Buying a Condo? Ten things you should know.

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If you are a first time buyer and are considering buying a condo {if you are in Chicago that’s probably you!} congrats! Buying your first place is exciting {and sometimes stressful and terrifying}, it’s a big deal for sure. As a condo owner specifically, there are some important things to be aware of.

I came across an article from the Chicago Tribune and thought it was a great resource, especially for first time buyers. Here are the top 10 facts you should know when buying a Condominium:

Assessments

Each condo unit owner pays monthly assessments to the association. These assessments cover different things depending on the building. Items typically include common area maintenance and insurance, trash removal, and can also include snow removal, water, things like having a doorman, etc.

What’s important to know is that the association will vote each year on whether to raise the assessments or keep them at the current amount. You should plan for them to increase annually so that your budget doesn’t get any unhappy surprises. Years of no assessment increases might keep the association from being able to build a solid reserve {next item in the list} capable of addressing necessary work to the building.  It could also lead to a large increase when assessments are finally raised.

Reserves

Assessments include a forced savings amount called reserves. This money is the building’s savings account and is money set aside for future projects. Some buildings save more and maintain a higher reserve amount, and utilize this money for maintenance projects. Other buildings do not maintain large reserve amounts, opting to deal with projects as they come up, with special assessments paid for by the owners at the time of the project.

Shared Decision Making

When you live in a condo, you don’t get to make decisions on your own. You must work with other condo owners regarding everything related to the building, whether that’s how much to be putting into reserves, upcoming projects, or different rules and regulations for the building.

Some condo buildings are self-managed, some hire a management company. No matter which one your building falls under, it’s important to be engaged as an unit owner within the building. It can be easy to think that since you have people on the association, or a management company, that you don’t need to worry about anything, but this isn’t true. Disengaged unit owners don’t know what’s happening in their building, and they have no say in what happens or how the building’s money is spent. Go to monthly or quarterly association meetings and take part in the association and maintenance of the building. In this way, it’s just like owning a single family home.

Common Elements 

Everything inside the unit is your responsibility, everything outside the unit is considered ‘shared space’ and is maintained by the association. {this gets a little fuzzy when it comes to utilities servicing only your unit that might be located within the walls of shared spaces}. All unit owners share ownership of the common elements as a group, and changes or work must be discussed and agreed to by the group.

Damage

You are responsible for any damage that arises from your unit, whether you were negligent or not.

Rules & Regulations

Each condominium will have ‘Rules & Regs’ outlining what is expected from unit owners, and what is restricted. Issues like pet ownership and the ability to rent out units are often addressed specifically, in addition to a myriad of other items. Some building’s rules & regs are much more exhaustive than others. It’s important to know that at any time the building could decide to change the rules of the building. However this is usually something that is brought up and discussed over time before being voted on by unit owners, not decided at one single association meeting.

Noise

Each building is different, and some will have more noise transmission between units than others. Be a good neighbor! While it’s unreasonable to expect the same level of silence that you would get in a single family home, be aware of your noise level within your unit and how it might be affecting your neighbors. Karma is real.

Pets

Owning a pet comes with responsibilities. Control your pet’s behavior. {another pesky aspect of being a good neighbor!} A few minutes of barking might not seem like a lot to you, but it can seem like an eternity to neighbors. Condos don’t have backyards or a lot of outdoor space, make sure your pets are well behaved, and pick up after the dogs.

Duty to Maintain the Building

The board must maintain the building for the benefit of current and future owners. The attitude of not caring or maintaining the space because you won’t be in it a few years from now, is not an option. This relates to my last post. In larger buildings you will find that the board takes this seriously, in smaller buildings can be a much bigger challenge. As owners, you are responsible for keeping the building taken care of and in good condition, so that it can have a long life and keep appreciating in value.

Respect the Property Manager

Some buildings have doormen, building managers and building engineers, and maybe more… taking care of everything from security, greeting owners and guests, accepting packages, to building issues, maintenance and budgets. Sometimes one person is filling more than one role. Respect the people who help keep your building running smoothly, clean, and taken care of. They are helping maintain the quality of your building, which helps your value, and contributes to your quality of living at the building.

Owning real estate is most people’s biggest investment, take it seriously and make sure you are taking care of your investment.

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