What exactly is a condominium?
When you were a kid were you good at sharing your toys, snacks and parents with your siblings? If not, condominium living could be a serious adjustment, since sharing and playing nice with your neighbors is pretty much mandated.
A condominium is a legal entity, that is it represents a type of ownership created by the legal system in order to define ownership of a unit or apartment. In a condominium, the purchaser receives a deed to the unit and an undivided interest in the common elements of the condominium shared with all other unit owners. Common elements cannot be sold separately by any unit owners and typically include pools, clubhouses, tennis courts, boat docks, parking spaces and roadways.
If you're in the market for a condominium, be aware that there are communities that contain both condominium units and homeowner association units. The difference is that in most condominiums, you are responsible for the surface of the four perimeter walls inward and from the unfinished ceiling down and the unfinished surface of the floor up. The unit owners are responsible to keep electric and plumbing in proper order, they are responsible for the air conditioning in their unit and generally responsible for windows.
However, condominium owners are not responsible for any exterior maintenance. In a homeowner's association, you could be responsible for exterior maintenance including roofs, painting, repairs to siding, decks, etc. depending on how those particular regulations were created.
In Florida, if you have a written purchase offer on a condominium, you will be given a set of the homeowner association governing documents. These documents will consist of the association's articles of incorporation, the declaration which lays out your property rights, the by-laws which describe how the association operates and the rules and regulations which govern how you your guests and any renters can use the property. They also will tell you if there are prohibitions against pets or limitations on the number or size of pets you can keep as well as rules related to walking and cleaning up after them. You will then have three days to review the documents and either go forward with the transaction or back away.
You also should ask for and review a copy of the community's latest budget and reserves as well as documentation of the association fees and what the fees cover. These documents should give you a good idea of how much money has been saved for big-ticket items and whether you can expect any special assessments in the future. Naturally, also ask if there is an ongoing special assessment not yet paid for by the owner of the unit you are considering purchasing.
So picture this scenario, you've lived in your single family home on your half acre of land for over 30 years, and now you decide that condominium living is for you. Some of the questions you have to ask yourself are – when I decide to take a swim at the community pool how am I going to feel about my neighbor's three grandchildren splashing around, or what to do when the decision is made to repaint the buildings the color picked reminds you of your grandmother's dining room, or the landscape committee has recommended removing your favorite tree with your beloved bird's nest.
If the answer to any of these questions is, "I'm not going to like it," then living in an environment with shared elements could be a problem. It doesn't much matter if you're 6 or 60, sharing is what condominium living is all about, and it involves a lot more than cookies and finger-paint.