

If I had it to do over again, before buying I would personally go around to every unit in the complex and interview the occupants to get a sense of their character and also how they feel about the complex and the association. If the unit were rented, I'd interview the tenant and then call the owner.

Go to the complex on at least one Saturday night, around midnight, and sit in your car for a couple of hrs, just to get a sense of your potential neighbors' respect for others.

That all may seem excessive, but it would have saved me a world of pain.
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Old 08-13-2010, 12:40 PM   #6
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As a single person living in a co-op apartment (like a condo but it works a little differently) for the last 21 years, I like not having all those outdoor chores. All of us in the large co-op comples collectively pay for all the building maintenance, both financial (i.e. property taxes) and physical (landscaping, elevator repairs).

There are positives and negatives of apartment living, buy I have found being in a co-op makes those responsible for the upkeep more responsive to us than a landlord which is more like a dictatorship. You tend to find a better grade of residents in a co-op than in a simple rental because the co-op board has to approve of new buyers.
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Old 08-13-2010, 03:48 PM   #7
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A negative against condo ownership: if there are units in your complex that are foreclosed, the owners of those units have been behind on their HOA fees for many months, and that cost gets passed on to you and the remaining condo owners who are still paying dutifully. The same is true, and even more painful, is when there is a special assessment for a new roof, repainting the exteriors, this cost is divided among the number of condo owners that are still paying. The owners of the about to be foreclosed and the foreclosed units are not chipping in. We understand that, in theory, once the foreclosures have occurred, the HOA can go after the banks for the assessments and delinquent HOA fees, etc. but our HOA has not been successful at collecting from Bank of America thus far. And when the units are not yet officially foreclosed, their owners are no where to be found and no fees received, etc. My 2 cents.
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Old 08-13-2010, 04:14 PM   #8
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So.

It's like buying a place 'cause it costs a bunch up front and you are responsible for the upkeep and repair$ in your unit.

It's like renting because there is an ongoing monthly expense for exterior maintenance and upkeep. You pay every month plus are responsible for taxes on your unit.

In your case, with a (do i remember?) bi-polar son a condo might be a good plan because even if your son is horrible to live around the other condo owners may have a tough time kicking him out vs a landlord who gets to deal with balancing the comfort of many vs the needs of one. Could suck to be them though.

Sorry if this is insensitive, but I've dealt with a shirt-tail relative that is brilliant and located somewhere on the autistic scale. I do my best to avoid being in the same state. Can feel months of my lifespan evaporating when around her. Not worth my life.

He is your son though, which changes things for you.
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Old 08-13-2010, 04:55 PM   #9
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To Onward's list below, I would add:

have the potential seller provide you with a copy of the last annual meeting minutes and financial statements. Have your attorney, or accountant look at those as well.

It is important to understand how the association is managed, and if they are well-funded. You really don't want to move into a place where there is a potential assessment to come your way.

You want the place to be well-maintained with money to cover long-term repairs (like painting and roofing) -- or at least a plan to get money collected to cover these items. Assessments aren't a plan, they're a knee-jerk reaction to failing to make a plan.

I have never owned a home, but have lived in condos since I was about 25. I would suggest, you can get away from the 'BS about how money is spent' by buying into a smaller complex. One knows all the neighbors, and the neighbors work through the issues Onward mentions about noise, or infringing on space.

-- Rita
Treasurer, 8 unit Condo Association

Quote:
Originally Posted by Onward View Post
I've owned one since 2005, and it has been a net negative experience. (Hard to think fondly of something that has lost 70% of its market value in a few yrs.)

Anyway, what I would most warn you about is potential BS with your condo association. For me the BS has been sinister, costly, at times surreal, and seemingly endless.

Before buying, read your association's CC&Rs. Then read them again. Then take them to a lawyer and have him/her read them. You're looking for red flags.

Do the same with all the minutes from all the association meetings in the past three yrs.

If I had it to do over again, before buying I would personally go around to every unit in the complex and interview the occupants to get a sense of their character and also how they feel about the complex and the association. If the unit were rented, I'd interview the tenant and then call the owner.

Go to the complex on at least one Saturday night, around midnight, and sit in your car for a couple of hrs, just to get a sense of your potential neighbors' respect for others.

That all may seem excessive, but it would have saved me a world of pain.
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Old 08-13-2010, 05:18 PM   #10
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I like my condo, but some of my reasons may not be a benefit to you. Being a snowbird, I like to lock the door and come back several months later with everything being ok with the exterior maintained.

