Condo Buyer’s Guide For 2021-2022

The property market is a flurry of activity in San Diego and across America at the moment - low interest rates coupled with a shift in consumer priorities has really doubled down the pressure on the industry. With low inventories and high demands, it's a competitive time to buy real estate.

That said, listings are creeping up and an easing of restrictions is providing more opportunity for people to move. Investing in a condo can be a great way to enter the world of homeownership without the extent of upkeep stress that comes with owning a single family home. Condo residents can usually take advantage of a host of shared amenities, too - plus, the building maintenance is taken care of by the condo association.

However, condo living isn’t for everyone, so it’s important to determine exactly what your budgetary and lifestyle needs are first. 

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What is a condo?

A condo (short for condominium), is a single unit located within a multiple-unit property, like an apartment-style community or building. It can be one of many individual units within a shared structure, such as a high-rise building. As a condo owner, you own the unit, and share amenities and common areas with your neighbors. These can include pools, parks, gyms, dog walking areas, etc. Some condos even feature full-sized tennis courts and children’s playgrounds.

Condos are a trendy option in areas with high property prices - urban settings and vacation hotspots where you can typically find many. In San Marcos for example, condos are popular and average around $415,000; condos in Northern Virginia are also popular with first time buyers and investors, averaging around $370,000.

This is primarily because single-family homes can be particularly expensive in towns and cities where building space is scarce. Condos can open property ownership up to a whole new buyer group.

Finding the right condo

Looking for the right condo to buy is much the same process as searching for a single-family home. Once you have a general idea of what you are after, consulting directly with a real estate agent can alert you to properties you may not have otherwise found out about. Or, if you prefer to go it alone, you can search real estate websites for condo listings in the areas of interest to you. If you have a specific complex in mind, many feature on-site offices that you can contact directly and perhaps even arrange to view a show suite.

Ideally, though, you should consider working with an experienced condo realtor. One who knows the local condo developments well and can assist you in comprehensively reviewing the condo association documents. A great agent will also be privy to an acrimony over community issues within a particular development, as well as which have maintained the best resale values.

Deciding on a condo over a house

There are a number of reasons why condo living might suit you better than an apartment or a single family home. Condo values do tend to appreciate at a slower pace than single-family properties, but this typically makes them a more affordable option in markets experiencing rising prices.

Condos also provide lifestyle choices that are attractive to many prospective buyers. They are especially popular with singles and professional couples, as well as retirees wanting to take advantage of the amenities and community services.

Condo living can also free you up from the extent of maintenance work that homeownership chores could burden you with, such as yard work and external repairs. They also often feature many desirable amenities, and choosing the right condo complex will depend upon what your amenity preferences are.

Getting a mortgage on a condo

Securing a mortgage on a condominium can be a little more of an involved process than for other property styles. This is because the development itself must come under the lender’s scrutiny, as well as your own personal financial position.

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) provides a list of approved condominiums on its website. Conventional lenders may uphold similar requirements to that of the FHA, but it's recommended that you seek the guidance of a mortgage professional experienced in condo acquisitions to assist you in securing the right financing for you.

Association fees and regulations

Aside from your mortgage payments, you’ll need to factor in the cost of condo association fees. These fees are in place to cover the maintenance and repair of the property and its amenities. It’s essential that you carefully review those fees and understand what is included, such as services like lawn care, snow removal etc.

It's also imperative that you review the community rules. Rules and regulations such as noise restrictions or guidelines for using the common areas may not be agreeable to you, and it's important to understand exactly what you are buying into.

Special assessments

Special assessments are additional charges that a condo association can impose upon owners in order to fund a significant project. Such assessments are typically voted on by the HomeOwners Association (HOA), if not by all of the residents. They are usually only imposed for a limited time period, but it’s a good idea to be aware of them, as they can affect your monthly budgeting while they are running.

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The bottom line

If you are thinking of getting on the property ladder - whether as an investor, a resident or a vacationer - a condominium is an option that should certainly be on your radar, especially if you’re shopping in a particularly expensive area. Condos aren’t inherently good or bad choices when compared to other styles of property, it simply depends upon the individual's situation and preferences.

Buying a condominium may be a slightly more complex process, but, for the right buyer, the rewards speak for themselves. In this post-pandemic market of rising prices and low inventories, a condo may be just the ticket.


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