We totally get why people buy condos: They’re cheaper and require less maintenance than a traditional house (no mowing grass!). Plus, they’re often stacked with cool common amenities from pools to gyms. What’s not to love? Yet while condo living might seem carefree, buying one is not necessarily a simple task.
Here’s how to buy a condo, how it’s different from buying a house, and a few insider tips to pave the way to ownership.
Consider your unit’s surroundings
While the condo unit itself is a key consideration, it’s also important to carefully check out the environment around it—particularly when it comes to noise. Remember, you’ll be sharing walls with your neighbors, and perhaps even ceilings and floors.
“I always suggest my buyers book a showing during typically ‘louder’ times of the day, such as dinner time when kids are home, to see how well the walls actually dampen the noise,” says David Nelson with the Imperial Home Team in Minneapolis. He also recommends asking a few of the neighbors about general property noise, such as how loud the traffic and surrounding neighborhood are, and if they can hear their neighbors through the walls.
The unit you choose can play a large role as well.
“End units share fewer walls than those in the middle, which can lessen neighbor noise,” says Nelson. Of course, that’s also one of the reasons why end units and top-floor units are more coveted—and often pricier—but if you’re sensitive to noise, that could be money well spent.
Check out the condo association
When you buy a condo, you’re buying into the entire community—including its rules on everything from when and where it’s OK to let your dogs off the leash to whether RVs are allowed in your driveway. Most states will have a designated rescission period to peruse these documents. During this period, you’ll want to carefully read through the community’s regulations (called covenants, conditions, and restrictions, or CC&Rs) as well as penalties for not following them.
“When a buyer agrees to the association documents, he or she is automatically bound to the condo board’s rules,” says Nelson. These typically entail parking space allowances, regulations related to pets, and homeowner responsibilities for repairs and maintenance.
“If there is something in the association bylaws that you as a buyer don’t agree with, and it is still within the rescission period, you can back out of the
home purchase and usually get a full refund of any earnest money,” says Nelson.
Prospective condo buyers should also do their due diligence on the condo association’s finances, because this will affect your odds of getting a loan (more on that next).
In some cases, it can be trickier to secure a mortgage for a condo than a traditional home because the health of the condo development hinges on multiple owners paying their bills. Your mortgage lender is apt to conduct a thorough review of the condo complex as a whole, including documents relating to the overall health of the building and the condo association. The good news is that you can consider this an extra layer of due diligence to protect your own investment.
Prep for your condo interview
Sure, you’re checking them out, but they’re checking you out, too. Once your offer is accepted, many condo associations require prospective buyers to interview with the condo board. Don’t worry: These interviews must comply with all regulations against unlawful discrimination—the goal is to ensure that you can afford the home and fully understand condo rules. This is also your chance to ask questions about any of those rules, and also get a feel for some of the people you’ll be living with—so consider it less of a firing squad and more like a first date.