buying a condo

Buying a Condo: All You Wanted to Know

Condo living is a great alternative to a traditional single home for many homebuyers, but it’s different in some major ways from buying a traditional home.

Lifestyle, HOA regulations, space (or lack thereof), outdoor access, pet policies, fees — these are just some of the factors you’ll want to consider if you’re thinking about buying a condo as your new home.

In the sections that follow, we’ll help you think through them in more detail. First, we’ll cover the basics about condo living and financing a condo purchase. Then, we’ll walk through the pros and cons of condo living, and what to do as a buyer if you’re still unsure what’s right for you.

Quick Takeaways

  • Condos are generally well-suited for young professionals, single people, couples, and retirees (as opposed to large families).
  • The condo lifestyle is low-maintenance and convenient thanks to smaller spaces, HOA services, and building amenities.
  • Potential drawbacks of condo living include close quarters with neighbors, pet restrictions, and the added expense of paying HOA fees every month.
  • Condo regulations, services, and amenities can vary greatly by individual property.

How do you know if a condo is right for you?

Lifestyle is the biggest factor to consider when you’re deciding if a condo is the right choice for you. Condo living differs in a few big ways from a traditional house, and you’ll need to be sure it aligns with your needs and preferences for a new home.

The biggest difference is space — living space in a condo is generally smaller than a traditional home, and you’ll be in close proximity to your neighbors (sharing walls and common spaces). You may have a balcony and shared outdoor courtyards or roof decks, but you won’t have the same type of private outdoor areas you’d find in a single family house.

Most condos are built in urban areas or busy vacation destinations, meaning you’ll be right in the thick of city life. You’ll need to be okay with things like limited parking, traffic, and hearing noise from the street.

Lastly, lots of condos come with HOA fees and regulations. That means following the guidelines from your association as far as home renovations and decor, roommate and renting policies, pet policies and more.

There are definitely both pros and cons to condo living (more on those later), so it’s key to figure out what’s most important to you in your new home and whether a condo meets those criteria.

Many first-time homebuyers, young professionals, single people, and retirees find condos to be an attractive option because of both their affordability (condo sale prices are lower on average than traditional homes), efficient spaces, and low-maintenance living features.

Before we dive into the pros and cons of condo living, let’s walk through one of the most important aspects of buying any home — financing — and how it might work differently for condo buyers.

How does financing a condo differ from a traditional home?

The actual process for getting a loan to finance a condo vs. a home is the same — you apply with a lender, who will approve your loan amount based on income and other factors, like your credit score and debt-to-income ratio.

But there are some unique considerations that lenders keep in mind when considering a condo mortgage loan vs. a traditional home:

  • Ownership — Most lenders don’t want a large percentage of the properties in a building to be owned by the same investor.
  • Occupancy — Lenders prefer that most of the units in a building are occupied to demonstrate it’s a solid investment.
  • Owner Occupancy — Further, lenders consider it a plus when most units are occupied by their actual owners rather than renters.

Some lenders will have very specific requirements in these areas (i.e. 85% of homes must be occupied, more than half must be owner-occupied, etc.). You’ll want to be informed about the condo buildings you consider and the requirements of each lender with whom you apply.

Important additional condo costs include condo insurance — the equivalent of homeowner’s insurance — to cover any damages and repairs not covered by the building owner, and HOA fees budgeted monthly along with your mortgage payment.

What are the benefits of buying a condo?

Low maintenance

There’s no doubt that condo living is lower maintenance than maintaining a home. There’s less indoor space and little or no outdoor space to maintain. You won’t have to worry about the exterior of a home and the upkeep that comes with it — painting, landscaping, power washing, clearing the gutters, mowing the lawn, snow removal, and the like.

Building amenities

HOA fees pay for building amenities that add convenience, comfort, and fun — think fitness centers, pools, game rooms, shared outdoor spaces, and indoor common areas where you can host guests or join other residents for activities.

More recently, many condo buildings are designed to be multi-purpose, meaning you’ll find things like grocery stores, restaurants, and salons right on the ground floor.

HOA services

HOA services add to the convenience factor of condo living. They include things like building maintenance and inspection, security, unit repairs, and in many cases some of the utility costs.

For many homeowners, this added expense is worth the peace of mind that comes with it: you know your building is safe and well-kept, and you have free, easy access to repair services when you need them.

What are the cons of buying a condo?

Space limitations and close living quarters

Smaller spaces have their benefits — they force homeowners to keep less clutter and optimize each area of their home. It also means less cleaning! But it still has its drawbacks, especially for those transitioning from a larger home to a condo.

Basements and attics, for example, are used by homeowners to store important but occasionally-used items, and condos don’t have them. There might be less closet space and smaller or less rooms than a homeowner is used to.

Further, you’re closer to the neighbors. You share walls and common spaces like stairwells and elevators. It’s unavoidable that you’ll cross paths with people every day. If that’s not something you want, you may want to reconsider a condo.

Pet restrictions

Many condos welcome pets, but not all do. In many cases, condos have restrictions around the type, breed, and size of pet you’re allowed to have in the house, or how many one resident can have. These rules are sometimes implemented for safety reasons.

If you’re a pet owner or plan to have pets in the future, definitely check out the pet policy of every condo you consider to be sure it won’t become an issue for you when you live there.

HOA fees as an added expense

HOA fees come with obvious benefits, but they’re still an expense. For some homeowners, paying the HOA fee is more of a burden than a worthwhile expense — they’d be more willing to do without the services provided in order to not pay it.

That said, it’s not usually avoidable. HOAs are standard for condos — it’s how they keep them running and well-kept.

Condo or house: how to decide

If you’re not sure about which is right for you, the best strategy is to look at both options. It might be less about choosing one category over the other and more about choosing the specific property that feels right for you.

If you know you want a condo, remember that HOA rules, building regulations, and other owner requirements vary. Don’t be discouraged by one or two that don’t seem like a good fit — shop around and find one that meets your vision for your new home.

Moving to the Dayton area? Oberer Homes can help you find (or build!) a home that you love. Contact us today to learn more and get started.

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