We don’t talk about our last home – the condo – here on the blog anymore (at least, not really), but it’s still very much on our minds. You might remember that while we no longer live there, we do still own that property, and we’ve rented it out to a great couple. There have been times since their move-in date where we’ve had to drop off an extra key, speak with our former Home Owner’s Association and work out kinks when issues have arisen.
We may not reside within those four walls, but we still love that place. And so, it remains important for us to make sure that these tenants and any future tenants are happy and comfortable, just as we were.
With that said, we do receive emails from you regarding past projects, paint colors and the like, and with every response from our end, we’re reminded – all over again! – that, yeah! Living there was pretty alright. (And we’d be lying if we said there were times when we didn’t miss that open kitchen, spotless bathroom and cozy, cocoon-like bedroom!) Most recently, however, I found a note in my inbox from Staci, and her question went beyond the things in our former home. Because her question touched on a topic that we’ve never really addressed, we felt it made sense to share our answer with all of you in the hopes it could be helpful for others in a similar situation. She says:
Hi, Kim! I have a few questions about your experience in your condo, if you don’t mind. I am finally getting serious about buying a place instead of renting! Budget-wise, the only option is to go condo or townhouse, but I’m worried that a condo experience will have all the same downsides of my current apartment.
What level did you live on? How many shared walls did you have? Did you hear your neighbors often? If you’d been so inclined, would you have been able to easily replace flooring/cabinets? Is there a Board you have to go through to get stuff like that approved?
In our apartment, if something breaks we call maintenance. In a condo, I bet it comes out of pocket, but do they have plumbers, handymen, etc “on retainer” that know the building and how the units connect to each other well?
Excited to hear what you have to say! – Staci
First, it’s very important to stress that every condo building will be a little different, with their own rules and regulations, shouldn’t-dos and okay-to-dos. To fully understand our reply, it’s important to know more about our scenario: We lived on the second floor of a three floor walk-up with less than 15 residential units. (So, yup, that would mean we had people above and below us; a double whammy!) Our building was small by some standards, but large enough that we formed a HOA (Home Owner’s Association) to manage and maintain the standards we’d come to expect as owners and, in some cases, renters.
Scott and I hashed out the ups and downs of living in a common building, below – but if you want the short answer? There are more pros than cons in our opinion, so Staci, go for it! (And the best of luck in your new home journey!)
There’s a Board! Our Board was made up of a President, VP/Secretary and Treasurer, and they’re there to handle and delegate any building emergencies – i.e., a flood, a roof in need of repair or excessive hail. It’s not necessarily their responsibility to tell your upstairs neighbors to take off their heels (we’re all grown-ups, after all!), but they will step in if further action is ever needed in disputes. In other words, you’re not alone in this.
You maintain only your unit. Yards, common areas (such as hallways and sidewalks) and even the glass on your building’s front door is typically handled by a management company, which is hired by the Board of your HOA. Our maintenance schedule was once weekly, with snow removal on an as-needed basis. At the same time, we know of smaller buildings that go by the “we all pitch in!” mentality, which cuts down on the HOA fees (the additional monthly cost that pays for your building’s amenities, etc.)
The drywall is all yours! We wallpapered, installed shelving, painted, re-painted and swapped out every light fixture over the course of our 6 years there. Moving walls, on the other hand, may require Board approval, but this will vary (so in other words, you’ll want to clear demolition details with your HOA.)
Built-in friends! Some of our closest friends in Chicago still live in that building (remember when we went to those weddings in Grand Rapids and Mexico? Former building-mates!), and in the warmer weather months, back doors are left open, grills are grilling and drinks are flowing. There have been times where we – honest to goodness – couldn’t find Jack, and we’d eventually find him hanging out in the living room of our neighbor, chowing down on his Nylabone.
We had a plumber that was familiar with our building. Some neighbors shared electricians. Handymen were recommended and endorsed by those living above, below and next to us, and as a result, they did, in fact, come to know our building. Anything within our unit was on our dime, sure, but hey, that’s owning a home!
Depending on your location, living in a condo can mean small(er) space living. We actually really did enjoy this! Utilities stay low, and the best perk of all – less to clean, less to mow and less snow to shovel (which we’re really missing right now!).
Our building was secure. We had (have) security cameras at every entrance, tall gates installed in our back alley and flood lights.
Honestly? It just felt easier – for every reason listed above and then some. (Not to mention, maybe you’d be able to afford to live in a more desirable area as long as you’re willing to take on that smaller footprint?)
Yes, we actually enjoyed our small space living, but this could certainly be considered a downside depending on your needs. And as silly as this may sound, furniture choices are a little harder to come by. (Goodbye, mega sectional!)
In almost every case, there will be an HOA fee in addition to your mortgage. These are paid monthly, and they cover everything from a management company to building amenities (a gym, party room or front desk staff) to keeping your common hallway lights on. Ask yourself what you’re really looking for in your building; will you use the free weights in the gym? Is the rooftop deck important to you? Depending on what your building offers and the city you live in, these additional fees could be anywhere from $100 to $500 (and up!), so know what’s important to you going in. (Our fees were/are rather low, but keep in mind that our building was/is on the smaller side.)
Pet restrictions can be a possibility. This may mean that size and quantity of pets can be taken into consideration, although we were (obviously) really lucky that wasn’t the case for us.
There will be times when a larger building update will need to take place; think: re-carpeting the main areas, tuck pointing or exterior deck cleanings. Sometimes, your HOA monthly fees will have a reserve to carry out these expenses; sometimes, it’s not enough. At that time, a special assessment will be required to cover those costs – in addition to your monthly HOA fees.
Yes, you will share walls. Problems were extremely rare for us, however, our current tenants have had issues that we didn’t experience (which has really been a bummer!). If you’re a light sleeper or keep odd hours, you may want to specify a top floor unit while home shopping.
Our pros certainly outweigh the cons, but our biggest piece of advice is this: ask questions. If you’re seriously considering a unit on a condo building or townhome, ask to meet the Board President! Ask him/her about your potential neighbors: Are they young professionals? Or retirees? Or, maybe, they’re small families? Ask what percentage of the building is rented vs. owned, and hey, does this even matter to you?
There are many, many variations on our list, but fellow condo/townhome owners, what would you add? What’s your favorite part of big-building living? Your least favorite? Let’s keep the conversation flowing in the comments, as I’ll be the first to admit that there’s much, much more to cover!