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Condos versus houses

By |2010-09-16T09:00:00-04:00September 16th, 2010|Guides|

by Jeff Hammerberg

Many LGBT buyers mistakenly and understandably assume that the purchase of a condo is no different from buying a typical single-family home. But the fact is that condominium ownership has its own exclusive set of rules that are quite different from those that apply to traditional houses.
The laws of ownership are not exactly the same and neither is the totality of the physical assets and amenities that are fully transferred to the buyer. That’s why is it crucial that LGBT consumers familiarize themselves with the special characteristics of condominium ownership before they enter into a contract to buy a condo. Even those who have plenty of experience buying and selling “regular” dwellings will need to understand how condominiums are uniquely different – not just in the way they look, but also in the way that condo contracts work.
The most important thing to grasp is that the term “condominium” does not refer to a style of architecture. Although most condos do have a similar apartment type of look – with units arranged so that they open into an interior hallway and basic floor plans and designs that resemble one another – the term “condo” really refers to a legal definition. Many LGBT buyers don’t make that distinction, but it is an important one that impacts the overall ownership experience. The truth is that almost any kind of structure, from an office building to a cluster of townhouses, may be sold as condominiums as long as the legal framework for condos exists.
Just as hybrid vehicles run on a combination of gas and electric power, the legal format of the condo is a clever blend or hybrid of individual and communal ownership. The owner of a condo owns the unit where they live, but they also share other amenities and features with everyone else who is also a member of the condo ownership group or homeowner’s association.
An owner may own their balcony, for example, and the rooms inside their condo. But they don’t individually own the roof above their unit, the hallway outside, or the parking lot. Those features are owned in partnership with the rest of the condo residents. Each owner, in other words, claims a share of many common features that might include the outside landscape, the swimming pool, the central air conditioning system, the plumbing infrastructure, the condo management office, the sidewalks outside each condo and the building’s elevator.
While a person may be able to do whatever they want with their own unit, they have to get permission to make any changes to the shared property. If common property needs to be repaired or replaced, they also have to shoulder their fair share of financial responsibility to make that happen. Many condo owner associations also prohibit the renting or leasing of individual condos, for example, so persons who buy a condo and then decide to lease it may be penalized. That kind of rule helps to ensure a more stable community of neighbors. But whether that is interpreted as a drawback or a positive benefit will depend upon the point of view of each individual resident, so before buying it is necessary to carefully study all of those rules and regulations.
Once upon a time, that list of rules would normally be only a few pages long, but these days it is more common to get an entire computer CD full of legal jargon explaining the rights and obligations of each owner. This includes the bylaws of the ownership association and it should also show a detailed accounting of money that is set aside or spent from the accumulated monthly condo maintenance fees.
Check the bylaws and notes from meetings to find out, for instance, if any major repairs have been done or if there are any disputes with contractors. If the roof is in bad shape, the paint is peeling, and the landscape is a mess but there is not enough money in the condo association account to remedy those problems, that’s a red flag. But when the maintenance fund is flush with cash and the condo project is in immaculate condition, that’s a great sign of sustainable value.
The best way to wisely invest in a condo is to do so with the expert guidance of a building inspector and a real estate attorney. Hire those who specialize in condos, though, because the scope of the inspections and the legality of ownership restrictions for condos are different when compared to all other types of real estate. They can explain everything and answer any questions that arise so that the buyer knows exactly what they are purchasing and can enjoy a stress-free closing and a happy condo-ownership experience. It is also strongly recommended that LGBT buyers work with LGBT real estate agents because they will better understand the unique needs and concerns of the LGBT buyer.
Connect with real estate professionals devoted to serving the LGBT community by visiting, the world’s largest online network of LGBT Realtors. or call 1-888-420-6683.

About the Author:

Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.
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