Perform your due diligence consistent with the comments mentioned by others above, and also get the rate of HOA dues escalation and a handle on the HOA's experience with special assessments. This should provide enough info to see if this condo is right for your son.
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Old 08-13-2010, 06:21 PM   #11
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I owned a condo many years ago and will add one thing I don't think I've seen mentioned: a pool can add considerable expense to the monthly condo fees. I happened to own in a large condo development with two pools. I almost never used them, but when I read the financial reports was stunned to see what a large percentage of the maintenance and repair cost went to the pools. Unless you think your son will make really good use of it, I'd steer clear of buying in a development with a pool.
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Old 08-13-2010, 08:10 PM   #12
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We own a home in a large HOA, a rental home in a medium HOA, and we take care of a friend's condo in a small HOA.

I'd say that the ratio of bad behavior and high-school drama is about inversely proportional to the size of the HOA. Maybe that's inversely squared... the management/leadership gene pool is pretty shallow in those small HOAs.

It would bug the heck out of me to pay $500/month HOA fees (an Oahu average) for mow/blow/go yard service and painting every 10-15 years.
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Old 08-14-2010, 08:29 AM   #13
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...that is brilliant and located somewhere on the autistic scale. I do my best to avoid being in the same state...
That's our son's condition (high-functioning autistic). His roommate is bi-polar, and the driving force to look for alternative housing for him. After five years, it's getting to be a bit like oil/water. When first put together, you could shake the bottle and they came together for a bit; but after five years, they have definitely separated. It's time for a "divorce"..

Your "avoidance" is typical, and is the reason our relatives have no interaction, nor part of his future (a few might be, if they knew our estate value - but that's why we're spending it on our son now and the remainder to charity after we're gone). As I said before, families (at least ours), suck .

Thanks for the suggestions, thus far. I really liked the idea of sitting in the parking lot at midnight on a weekend to see how the area "lifestyle" is like.

While I deliver to both the areas we're currently looking at every week (I do Meals-on-Wheels), I'm aware of the "daylight" conditions. However, I'll agree it is much different, depending on the day of week and hour of day. That goes for any type of housing situation (unless you live "out in the woods").

Also the comment about the pool was interesting. At the one condo area (so large that it has five different HOA's) there is a lot of open space (grass/trees), along with two pools; it's more of a "country club" style condo living, even though there is no golf course. Their monthly fee is about 30% more due to the additional "features", so it makes sense of the difference in charges.
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Old 08-14-2010, 09:39 AM   #14
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Currently live in condo that is separted in units. Common areas include outside lawn, indoor parking lot

Advantages:

- no grass to mow in summer, no snow to shovel in winter. (Since these are common areas, the condo hires someone to do this, and that's paid by the monthly maintenance fee that everyone pays)

- in my situation, water usage is included with maintenance fee (in my place we don't have individual water heaters, instead the building runs of water boilers and that's all part of the monthly maintenace fee)

- ownership of my unit is treated like home ownership (equity)

- UPS packages (if I order something by UPS, condo arranged with UPS to just leave packages in lobby. I don't need to make sure to be home to wait for UPS)


Disadvantages:

- Certain rules are done by vote. For example, rules for having/not having pets or what's budgeted in yearly expenses (such as decorations for the lobby or lawn which one may not really care for, but if decided, everyone has to chip in some). Is grilling on the balcony allowed? etc.

- There is some lack of privacy -- I can't crank "Stairway to Heaven"
on my stereo without neighbors having a complaint


- ownership of my unit is treated like home ownership (property taxes)

Overall, I'm still happy with where I'm at as the thought of having to climb up the ladder of a house to clear away leaves in the gutter doesn't appeal to me.
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Old 08-14-2010, 10:12 AM   #15
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My mother has lived in a condo for about 10 years. For her, it's ideal and she loves it. Close to shopping, doctor, hospital, and us :-) One thing I'd add, she has her own garage. It's just a short walk down a hall from her private garage to her condo's front door. Not too different from walking from my family room to the attached garage on our house.

It adds so much not to have to fight for parking outside or park in a creepy underground lot, be out in the weather, and for personal security. It's big enough for one car and has lots of storage space. She paid about $10,000 extra for the garage, but it's well worth it.
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Old 08-14-2010, 10:18 AM   #16
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Good point about the garage/parking space. I forgot how much just having a space was when I went from condo living to before where finding a spot was always a battle with other drivers to the ticket police. In my place, each unit owner was assigned one space (indoor garage). I got a second parking space for $2000 and that extra space is so worth it when I have guests.
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Old 08-14-2010, 10:50 AM   #17
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In my co-op, we can usually get one outdoor parking space by paying a monthly fee. The more prized indoor spots in the garages are tougher to get and cost a little more per month. I waited 5 years to get my indoor spot and it makes a big difference in the winter and the summer. I got my garage spot in the spring of 1994, just after the terrible 1993-94 winter. But when the similarly awful 1995-96 winter hit, it was much better not having to deal with the cold and snow-covered car when I went out.

