How to Buy A Condo, Or Be Able to Live With The One You Got!

I wrote a book. Well, actually I have written 3 books. One is a basic guide on how homeowner associations work. One is all about providing answers to pressing questions like “How to Buy a Condominium” and the third takes the law in California relating to HOAs and explains it in Plain English. I’m all about solving problems in HOAs for boards and for owners.


To that end, I recently saw a short article on buying a condominium and thought it had been quite a while since I talked about this subject. I talk to more people that want out than want in, mainly because those that want in are too blinded by the idea of living where they can have a pool, or save money over the purchase of a house, or live in an area where townhouses and condos are the favored option for builders, or who want to live close to Bart or the city center, or just fall in love with the “cuteness” of a townhouse.


Just as food for thought, if you want to do any homework, here are some excerpts directly out of THE CONDO OWNERS ANSWER BOOK, a publication of Sourcebooks. It is a good sense guide to choosing, living in, solving dilemmas, and exiting if you can’t stand it. And there is a link to purchase it on my website ( in the webstore.

So here goes – the excerpt of the chapter on buying a condo. Get the book if you want more, or if you already got one (a condo) and need to know how to solve problems or get what you want.

Buyer Beware! … or At Least, Be Smart!

[a] I want to buy a condo, but what do I look for so I don’t get burned?

Here is what not to do: trust yourself (if you do not have a working knowledge of homeowner associations), trust a realtor who does not sell very many condos, or … think it doesn’t matter who you talk to.

[a] What is the first step to deciding if you want to even consider a condo. These questions and answers may help.

The first step is think very hard about what you want in a living situation. Educate yourself on what a condominium is. Understand that you would be purchasing a home that is similar in many ways to apartment living, without the “easy out.” Understand that you cannot choose nor control your neighbors. You have to hope for reasonable people who can co-exist in a densely populated development.  On the other hand, consider your financial capability, and whether the condominium is the only affordable option. Ask yourself whether having a pool, spa, park, clubhouse, or other amenity is important to you (understanding that you will have to pay for the amenity whether you use it or not. Consider that having the extra layer of governance could be an advantage in keeping the development together.

Talk to friends who live in condos. See what they think and whether they enjoy their situations. Everyone must know someone who has had “condo experience” of some kind. Do not get your information from the newspapers. Understand that the information printed there is for one purpose only – to sell newspapers. And understand that the vocal minority (often those who complain the loudest) are not the purveyors of the most balanced information.

How would you decide whether purchasing a condominium or an attached housing choice where a homeowners association is involved is a better choice for you than a single family residence with no such association?

The answer to this question depends upon the reasons you might consider a condominium. Is affordability and issue? Condos are often priced lower than single family homes in the same geographic area.  Are you located in or looking to purchase in an area that has more condominiums than single-family residences, such as the Orange County area of California and areas in Florida? In some cases, it is hard to find single-family residential properties that are not connected to a homeowners association.  Are you interested in the “lock and go” capability of a condo? It often feels safer to lock the doors and leave in an area where your neighbors are close and someone is always out and about, making it less obvious that the owner is on vacation. And if you know your neighbors, they can keep watch over the place for you. Is the idea that someone else maintains the property enticing?  Some people do not like to work in the yard or on the buildings, and some people do not even like the responsibility of finding contractors to do the necessary work.

There are considerations related to financing a condominium that may be important. Can you qualify under the lender’s criteria for the mortgage payment AND the assessment payment that is required for a condominium. Are you willing to risk that the assessment may be increased, irrespective of your ability to pay?

[…and much more on insurance, taxes and practical aspects of a common interest development like a townhouse or condo…]

Once you decide a condominium might be right for you, what are the most important questions to ask when shopping for a condo? How do you find the right condo for yourself?

These are some initial questions and answers that may help to decide what to look (or should it be said – what to watch out for –  in choosing a condominium.

Locate your area or areas of choice.

Find a Realtor who is an area specialist who commonly deals with condominiums, or who is known to sell in those areas. Getting referrals from satisfied clients is the best way to find an honest reliable realtor. And know that a condominium is a unique property with characteristics that are not obvious to anyone who has not studied them.

Be sure to drive through the complexes that interest you, look around, check out the condition of the buildings housing the homes, and the common areas like the pool, clubhouse, greenbelt, parks, etc. Are the neighborhoods well tended and well kept? Are the common areas clean and well kept? Are the streets and driveways fairly clear of distracting vehicles or is every inch of the street running through the development cluttered with parked vehicles, leaving only a narrow thoroughfare. Is the landscaping kept up? Are the trees trimmed? Are they very large and close to fences or the homes? Are there walkways? Does the neighborhood look kid friendly (if you have kids), or quiet (if you don’t). Are the balconies cluttered with items that should be in storage?

Try to drive through during the day so you can see the condition of the complex, the fences, yards, and buildings, and also do a drive through in the evening so you can see what happens when everyone comes home from work. Do people you see wave and smile, or not wave and not smile? Is the setting country, or urban? What is around the development, shops or open space? Are people out walking around or does the development look deserted? Are the mail boxes stuffed with advertisements falling out all over the place or are they neat and tidy

You know more about what you like than the realtor does. Some places you can scope out yourself, but others might require hooking up with a realtor (like a gated community). The important thing is: can you see yourself living there?

Think before you leap!


And once you’re in, check out “Finding the Key To Your Castle”! Also available on the website.







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