I have always felt that my real estate business goes in waves. There have been times when I was heavily working waterfront on the lake, times when all my business seemed to be new construction, and times when I seemed to be selling older houses. Today I am in a condo wave. I have two listings that are condos and this weekend I have written offers on two more condos. I am up to my ears in condos. I think it is the universe telling me that I need to write a blog post about condos. So here are a few things to keep in mind if you are considering buying a condo.
First, and in my opinion the most important, is that you are not just buying a home, you are buying into a community. Condominiums are governed by Home Owner’s Associations. Your home inspection will have all of the usual criteria for checking out the structure and the components, but you will also have an inspection of the HOA documents.
HOA documents include rules and regulations that tell you what is and what is not allowed. All usually have a clause for “nuisance” behavior, but some can be pretty restrictive. I have seen rules that don’t let you have anything showing inside of your window that could be objectionable. The two most common issues that you will want to be sure of is whether or not pets are allowed and whether or not rentals are allowed. You need to know these things going in and not after you own it.
Other important documents are about the financial health of the association. You want to see that they have money in reserve to take care of maintenance and repairs. This will include the current year’s budget, and also a reserve study. The reserve study projects into the future for replacement of big items like roofs and siding. While I know everyone hates to pay a monthly HOA fee, and often will rule out buying a condo because the fee seems too high, it is actually super important that the fees collected are enough to not just pay for the current maintenance like mowing the lawns and paying for garbage removal, but also are enough to over time add up to some rather significant amounts of savings. If proper saving isn’t done, then when the time comes to do major repairs the association will be forced to do a special assessment to cover the costs. A special assessment is much more financially painful than smaller amounts collected monthly over time.
You will also want to see the meeting notes from the HOA meetings of the last year. If there is a problem in the complex, they are likely talking about it at the meetings.
Financing of a condo can also be challenging when you go to get a mortgage. Most HOA’s restrict how many units can be rented out and this is important. Fannie Mae lending guidelines require that at least 50% of the units be owner occupied. For financing such as VA and FHA, the criteria to obtain these types of loans require that the Home Owner’s Association apply for the qualification. The VA loan application is a one time issue and runs with the complex forever once it’s approved. FHA is more complicated and must be renewed every few years at a cost of both time and money. So to have FHA approval it requires a Board of Directors that is motivated and on the ball.
Condos are terrific because they are generally less expensive than a house, require much less personal labor to up keep, and are ideal if you want a lifestyle where you can lock your door and be away for extended periods. With the cost of housing being a premium, they are truly the only option for many people.
There are also a really wide variety of condos. Some are super luxurious with top-of-the-line finishes and services. Others are bare bones and feel like what they once were, apartments. The least expensive condo for sale in Lake Oswego right now is a 1 bedroom, 1 bath unit on State Street. It has 829 square feet and is for sale for $170,000. The most expensive has 4 bedrooms, 4.5 baths, with 4911 square feet and is listed for $1,798,000.
If you have other questions, please contact any one of us. Linda, Whitney and I are all here to help.