Buying a condo is a little different from buying a house. You are buying into a community and delegating management and maintenance to others (the board and the manager). I often think that you are becoming business partners with your neighbors. I consider this a good thing. There are more resources to draw from and you can keep things together even when you have big life changes that may take you way from day to day maintenance and management of your property, however; you want to make sure that the other homeowners have similar values to yours. If it’s a luxury building, most of the owners will want things to be in top top shape and you will pay to keep it that way or you may be in a building with mainly first time home buyers or retirees living on very small budgets who may be more interested in doing the bare minimum and deferred maintenance could be an issue.
Get the Documents
Declaration, By-laws and Rules and Regulations: It is your responsibility to get these. If you are working with a real estate agent they will likely request these as part of the purchase contract (offer), however; there is no reason that you can’t review these before placing an offer. These are legal documents that describe the property and how it will be run. You and your real estate agent should be able to read understand them but don’t hesitate to have an attorney look at them if you are not comfortable with them.
Financial Statements: You’ll want to review the annual budget so you can see where the money goes and understand the financial priorities of the community. You will also want to see the income statement for year to date or previous year. This is sometimes called a profit and loss statement. This will help determine how good they are at sticking to the budget. The balance sheet will give you a picture of the assets and liabilities of the HOA. How much cash reserves are in place for large capital improvements or maintenance issues that my come up.
Meeting Minutes: Whether the HOA board meets monthly, quarterly or annually, you will want to see what the topics of concern are for them. Generally the larger the community the more often they meet. Request minutes for the last year. Your real estate agent or the management of the community should be able to get these for you. The community is required to keep minutes of their meetings.
Talk to the Stakeholders and Professionals
Residents: Find out if you already know someone that lives there or a friend of a friend. They will be able to tell you what the culture of the building is like and if they like living there. If you don’t know anyone, ask your realtor to help you find someone. Every community has their doers, complainers and regular people who just enjoy living in the space. Make sure you know which type of person you are speaking with. In other words a complainer might be a good resource to help you understand where potential problems may be but they may also be someone who always finds faults with the community, The doers are a good resource who may be a bit more positive and have better facts.
Management: The manager may be onsite or offsite. The manager may also be another resident or a professional property manager. They will often give you good insight into how the building is run and the culture of the building. They can provide you with more in depth information. Ask them if they’ve done a condo reserve study to determine what will need to be repaired or replaced and when.
Board members: They will be the most knowledgable resource about the issues. If you have concerns about anything that you found in the financial statements, meeting minutes or conversations with residents.
Lenders: Financing a condo with a mortgage is different than a regular house. Your lender will consider your ability to pay the HOA payments in addition to your principal, interest and taxes. Also not all condos are eligible for FHA financing. It’s best to find a local lender that understands condos. Your realtor should be able to help you with this.
Insurance Company: Condos are usually much less expensive to insure than a home since you are usually just financing the interior of your condo.
Home Inspector: Get a professional home inspector to conduct a full inspection of the condominium. You will want to learn the condition of the appliances, electric, plumbing, HVAC and more. Even if you don’t plan on asking for anything from the seller, it’s a good idea to get an inspection so you have a n understanding of how things work and what might need to be done to make your home functional for the future.