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What Are Condos? A Guide To Homeownership

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Published on April 26, 2022
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When shopping for a home, there are plenty of options to consider. Buying a condo is one option on the table. But what is a condo? Let’s take a closer look at this viable homeownership possibility.

What Are Condominiums (Condos)?

A condominium, also known as a condo, is a residential building with multiple individual units which share walls. Each tenant separately owns an individual unit.

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How Do Condos Work?

A key feature of a condo is the shared common areas and amenities such as lawns, pools, tennis courts, and more. Essentially, it's a little bit yours and a little bit everyone else’s. While things like the pool and tennis courts are almost always shared, the space inside your specific unit is yours and yours alone.

But these perks come at a price. Condo owners pay dues to a board or homeowners association (HOA). These HOA fees are used to cover the costs of condo living as well as maintain the shared areas of the property.

This part is particularly appealing if you’re looking to own a home, but don’t want to be responsible for maintenance and yard upkeep.

However, condo owners can’t avoid the pitfalls of homeownership completely. They are still responsible for the maintenance of their individual unit. So, things like repairing a broken appliance would come out of your pocket.

How Much Are HOA Fees For Condos And What Do They Cover?

The HOA fees for a particular unit can vary widely based on the unit’s size and location. The age of the building will also significantly impact your HOA costs.

Depending on the area, you may find HOA fees range from $100 – $1,000 per month. But in most cases, you’ll find HOA fees in the $200 – $300 per month range.

Typically, this fee includes maintenance, city services, pest control, and insurance for common areas. However, it likely won’t include home improvements to your particular unit.

Keep in mind that monthly HOA fees can impact your ability to afford a particular unit. It’s important to budget for both your mortgage payment and HOA fee. If you can’t afford both, then you can’t afford the condo.

What Are The Different Types of Condos?

Not all condos are created equally. Different types of condos have different rules that can impact your usage of the space.

The two major categories are freehold and leasehold condos. Here’s a closer look at these types of condos.

Freehold Condominiums

When you purchase a freehold condo, you’ll own the unit outright. Here’s what to know about the different freehold condo options.

Standard Condos (Condo Home)

Standard condos can also be called condo homes. Essentially, this is a residential property in which the owner only owns the home's interior. With that, you’ll only own the interior of your individual unit.

Outside of your unit, there will be common areas for all the building owners to enjoy.

Vacant Land Condo

A vacant land condo is an option when a corporation registers and sells its land as a condominium before construction begins. In this case, you would own a portion of the property that the condo sits on. But you’ll have to wait for the developer to finish building the condominium before moving in.

Common Element Condo Corporations

Common element condo corporations are relatively rare. In this arrangement, there are no units. Instead, there are only shared spaces and amenities.

When you purchase a land parcel with an attached interest to the common element condo corporation, you’ll be responsible for maintaining the shared spaces through a cost-sharing relationship. Ultimately, you are responsible for your own land parcel. Plus, you’ll have to pay maintenance fees for the common areas.

Leasehold Condominiums

A leasehold condominium is dramatically different from a freehold condo. With a leasehold agreement, you sign a long-term lease agreement with a landlord. Importantly, this option doesn’t come with any ownership of the unit. Instead, you’ll just have the right to use the unit for a specified period.

Additional Condominiums

Although freehold and leasehold condominiums are the most common, there are other options out there. Here’s a closer look at your other options.

Detached Condo

A detached condo has no shared walls with another unit. Detached condo units can be founded clustered together in planned communities with minimal upkeep requirements.

Condo Share

A condo share, also known as a timeshare condo, offers a divided form of ownership. Each tenant of a condo share has the right to use the property for a specific time and number of days each year.

Private Condo

A private condo is a condominium on a landlord’s property. Typically, the units in a privately owned apartment are rented. But the application process and criteria may be different than other types of apartments in the area.

Condo Building

A condo building includes a complex of individually owned units. Typically, a community property management board or HOA is responsible for the upkeep of the building.

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What Factors Should You Consider Before Renting Or Buying A Condo?

Are you considering renting or buying a condo? Weigh the following factors before jumping into this decision.

Affordability

As with any home type, your finances are a key factor when determining if you should buy or rent a condo. If you want to buy a condo, you’ll need to save up for a down payment and closing costs. Plus, you must be able to afford the mortgage payment, even with your HOA fees considered.

Renting a condo comes with less commitment. You won’t need a big down payment. As a renter, you can always choose to move out of your condo at the end of your lease if you decide that you don’t like the building.

Costs

The cost of a condo vary widely based on the building and your location.

