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For home buyers on a budget or who want some of the perks of apartment life, buying a condo is one option.
According to the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University, the majority of neighborhoods in Cook County have condos, with a higher concentration in urban areas with high property values. If you’re considering buying a condo, here are a few key things to consider.
Lifestyle: Condos are often located in busy, urban areas. Additionally, shared walls can make it so that you can hear your neighbors at any time of the day or night, similar to an apartment. Increased interaction with your neighbors isn’t all bad, however.
Many condo communities offer regular social events, making it easier to get to know your neighbors. Having a group of neighbors so close by can also be a benefit in case of an emergency.
Affordability: Condos are often more affordable than single-family homes, particularly in urban areas or for first-time homebuyers. However, condos come with additional fees, called Homeowners’ Association (HOA) fees to offset the cost of shared maintenance. These fees are paid in addition to the mortgage. They are applied toward things like repairs, maintenance of amenities, and building updates. Condos have reserves to pay for large purchases. A condo with healthy reserves can indicate better financial health overall.
There is no firm rule, but prospective buyers can ask to see a reserve study, which details the size of the reserve and any recent repairs or larger capital expenditures. If a condo has insufficient reserves to cover projects, the board can level an assessment, which requires condo owners to pay an additional amount of HOA fees.
Privacy and Freedom: For those who value being able to decorate and renovate exactly how they want, a condo might not be the best choice. The HOA can dictate how members can renovate and decorate, whether they can have pets, and what kind of outdoor decorations they can display.
Noncompliance with the HOA’s terms, whether through nonpayment of HOA dues or through another breach, may result in fines or even legal judgments.
Amenities: Depending on the size, location, and price of the condo, many offer amenities like lawn care, weekly social events, snow removal, and even a pool. These can be an attractive perk for homeowners who would otherwise not be able to afford them.
Financial Management in Community: Being part of an HOA means that financial decisions are made with group input. The board of directors has a responsibility to act in the best interest of the HOA as a whole. The HOA should have a healthy budget and reserves, meeting at least four times per year. In addition to reviewing the budget and reserves, attending HOA meetings and talking to prospective neighbors are good ways to assess the financial and community health of the condo.
Condo ownership isn’t for everyone, but it can be ideal for those looking for an affordable option and a close-knit community. If you’re considering buying a condo or want to know more about homeownership options, our HUD-certified counselors are here to help. Contact us at 224-252-2620 or housing at glcu dot org.
 For further reading on aspects of condo ownership compared to owning a single-family home, see https://www.investopedia.com/articles/mortgages-real-estate/09/issues-purchasing-condo.asp