The Most Important Things to Remember When Buying a Condo

by Michele Lerner

Kenyon Square in Columbia Heights

Many first-time home buyers choose to purchase a condominium either because condos are affordable or because they like the idea of owning a home that doesn’t require too much maintenance. However, it is important to remember that when you buy a condo, you are not just buying your own home, but you are buying into a shared community.

In a condo, you and your neighbors share in the financial responsibility for this community. In many ways, this can be a benefit since you won’t personally be responsible for repairing the roof or painting the shutters outside each window. On the other hand, you do have to pay monthly fees and sometimes a special assessment to keep the elevator running and the common areas attractive, even if you never use the elevator or really care about the spring planting season.

It is important to compare not only the prices of condos, but also the monthly fees. When looking at fees, buyers should figure out exactly what they cover. A low fee can seem appealing, but if the community is not well-maintained or the fee doesn’t cover as much as it does in other buildings, it may not be a bargain. A high fee can be a turn-off for some buyers, however that fee could include payment for utilities, parking, etc. Typically, condo fees are based on the square footage of each unit, so that owners share equitably in the cost of insurance, common area utilities and maintenance including trash pick-up and snow removal. Condos with elevators and swimming pools typically have higher fees because those are two items which require expensive maintenance.

Condo buyers are required by law to be given financial documents and rules between the time their offer is accepted and when the contract goes into effect. Wise buyers will review those documents and contact the condo board and/or the management if they have questions. In the mountain of documents, buyers should look closely at a few items.

  • Look at the condo budget to see how much the association spends on operating expenses. These expenses should be about 2/3 of the budget.
  • Make sure a reserve fund exists and that some portion of each monthly fee is deposited in that fund. Reserve funds vary significantly from condo to condo depending on the age and size of the property. A large complex with 300 units or more might have a reserve fund of $1 million or more, but a small boutique-style condo can typically have much less than that. Condos with low reserve funds are more likely to require a special assessment on all residents when a major repair or renovation is required.
  • Check to see what the rules are that govern how often and how much the fees can go up. The last thing you want is to have your condo fees double and make your home much less affordable.
  • See if you can find out how many residents are behind in their dues. An association needs to have a plan in place if they have a lot of foreclosures or unpaid dues. Obtaining a loan can be more difficult when a development has shaky finances and this situation can hurt future resales, too.

Lastly, ask your Realtor and the condo management about these issues until you are satisfied that you are buying into a financially sound community.

See other articles related to: editors choice, dclofts, condo buying

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/the_most_important_things_to_remember_when_buying_a_condo/1451

1 Comment

  1. roots said at 12:35 am on Friday December 4, 2009:

    What do you suggest would be a healthy reserve for a condo building built in 2006 with about 150 units? half a million?

Comments are closed.

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We've collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »


Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »

Upcoming Seminars ▾