UrbanTurf Reader Asks: Why Do Some Buildings in DC Have Such High Condo Fees?

by Mark Wellborn


In this installment of UrbanTurf Reader Asks, a reader wonders why the monthly fees are so high at various condo developments in neighborhoods like Wesley Heights and the Southwest Waterfront.

Why do condo developments in certain pockets of DC like Wesley Heights and the Southwest Waterfront have such exorbitantly high condo fees? I have been casually looking for a condo for about four months and there have been a few times that I have found spacious one-bedrooms for about $225,000, only to learn that the monthly condo fees are upwards of $900! These developments do have a number of amenities (pool, gym, etc), but $900 a month still seems ridiculous.

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This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/urbanturf_reader_asks_why_do_some_buildings_in_dc_have_such_high_condo_fees/1312


  1. Simon said at 11:46 am on Tuesday September 15, 2009:

    I always thought this was because these were some of the first condos built in the DC area and the fees have just risen to these high points over the years.

  1. Liz said at 12:21 pm on Tuesday September 15, 2009:

    It’s not only buildings with amenities, or older buildings.  I’ve seen buildings with fees of $2000-$3000 for a two-bedroom condo.  The bottom may be 1/10th that, but that’s the exception, not the rule.  Fees and taxes generally add upwards of 50-100% to the cost of the mortgage.

    I thought this was everywhere, but I think it’s worse in DC. One of many reasons I’ve stopped looking at condos started looking for a house.

  1. JohnDC said at 12:56 pm on Tuesday September 15, 2009:

    I have a 3 bedroom with condo fees of $250 and includes water, sewage, trash collection etc. We don’t have a doorman or elevator which I imagine keeps costs low

  1. Steven said at 1:08 pm on Tuesday September 15, 2009:

    The first thing is to check whether the condo is in a co-op building or not.  In a co-op fees also include an underlying mortgage and property tax.  Also, when buying a co-op, you the amount you finance is reduced by the principal of the underlying mortgage.

    For example, let’s say a buyer is putting 10% down on a $300,000 co-op unit with a $60,000 underlying mortgage.  The buyer only has to finance $210,000—that’s $300k minus the downpayment and minus the underlying mortgage. 

    Condo fees usually include water and sewage; others may include gas and/or electric.  In fancier buildings and some co-ops, they may also include high-speed internet, security/doorman, concierge, etc.

    Also, a portion of condo fees go into a reserve fund—this is the fund to replace a building’s roof, carpet, lighting, etc. as a building ages. 

    Basically, when comparing house vs. condo, it’s very hard to compare apples-to-apples without doing a LOT of math first.  Also, while a house doesn’t have a condo fee, there are also expenses associated with maintaining a house, and that can add up as well!  Most people usually think that owning house is cheaper regardless, but keep in mind that if you contract people to do work, it probably won’t.  And if you don’t contract the work, then you have to put in your own time to do it, so there’s a trade-off there as well!

    See this NYT article, for example:

    The article talks quotes a financial planner who maintains a spreadsheet to help manage some of his clients’ unrealsitic expectations when it comes to the expense of homeownership. 

  1. Emil Ali said at 1:33 pm on Tuesday September 15, 2009:

    Steven said it best. Just remember that the older the building, the higher the maintenance. If you buy a old house, you need to know that it will require a lot of work and money. Meanwhile in an old condo, the association will take care of it, but will pass the cost on to you in equal monthly installments rather than “special assessments” which most people can’t pay. Since associations can’t usually get loans or financing, they need to get the money over the course of a few months before the project begins and then add some to reserves for such emergencies like flooding and elevator issues.

  1. B said at 3:29 pm on Tuesday September 15, 2009:

    Don’t overlook condo management fees.  When I was on the board of my condo in DC, we paid upwards of $20K/yr for professional management for an under 50 unit building.  Depending on the unit, it was ~$40/mo./unit on that alone.  Common elements like boilers and A/C chillers were expensive to operate and maintain (old building) and utility costs increased regularly.  The city won’t take trash from a building with more than 3 or four units, so you need to hire a trash hauler.  You need someone to clean and maintain common areas.  it adds up.

    New buildings tend to include self contained systems within units rather than shared.  Having a contained HVAC and hot water heater, as well as separately metered everything, is a better model which many older buildings can’t accomodate.  The cost and maintenance are not folded into condo fees.

  1. mary said at 10:55 am on Wednesday September 16, 2009:

    the one pictured is riverside in sw and includes all utilities, cable, pool, parking. condo fees never go down and it’s not unusual for them to double in the first 5 years as the builder turns it over to the inexperienced board. our building pays 80k for an onsite manager in addition to a management company. just be sure to figure it into your comp housing costs when looking at multiple buildings. all are not created equal.

  1. Michele said at 12:44 pm on Wednesday September 16, 2009:

    Steve pointed out just what I was going to write about the difference between a co-op and condo. Condo fees are based heavily on costs, so buildings with elevators and swimming pools usually have much higher fees than those without them.

  1. Steve Dean, RE/MAX Allegiance said at 2:57 pm on Wednesday September 16, 2009:

    Whenever you’re looking at purchasing a condo or a coop, it’s important to see what’s covered in the fees. There are no standards with the one exception that coop fees in the District of Columbia will always cover the property taxes.

    Obviously, having a pool, 24-hour front desk, elevators, and private security will raise operating costs. If those things are important to you, then they’ll be worth the amount they increase your monthly fees. If you want to be able to place a work order with the association when you have a problem in your unit and have it repaired by the time you come home from work, you should expect to see a higher monthly fee for the service.

    In areas such as Southwest DC, most associations cover all of the utilities except for telephone and internet. Many include Comcast Digital TV service, and others maintain the air conditioning and heating units as well as the plumbing. Some of the larger associations will actually purchase utilities at wholesale rates and will have more negotiation room with the utility companies than an individual owner or smaller association. If properly managed, this can mean smaller increases over time.

    Don’t look just at the monthly fees, but check the association’s reserve funds and operating budgets. Will the association have money when systems reach the end of their lifecycle and need to be replaced? Or are the current owners hoping to have moved-out and hoping it will be someone else’s problem when it happens.

    There are associations out there that have low fees, but some are actually running at a loss and are transferring funds from reserves to cover operating costs. That can only go on so long. It can also make it difficult or impossible for a prospective purchaser to obtain a loan. Do you want to own somewhere where you have problems selling later because enough money wasn’t set aside? Lenders are looking at those details these days.

    It’s important to know what percentage of the unit owners are delinquent on their monthly fees. If more than 15% are more than 30 days delinquent, Fannie Mae will not approve the mortgage for the new purchaser. If too many units go into foreclosure in an association, the association could have a budget shortfall. That usually means a special assessment or increased fees in the next budget cycle.

    There is no simple answer to high fees versus low fees. It takes some due diligence to look at the resale package when purchasing, and the level of service one desires in their condo or coop association is a personal, lifestyle choice.

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