Goodspeed: What to look for when shopping for a condo

Check all aspects of a home before buying it.

QUESTION: I am a single parent. My daughter goes off to college next year and I would like to downsize. Right now, I have a nine-room single-family house and a large lot. I want to get into something smaller and think a condo would be a good option for me since it would eliminate all the lawn care, plowing, garbage removal, outside maintenance, etc. that I currently struggle with. There are not too many condo options in my community and I don’t know anyone who lives in one. What are some of the special considerations in buying a condo?

ANSWER: The most important thing to remember about buying a condo is that you are not only buying real estate, but membership in a community association. This means you should do all of the due diligence, inspections and other research that you would do if you were to buy a single-family house.

In addition, you also need to inspect the condo association and carefully review, along with your attorney, all of the condo documents, including the declaration of condominium, master deed, unit deed, condo bylaws and other documents. Make sure you understand all of the rules and restrictions governing the association, such as, for example (and these are only examples), no pets, no parking on common areas, no renting of units, restrictions on holiday lighting, etc., etc., etc.) Can you live with these rules?

Along with all of the standard condo docs, ask for at least a year’s worth of board minutes. Read them carefully to see what issues the association has been dealing with. Ask for at least five years of year-end financials. Be sure to review them carefully with your attorney to make sure the association is properly governed and financed. Have there been any recent special assessments? For what? Are any future assessments planned?

Other considerations: Be sure you understand what your monthly association dues are and what they cover. Do the buildings and grounds look well cared for? How many owners live in the complex? How many are renters? How many owners are delinquent on their association dues? Have there been any recent lawsuits filed against the association? Is the property management company (if there is one) easy to contact and work with?

Belonging to a homeowners’ association can be a great option for many people. They can also present a number of headaches.

As with any purchase, especially a home, which is likely to be the largest purchase you will make, be sure to ask a lot of questions.

Linda Goodspeed is a longtime real estate writer and author of “In and out of Darkness.” Email her at: