Homework with Mitch Kuffa: Condominiums

By Mitch Kuffa

Let’s talk about condominiums.

If you are thinking about buying a condominium (either as a primary residence of vacation home), do you really need to have it inspected? Absolutely! A condominium is a living unit.

The only difference is that typically you do not own all of by yourself. Depending on the association bi-laws or specific language identifying responsibility, the homeowner most commonly has responsibility for the drywall in the unit and all things on the inside. From the back side of the drywall out is most often owned mutually by the total number of condominium owners in the association, sub-division or complex. It would therefore seem, that knowing as much as possible about the outside would be important. This is why I encourage reading and maintaining a copy of the condominium association bi-laws. They specifically note responsibility. If the outside a/c unit fails, who is responsible for replacing it? If the windows need replacement, who pays for that? Etc., etc.,.

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I had the opportunity to run the construction of the very first condominium project in Michigan (back in 1967). This project had many visitors from different municipalities observing this new concept of living. At that time, the general opinion was that this was strictly a vacation home scenario. Boy were they wrong. I found it so appealing myself that I bought one a lived in it for approx. 15 years. If was wonderful, but also different.

Since you typically do not own the outside independently, the quality and mentality of the management company or “condominium association” is key to your future happiness. If the group is conscientious, fair to all and utilizes the association dues properly, then the complex overall will maintain its value and will always look good. This will of course help maintain a good resale value.

On the other hand, I have inspected condominiums where the common areas have holes in the roads, landscaping is dead or heavily overgrown, paint is peeling off the exterior trim and the balconies were deteriorated and not safe.

When inspecting a condominium it is obvious that the inside should be addressed, but in my opinion, it is equally important to inspect the common areas and exterior overall. This is especially true since you will not have complete control of the maintenance/upkeep/expenditures/etc.. Remember, you will own a part of the exterior and your association dues will be used to maintain it. It is unbelievable how often we find exterior or common area security concerns (improper lighting, doors do not properly lock, malfunction inter-coms, missing or inoperable fire equipment, etc.) or that are improperly maintained (pedestrian traffic hazards, gutters overflowing, old caulking, etc.). Just keep in mind, that if the association gets sued because someone trips over a non-maintained sidewalk OR someone was mugged in an unlit carport, YOU WILL ALSO PAY for a part of the court cost, defense and have a potential increase in association dues.

Also, if you move into a complex that was built using inexpensive construction materials originally, maintaining it now may be more difficult and costly for all the residents.

If the building is not well insulated, has not been re-caulked for a long time or allows outside air infiltration, heat loss will be paid by all.

If you move into an older project where the roofs are ready for replacement, you may find yourself sharing in a “special assessment”. This is typically how these more expensive items are addressed.

Remember, the interior attributes of a new condominium home are always important, but are more obvious. The exterior shared common areas or places where you do not have direct or sole control can potentially be a major headache. These areas must be studied, evaluated and addressed prior to you taking occupancy.

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