There are many benefits to owning a condo—minimal exterior maintenance, the ability to live in popular cities—that makes this housing option a good choice for first-time buyers, retirees, or people looking for vacation homes. However, living in a condo is very different from residing in a single-family home, and the type of lifestyle required to successfully dwell in a condo is not for everyone. Here are a few things you should consider about condo life to ensure it is right for you.
Privacy and Quiet May Be Hard to Come By
Condo communities come in different types of configurations, but the most common is the apartment-style building. While this type can offer enhanced security and increased chances for socializing with the neighbors, it can be plagued with the same major drawbacks associated with apartments: reduced privacy and noise.
This will depend a lot on how the condo was constructed and the quality of the materials used. If the condos are poorly insulated or the rooms are not arranged for optimal privacy (e.g. your bedroom connects to your neighbor's), then you could end up being privy to your neighbor's private moments and vice versa. On top of that, you'll likely run into your neighbors in the halls and landings more often than if you lived in a single-family home. This means more opportunities for people living nearby to strike up a conversation or snoop in on what you're doing.
Since the condos are right next to each other, noise may also be an issue. You may hear your upstairs neighbor practicing his or her dance routine or get to listen to the kid next door bang on the drums. Although you own the place, the condo association may institute quiet hours and other rules to regulate the amount of noise you can make in your home, which may interfere with your lifestyle if you like to entertain, play a musical instrument, or have noisy hobbies.
If quiet is important to you, look for signs the condo you're thinking of buying has adequate soundproofing. For instance, carpeting can muffle the sound of footsteps. Ask how thick the walls are and the type of insulation used. The standard wall thickness is 4.5 inches, so walls thicker than this may mean reduced noise. Additionally, fiberglass insulation can help keep the noise down to a tolerable level and prevent your neighbor from overhearing your conversation with your mom.
The Community Rules
Condo buildings are owned by all the people who purchased property in it. Although there is typically a condo association who takes care of the exterior maintenance and enforces the rules, it's the condo owners who actually decide what those rules are. This means you may have to adhere to policies you don't agree with or may have a significantly negative impact on your quality of life. For instance, some condos don't allow pets or restrict the type of animal friends owners can have. Some may restrict the days when you can move in or out or have contractors work on your home, and other go so far as to dictate what color your front door can be.
To ensure you're getting in a place where you'll feel comfortable, ask for a list of the condo's rules and covenants and see if you can live with them. Be aware, though, that the rules can change at any time, so be certain to ask how often this happens to get a sense of how stable the community is.
Unexpected Assessments May Destroy Budgets
Condos typically charge owners a monthly fee that goes towards building maintenance and services. This fee is usually disclosed upfront, so you can include it in your budget.
However, there are times when the condo association may issue a special assessment during the year to pay for things the building fund can't cover, such as unexpected roof repairs. This special assessment is money you must pay in addition to the condo fees, which can pose a problem if you are living on limited income, such as retirement benefits.
You can get an idea of how often special assessments are issued by asking the condo association directly about the issue. It's also a good idea to ask what percent of owners are delinquent in their condo dues. The higher the delinquency rate, the more likely you will be hit with special assessments to compensate for others not pulling their weight.
For more information about condo life or for help with finding the best home for you, contact a real estate agent.