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Thinking about buying a condo and snowbirding
Old 01-08-2014, 05:40 PM   #1
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Thinking about buying a condo and snowbirding

We left for Florida last week before the big chill, but came back today. The wife had plan's for the weekend here in St. Charles MO.

But we are both done with the cold. We are going to start looking at condo's in South Florida on the Gulf Side next week. I would move down full time, but we have grandkids, one about 40miles from where we live now, the other is in Chicago. So the wife still wants to spend some time here and in Chicago.

I have never lived in a condo. But figured if I'm not going to be there 6 months out of the year It would be easier to leave empty.

What do I need to check? Do the condo fees generally take care of the insurance for the building? What maintenance is generally taken care of?

We are thinking we will go down in October, come back for a week or two around Christmas, then back down till April. Then maybe back for a week here and there during the summer. I know my father had a place down there for years and loved it, but he basically had a fish camp.
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Old 01-08-2014, 06:01 PM   #2
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Condo life is fairly simple. You should be able to leave it for 6 months, with a mid-summer check. I check our Az condo in July just to make sure nothing is melting. If you get paranoid about leaving it, there are services that do checks, or you can install a camera system to watch if you have wi-fi.

Things to check:

Make sure you pick the area and condo that best suits your needs.
Check HOA fees, history of fee increases, and special assessments if any
See if there are any other fees
Check real estate taxes
Get a condo inspection before closing

Maybe hire your own realtor - their fees normally are split with the seller's realtor so that's no additional cost to you.

Hire a local attorney to handle your closing

Condo fees for my condo do include insurance on the building. I have insurance on the contents, etc.

Maintenance that the HOA provides for my condo includes everything outside except for window washing. Mainly landscaping maintenance, pool maint, sewer and water, garbage pickup, painting, new roofs, pavement sealing

Your schedule sounds doable

I find the most difficult part of snowbirding is getting our house fit for any extended time that I'm at the condo.
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Old 01-08-2014, 07:12 PM   #3
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Also check the reserves and ask to see the reserve study. If the community is preparing for replacement items and maintenance then you have less of a chance of special assessments.

JDARNELL
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Old 01-08-2014, 07:45 PM   #4
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+1 on all the suggestions above.

Some condos I've seen recently in SW Florida have areas that flood (particularly areas that used to be lanais and are now rooms with windows, walls, floors and A/C) which puts those specific buildings in a FEMA flood zone. I'm guessing that means higher insurance costs.

See if you can read HOA bulletins and meeting minutes from the last year or two (I've found some online with no password required). That gave me a "heads up" on a potential forthcoming $21,000 roof repair assessment on a condo I would've considered.

Speak to as many neighbors as you can find who have lived there a long time...they will tell you many things (good and bad)...and about the changes that have occurred over time. Also ask them about the management of that association.

Unless you're an avid golfer, I'd suggest avoiding condos that have on-site golf courses whose fees are a mandatory part of your purchase. These condos are becoming extremely hard to sell, from what I've observed. Thus they often seem to be priced attractively, but digging into their overall expenses has revealed that the mandatory fees for the golf course raise the total cost to be uncompetitive with similar condos without the golf courses from what I've seen.

Now is peak (snowbird and) real estate selling season in FL. If you're willing to wait to buy until after the snowbirds leave, you might be able to get a better deal.

If you're not absolutely sure of where you want to buy, you may want to rent for a season to get a feel for the area. first

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Old 01-08-2014, 07:57 PM   #5
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One thing that I would check is if units can be rented...

I have rented condos a few times and thought they were great.... but with the other guest that were there would not have wanted to live there...

There was one where the pool was supposed to close at 10PM.... there was a wild party going on up to 2AM when I finally got fed up and complained... the front desk basically said they could not do anything about it... (however, the finally did)...