My co-op has a pool but we don't spend a fortune to maintain it. It is still in good shape, however, even though it is open for only 8-9 weeks a year in the summer. I did not use it much while I was working F/T but since 2001 when I was around more during the week I have been there more often, even if just to read. [The pool was very popular last month which was terribly hot.]
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Old 08-14-2010, 11:40 AM   #18
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Weve lived in HOA or condo associations for more than 30 years. Its hard to generalize, but there are two broad categories of issues to keep in mind; governance and financial.

Quote:
] I'd say that the ratio of bad behavior and high-school drama is about inversely proportional to the size of the HOA. Maybe that's inversely squared... the management/leadership gene pool is pretty shallow in those small HOAs.
Nords is right but far too polite. Picture Hugo Chavez as president of the HOA and the UN as the board. But I digress...

HOA fees can be broken down into 3 or 4 categories. Association management fees, common area maintenance and upkeep, shared services, and individual unit maintenance and upkeep. No hard rule here on how much each should be, but how they break down should be easily decipherable and in line with your priorities. Shared and common areas can be just land and parking, can include facilities like a clubhouse and sports areas or cover ponds for water management. Anything other than simple lawn and garden may cause unplanned assessments. Not a problem, but needs to be kept in mind.

They seems to be a critical mass somewhere around 100 units or so (WAG here) where HOA board management gets better, professional property management companies are affordable and financial risk declines or can be more easily insured.

Weve lived in small (<30) and large (>150) associations. Small have always been a problem. Large not so much. Issues have usually been more the result of individual owner expectations not aligned with the HOA.

You absolutely need to review the financial statements to check reserve levels as well as understand how the expenses break down.
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Old 08-14-2010, 03:34 PM   #19
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We just purchased in a co-op, setting aside the financial and building maintenance issues for a moment...

Were I you I would give my son a 'trial run' in an apartment by himself for as long as a year. See what environments work for him, and what don't work. Adding a roommate in the mix complicates his social adjustment. I understand the SSI situation, perhaps the lease can be in your name. The reason why I am hesitant to recommend purchase is that the transaction costs are high if you want to sell because it is unsuitable.

It may be that row-house style living suits him better than a flat because he can control the nature and frequency of interactions. A row-house style structure may offer a small back yard where he could have flowers or vegetables.

Buying in a co-op may be complicated given his handicap and how title is held. A 'patio-house', row-house or other style condo may be more suitable. Even a condo with great reserves can be financially swamped with a major unexpected maintenance expense.

The major difference between a rental and ownership for someone with mental processing issues is that in an owned unit there is no one to take care of the interior condition of the unit. Are you willing to set up circumstances to manage that?
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Old 08-15-2010, 07:04 AM   #20
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Were I you I would give my son a 'trial run' in an apartment by himself for as long as a year.

We have already looked at apartments and already selected one, if we decide to go in that direction. Funny that you bring this up, since DW/me had this same discussion last night, concerning our options.

Since we're "upgrading" his living conditions in "steps" (e.g. from our home, to a group home, to a shared apartment - where he is now), it would seem logical that he go into an apartment for a bit (1-2 years) to ensure that works out.

The reason we're looking at condos at this time is a combination of ideas. Where he is now, management is not quick to fix any problems (since it's a low-income place, I understand their lack of response).

We figured (as part of his "life training) to get him into his place, make up "emergency call lists" (e.g. who to call if the plumbing leaks, if the heat doesn’t work, etc). He's able to make the calls and even pay for the services (via his CC card).

The second is that if we go with a condo at this time (we would pay cash, so current borrowing rates are not a consideration), we're looking at units that are generally discounted due to the economy. The second is that we just hate to pay rent and not get anything in return. I know the arguments for/against home ownership and I don't want to open up another "opinion discussion", but that's the way we always looked at the rent vs. buy decision.

Quote:
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The major difference between a rental and ownership for someone with mental processing issues is that in an owned unit there is no one to take care of the interior condition of the unit. Are you willing to set up circumstances to manage that?

In a prior post, I explained that we currently have a revocable trust that will be rolled into his trust (managed by a commercial trust company, with our two "NAEPC Partners" http://www.naepc.org/mission.web who will act as legal and financial representation and be the local contact to the trust which is being managed by a national group (to prevent illegal conversion of assets). The local representatives will be hiring/managing a person (few hours a week) to provide him guidance in such items as DW/me are doing at this time (e.g. to answer those "what if" questions, that a normal family would share).

Expensive? Yes. Luckily, we've forecasted that we/estate can manage the situation till his end of days.

Luckily, his current apartment lease runs out in the spring and regardless of where he lives, it won't be where he currently hangs his hat. We do have time to mull over a decision as time passes, rather than be pushed to the wall. Also, being able to pay cash (in either decision) means we can be flexible as "opportunities" present themselves.

Maybe not a perfect solution, but who ever expected life to be perfect?

BTW, thanks for your comments. This situation is much different than most, for whom it is a financial/lifestyle decision. In our case, it's a rare situation that while we won't be "managing from the grave", decisions today will make a major impact to his life well after we're gone...
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