If you are buying a condo, you’ll need to consider the long-term costs. Beyond the regular HOA fee, special assessments are a common way for HOAs to raise funds for big projects. For example, if the building needs a new roof, you might be on the hook for thousands of dollars.

But as a renter, the owner of the condo is responsible for those big expenses. Plus, renters only need to make a deposit, which is usually in the range of one month’s rent. That’s significantly more affordable than making a down payment on a condo purchase.

Maintenance

The owner of the condo unit is responsible for the maintenance of the unit. As a renter, you can avoid the unexpected maintenance costs that come along with condo ownership.

Location

When buying a condo, determining the best location is critical. Condos can be challenging to sell. With that, you don’t want to get stuck in a less-than-ideal location.

But as a renter, you have the option to leave at the end of your lease. With that, you have more flexibility to try out different locations to find the best fit.

Amenities

One of the major selling points of any condo community is the amenities offered. Whether you are buying or renting, finding a condo with the right amenities for your life is key.

Long-Term

As with all home purchases, you’ll need to decide your plans for a particular property. Are you planning to stick it out for the long term or just enjoy the place for a couple of years?

If you are looking for a short-term housing solution, renting might be the right fit. But if you want to stay in a location for years to come, then buying a condo might be the better solution. Ultimately, you’ll need to decide which option is best for your goals and finances.

The Pros And Cons Of Condo Living

Every financial decision comes with advantages and disadvantages. Here’s what you need to know about condo living.

Pros

Let’s start with the pros that a condo offers.

  • More affordable than single-family homes: Most condos are more affordable than single-family homes in the same area.
  • Managed maintenance: Condo ownership relieves some of the stress of the maintenance that comes with homeownership.
  • Build equity: In a freehold condo, you can build equity in a property.
  • Access to amenities: Condos often have open layouts, pools, fitness centers and other amenities and luxuries that you may not otherwise be able to afford. This is especially true if you are buying a brand new condo.
  • Community living: Living in close proximity is not for everyone, but it does tend to create a feeling of community. Not all condo communities are the same in this regard though, so it’s important to find the condo complex that fits your lifestyle.

Cons

Now for the disadvantages.

  • Condo association restrictions: Abiding by the rules and regulations of the homeowners association (HOA) can be a potential roadblock and should be given serious consideration. Don’t like to be told what to do when it comes to your home? A condo might not be the best choice.
  • HOA fees: While you’ll be saving money on the cost of the condo and on insurance, there are HOA fees to consider. These fees do provide value by covering things like maintenance and lawn care, but they can range from a couple hundred dollars to a thousand dollars a month. Review the value proposition before making the investment in a condo.
  • Less privacy: Expect to be in close proximity to your neighbors. The close quarters lead to less privacy.
  • Hard to get financing: Financing a condo is often more difficult that financing a single-family home. That’s because there are more factors at play.
  • Difficult to sell: Reselling a condo can sometimes be more of an issue than reselling a traditional house. For example, they can be less attractive to potential buyers due to certain HOA regulations, and they can affect the type of loan a buyer can qualify for.

What Is The Difference Between A Condo, House, Apartment And Townhouse?

A condo is just one type of property ownership option. Other common options include condos, houses, apartments, and townhomes.

But what’s the difference? Here’s a breakdown:

  • Apartment: Apartment buildings are also multi-unit buildings. But unlike individually owned condos, apartment buildings are typically owned by a real estate firm and managed by a property management company.
  • Townhouse: Townhouses share walls with other units. However, unlike a condo, there cannot be a unit above or below a townhouse. Typically, townhouses come with HOAs to manage the exterior of the units. But the amenities included are otherwise minimal.
  • House: A house is a detached dwelling that often costs more than a condo. Although there may be an HOA involved, homeowners are typically responsible for maintaining the interior and exterior of the property.

How To Find Condo Complexes Near You

If you’ve decided that a condo is the right move for your housing needs, the next step is to find a condo complex in your area. The best option is to get in touch with a local Realtor. They can guide you through the condo complexes in your area to find the best fit for your situation.

The Bottom Line

Buying or renting a condo is one path to the home of your dreams. But it’s important to carefully consider how the costs of condo living could impact your budget. Weigh out all of the options before moving forward with a condo purchase.

If you are ready to buy a condo, the first step is to get preapproved today.

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Miranda Crace

The Quicken Loans blog is here to bring you all you need to know about buying, selling and making the most of your home. Whether you’re thinking about becoming a homeowner, selling your current home or looking to keep your place in tip-top shape, our writers and freelancers bring their experience and expertise to meet you right where you are.