Condominiums vs. Apartments

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Condominiums vs. Apartments

aptsherpa · Apr 17, 2006

You’ve probably lived in an apartment at some point in your life. Maybe you’re still an apartment-dweller, or maybe you moved on to a house. Regardless of your situation, you’re now wondering if condominium living could be right for you. It’s not just for old people anymore, after all—new homeowners are considering condominiums for affordability, just as individuals at retirement age are considering them to downsize from a home to a more manageable property. Read on for some facts about condo that may ultimately affect your decision to sign that condominium contract.

Prices and appreciation

Payments on a condominium can be comparable to or somewhat higher than the rent you’d pay in an apartment, and the condominium offers the extra advantage of ownership. Check out this handy rent vs. buy calculator to determine whether the condo you’re looking at offers fees that make it worth your while to buy into the condominium craze.

The value of a condominium can appreciate at a greater or lesser rate than a home, depending on your area and the local housing trends. It’s a better investment than simply pouring rent payments into your apartment landlord’s pocket, but may or may not pay off more than a house. Over the long haul, houses do tend to appreciate more than condominiums. However, in certain (usually more urban) areas, condominiums are becoming so popular that you may be able to make some money on yours, particularly in the short term.

Hidden costs and maintenance woes

While affordability and the potential for appreciation can be some major advantages of condominium ownership, don’t forget that you’ll also be paying property taxes on the condominium space, since it’s now property that you own (as opposed to an apartment, which you merely rent). In addition, you’ll have to pay membership dues and possibly maintenance fees to the homeowner’s association (HOA) that manages the condominium space. And beyond the expected membership dues, you may also have to pay “special assessment” fees to cover costs not anticipated by the association.

Moreover, the HOA fees you pay will probably not cover all maintenance costs for the condominium. In an apartment situation, your landlord is responsible for charging a rent that will cover the costs of providing maintenance services for apartment residents. In a condominium, the extent to which maintenance services are provided can vary between different HOAs. In general, the HOA fees you’ve paid will cover external maintenance and upkeep of the condominium complex, including exterior paint, walkways, parking lots, and any amenities (fitness rooms, pools, etc.). However, in some cases, it may be your responsibility to pay for painting or repairing the exterior of your own unit—and the HOA will likely hold you to high standards when it comes to maintaining the attractive appearance of your condo. Do your research before buying and find out exactly what services are covered or not covered by the homeowner’s dues you’ll have to pay.

Property ownership and obligations

Your ownership of a condominium is a somewhat ambiguous form of possession. In some sense, you “own” only a share in the property, and have selected to become part of a community. Signing the contract to buy a condominium means you’ve chosen to become part of a “real covenant” that accompanies the property. This involves abiding by all covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CCRs) dictated by the HOA. Your failure to comply with the rules of the homeowner’s association could result in a termination of your contract and your condominium ownership.

Although you “own” your condominium unit, keep in mind that a condo is more like an apartment in that you cannot make major changes to the living space. With a house, you can add on or remodel; with a condo, your ability to do so is nonexistent or limited. Any changes you make will have to be approved by the HOA and be conducted in alliance with the HOA’s rules. Your HOA is not likely to want you to alter the consistent layout or appearance of your condo unit, and you agreed to the HOA’s conditions when you signed your condo contract. If you’re a gung-ho remodeler or just like to make independent decisions about the property you own, buying a home may be a better choice for you than buying into a condominium and all that comes with it.

Privacy and personal freedom

Just as in an apartment, living in a condominium requires you to be considerate of your neighbors—and your neighbors to be considerate of you. You own only a portion of the greater condominium space, and are only entitled to use that space in a manner that allows other owners to enjoy their space equally. HOAs have rules about pets, noise, and other factors affecting your life. If you like to be able to do what you want when you want, a private home may be a good option for you. A condo might also work, but make sure to pick an apartment complex or condominium whose other residents have priorities in line with your own. You may be upset that you’re subject to so many rules when you feel that you’ve poured enough money into the HOA to be able to do what you want. Keep in mind that others are spending just as much money, though, and all condominium residents deserve to be undisturbed in their units. Respect others and you’ll be respected in turn. Above all, get to know your neighbors—they’re the people whose input regulates the activities allowed in the condominium as a whole.

The low-down

There are detractors who insist that condominium living has too many drawbacks and can’t compare with buying a home, financially or personally. However, the final decision is up to you, and it’s up to you to get informed enough to make the smartest choice for yourself and your life. Use the tips above and do your research before you sign that condo contract and enter a community of condo dwellers—it’ll be a unique and rewarding experience if you prepared for it appropriately. </p

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