The condo dance

Castles in the Sand

Every dance has specific dance steps. Even though some dancers may look like they’re just winging it, they’re at least the ones that you keep looking at. Living in a condo requires learning a multiple of dance steps, so if you’re not good at condo dancing, you may need to rethink your purchase.

Condo living is great. It frees you of all the day to day maintenance issues that a house requires – exterior painting and pool cleaning are done, the lawn is mowed and roof repairs are a thing of the past. But all of these services come with a price in both money and control.

The first dance steps you need to learn are those in the condo maintenance fees or homeowner association fees dance. These fees are established in order to pay for all of the services and expenses the condo association is responsible for. Owners pay either a monthly or quarterly fee that goes into the association’s funds and is allocated to specific reserves.

As soon as you are in contract for a condo property, the condo fees are disclosed to you. You, in turn, need to disclose these fees to your lender if you are applying for a mortgage. Condo fees are calculated by lenders right along with principal, interest, taxes and insurance in order to qualify for financing.

Condos with high fees can kill a deal if the potential buyer does not qualify for a mortgage because of the fees. This can be a tricky calculation for condos that are new construction since it’s not uncommon for the developer to lowball common charges in order to sell units, which means that marginal buyers may not get their financing if the fees are adjusted upward prior to closing.

The second dance that has very complicated steps is the giving up control to the condo boards and management company dance. If you’re one of those people who needs to dot every “I” and question every rule, you may have a hard time learning this dance.

There’s a fair amount of freedom you give up to live in a condo. For instance, if you liked skinny dipping in your single-family home pool you better start buying a bunch of bathing suits or, if your neighbors on the other side of your common wall have their grandchildren over every Sunday to watch football, either you join the party or go out for the day. Condo living is nothing if not a compromise.

There is, however, a way to gain some control and that’s by volunteering to join the condo board. Based on how the condo documents are drawn up, condo board members have a lot of power. They can change rules, choose contractors to do jobs and move money around. There certainly are decisions the boards cannot make without a vote of the residents, so learning what decisions condo boards can and cannot make is important before going forward.

If you don’t join the board yourself, make sure you vote for board members that you feel are qualified and ethical. In addition, condo boards that have good management companies to advise and guide them are better run.

Successful condo living is a “live and let live” concept. Minor infractions of rules should be overlooked and flexibility will make your living experience rewarding. If you want a carefree lifestyle and the ability to lock your door and leave, like so many people in Florida do, condo living is a perfect fit. But first you need to learn the condo dance and how to dance like a pro.

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