From what I could tell, about half of the people staying (or more) were renting....
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Old 01-08-2014, 08:01 PM   #6
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Read the bylaws, condo association minutes, reserve fund study and financial statements. Talk to the building manager if there is one. Find out about rentals, pets, calls to local police, and special assessments. You wouldn't believe what goes on!
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Old 01-08-2014, 08:38 PM   #7
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Besides Condos Florida has a lot of smaller single family homes or villas that have lawn care , community pools , tennis courts and all the advantages of condos but you have your own space . The one thing I recommend to narrow down where you want to move is to get the local newspaper for at least six months . It will give you the feel of the area .Renting is also a great idea until you are sure of the area .
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Old 01-09-2014, 05:10 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Moemg View Post
Besides Condos Florida has a lot of smaller single family homes or villas that have lawn care , community pools , tennis courts and all the advantages of condos but you have your own space . The one thing I recommend to narrow down where you want to move is to get the local newspaper for at least six months . It will give you the feel of the area .Renting is also a great idea until you are sure of the area .
+1 And then Google Earth the addresses to get a feel for the locations before you make the trip down.

Cheers!
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Old 01-14-2014, 01:19 AM   #9
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How do you handle mail fowarding back and forth when you are at one place 6.5 months and another for 5.5 months?
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Old 01-14-2014, 10:13 AM   #10
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Definitely check the HOA minutes to see whether or not the membership is getting along or engaging in political battles on various fronts. A bad HOA situation can make ownership a nightmare.

Also, check to see if there is a reserve or capital projects fund and what the balance is at present. I think reserve funds are beneficial as opposed to having large, unexpected assessments periodically.

Our HOA buys insurance that covers the buildings and all common ground. Individual owners buy policies that cover their own personal contents.
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Old 01-14-2014, 11:04 AM   #11
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How do you handle mail fowarding back and forth when you are at one place 6.5 months and another for 5.5 months?
My ILs solved this problem by getting a PO Box in one location (they go back and forth between SF Bay Area and AZ) and then move to on-line banking, brokerage, bill-pay and most everything else. Usually it's 98% junk in the PO at this point since just about everything they care about is done electronically ... they even Skype and Facetime, text and email with their grand-kids -- so the only thing the believe they miss out on getting is the odd bit of personal correspondence.
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Old 01-14-2014, 11:07 AM   #12
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Before making an offer I would sit in on a HOA meeting. They typically meet twice a year. Out of this you'll determine ALL the problems you buying into. Like:

1. Bickering between owers and landlords. Or owners and owners.
2. Collection issues
3. outstanding law suits
4. forthcoming special assessments
5. Longterm direction (elderly/family orientation)

... and much, much more. NONE of the bickering makes the minutes (trust me, I write the minutes for the lake association we're in) ... better to see it in person. The "problem" might be YOUR neighbor.

I'ld also look at Homeaway and VRBO for a longterm rental. Try before you buy.
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Old 01-14-2014, 11:40 AM   #13
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Not only try before you buy, but think about just having a small rental in Chicago and downsize at home so that you routinely live in all three places. Rent in all 3 places before putting down roots.
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Old 01-14-2014, 12:02 PM   #14
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When you buy a condo remember that you also buy into being part of the Home Owner's Association that runs the property. Will you you be happy, if the rules don't let your guests splash in the pool after 10:00PM? Or require that you be there with them? Are you willing to help out? HOA's are usually staffed by volunteer homeowners. Are you willing to volunteer to help when you are at the property?

How about the fees? There are two models. One is usually higher monthly fees to keep the reserves topped up and avoid unpleasant surprises. This is also the fairest way to distribute costs over time. The other is to keep fees low, and send out a 'special assessment' when things like painting, re-roofing, etc. need to be done. This can be unfair if you buy a condo and find out you get to pay to redo the roof the previous owner spend 20 years wearing out.
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Old 01-14-2014, 06:02 PM   #15
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Thanks everyone for the advise. We plan to go down to Punta Gorda/ Ft. Myers on Thursday and look around. I have a couple of friends that live down there now and they are going to show me around.

I'm not in any hurry and mostly just want to look over the area and see if this is a place that we might want to live. And we are also looking at just renting.
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