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Is Condo Life for You?

Written by Courtney Ronan on Tuesday, 06 June 2000 7:00 pm
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You want to begin investing your money into a home, but without the responsibilities of yardwork. So you set your sights on a condominium. You select an upstairs unit and after the usual process of paperwork, credit checks and obligatory waiting-and-nail-biting period, you're approved and move into your new home. The first night you spend in your new domestic bliss, however, you meet the little old lady downstairs -- and without a formal introduction. Actually, her television is what gets you acquainted on intimate terms. The decibel level emanating from tonight's episode of "Diagnosis Murder" is more than you can stand, so you head downstairs and introduce yourself formally to your neighbor, whose hearing is on its way out (thus, the high volume on the TV set). It's the beginning of a beautiful relationship ... and it's just part of life in a condominium. Isn't communal living great?

Wait -- don't jump to conclusions just yet. Condominium life can, in fact, be great with the right mix of residents and if your property is well-maintained. Admittedly, it's not for everyone. But the advantages of condo ownership seem to be winning over a growing legion of homeowners across the country. In cities like Philadelphia and Dallas, developers are building luxury condominium properties with asking prices of $250,000, $350,000 and higher -- and they're attracting homeowners who sign on the dotted line without so much as a blink of an eye. In fact, many of these properties are filling up before construction has even been completed.

Before you jump into condo ownership, you'll want to consider the pros and cons of such a lifestyle. Contrary to the picture painted by the above example, there are in fact many pros to condominium ownership. Provided you have considerate neighbors, a condominium can provide an excellent first purchase for a twentysomething, a scale-down for an empty-nester couple or anyone between those two life stages. Condominiums can be more affordable than single-family homes -- with plenty of exceptions. Monthly association fees can add substantially to your payments. And within many regions of the United States -- particularly within major cities, where healthy economies, low unemployment rates and a revitalization of the downtown sector has inspired developers to build more luxurious and subsequently more expensive condominium properties -- condo ownership can be just as expensive if not more pricey than single-family homeownership.

Ultimately, the decision about whether or not a condo is right for you all comes down to your individual preferences and tolerance levels.

First, some clarification on what "condominium" actually means. When you purchase a condo, you're actually purchasing the rights to the space inside your walls -- and partial ownership in the common grounds, including the parking lots, the pool, sidewalks and stairs, balconies, elevators, common hallways and so forth.

How do you determine if a condo is the best choice for your lifestyle? Consider how much the following "pros" appeal to you.

As mentioned earlier, condominiums require their residents to assume far less responsibility for maintenance than single-family homes. Chores such as mowing the lawn outside, watering and maintaining the landscaping, bagging leaves, cleaning the pool of debris, painting the trim on buildings, and unclogging the gutters all fall within the realm of the property management company. Sure, you're paying for their services with your monthly association fees, but you don't have to take off work to wait for the repairmen to show up. Your condo association should have in writing all of the repairwork covered by your monthly fee. Don't make assumptions about what those fees will cover; different associations cover different areas of maintenance, and not all of them will perform them in a satisfactory manner. So walk around the property before you buy, and ask residents for their insight.

If you've always dreamed of owning a pool but can't afford one, or if you enjoy having access to a tennis court of fitness center, many condominium properties across the United States offer these recreational amenities and more -- including walking and biking trails, manmade lakes and clubhouse facilities. You may also have easy access to nearby golf courses, country clubs, lakes or other recreational opportunities. That means that the area surrounding your own condominium complex is probably prime land on which single-family homes are being sold for high prices. So you'll be in good company living in a neighborhood in which property values stand a good chance of increasing or at least remaining steady.

In a future article, we'll explore the potential disadvantages of condo ownership. As mentioned before, this lifestyle isn't for everyone, and we'll explore just who might be better off seeking a similarly priced single-family home.

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