By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Condominiums are a special breed of multifamily housing. Usually, these are apartment-style dwellings in high- or low-rise structures. But instead of paying rent to a landlord, you have the opportunity to own a unit. Typically you own the interior of your condo, but most everything outside the walls and door to your living space is jointly owned by all owners in the condominium association.
In the case of a high-rise, the condo association owns the shell or envelope of the building, the hallways, the lobby, the elevators, and so on, in addition to any exterior grounds and parking areas. In the case of a low-rise condo development, the association owns the envelopes, common interior spaces, and combined grounds of all buildings legally assigned to that association. (If there are three buildings, and building number 3 needs a roof repair, you’ll pay your pro rata share even though you live in building 1.)
And then there’s the stuff behind the walls, too. The portions of plumbing supply and waste lines, electrical wiring, TV and internet cables, heating and air conditioning ducts that branch off main supply lines and enter your unit are generally your responsibility. But the common lines are a joint responsibility of all owners.
So, as a condo buyer or owner, you need to understand that you must plan for two maintenance budgets: one for your own unit, and one for the entire condo association.
Your monthly assessments, in theory, should cover your obligations for maintenance and repair costs for the condo association. However, the majority of condo (and homeowners) associations, 70%, fail to fully fund their Reserve Fund. Think of Reserves as a long-term savings account where everyone sets aside money each month over time, so that when a major project is necessary, the money is already there to pay for it.
So you can never assume that your condo assessments will remain the same, or only increase by small increments over the years that you own your condo. In most cases, those monthly fees will increase substantially as the building(s) and grounds age, and as components start to wear out. And that’s assuming your condominium was constructed or renovated properly, using quality materials. Unfortunately, you cannot count on high quality construction either.
Quite often, monthly assessment increases alone will not cover costs as they arise. Your condo association may need an immediate infusion of cash to replace the roof or the heating system shared by residents in the building. And when that happens, you’ll face one or more Special Assessments. Your share of the cost of these repairs and improvements could easily run into thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, often payable within a few months.
Will you be prepared for that?
But…doesn’t a home inspection help me avoid getting in over my head?
As a condo buyer, you may wonder if your pre-sale condo inspection will provide you with all the information you need to know about your future home. As it turns out, most home inspectors will only evaluate the interior of the unit you intend to purchase. They tend to shy away from examining or commenting on the condition of common spaces and common elements, even if obvious flaws exist – the kind that could cost you and all condo owners a fortune to repair.
Yes, I know this seems to defy common sense. After all, it is far more expensive to maintain commonly owned property than your personal unit!
So when a reader forwarded an article written by Kurt Mitenbuler, an ASHI certified inspector in Chicago, I knew I just had to share with my readers. His article spells out the many costly headaches a condo owner can face – from uneven heating to unsafe balconies to bad brick facades. It’s a must read for condo buyers.
Mitenbuler describes himself as follows:
Kurt Mitenbuler has spent 30 years inspecting buildings in Chicago. He is a 28-year member of ASHI [American Society of Home Inspectors], an iconoclast/troublemaker on the ASHI forum and a denigrator of the ways it’s always been done.
If I were considering a condo purchase in Chicago, I’d hire him in a heartbeat.
The Art of High-Rise and Condo Inspections
When you’re inspecting condominiums, attached townhomes and high-rise properties, you expect to check a few outlets, mash the (GFCI) buttons, run the appliances, flush the toilets and that’s about it, right? For most inspectors, it is. For a few of us, it’s not.
I’ll come right out of the chute with an idea that few share, that the old guard dismisses out of hand and that instructors roundly condemn and advise against in home inspection school: Look at and report on the deficiencies you see on the building exterior and in common areas.
Home inspection school instructors, inspection report software moguls and continuing education providers just spewed coffee on their computer screens. Why would you ignore decades of conventional wisdom and open yourself to that liability? It’s simple— that’s where the expensive and dangerous problems usually are.