Even if You Love the Condo: Five Deal Breakers

deal breakersYou’ve visited a condo three times and you’re ready to put in a serious offer. You’re excited. But then you learn a little bit more – and you realize that now you have second thoughts. What are some issues that should be deal breakers? Here are a few:There is no Condo Association in place. Yes, some buildings don’t have an Association, which means there’s no organizing body to coordinate maintenance of the common areas, no one to coordinate, and pay for, trash removal (often condo buildings are required to use private trash removal), nor are there any funds devoted to lawn care, regular gutter cleaning, repaving the front stoop and so forth. In other words, you’re totally on your own.


  • Why is this a problem? You don’t know what you’re getting into building-wise. You’re likely going to spend a lot more money than you want on basic maintenance and should there be problems, you’ll have to take care of everything. Unless you’re an experienced professional, stay away.

The Association is being sued. This could be a slip-and-fall suit against the Association brought by a visitor to the building, a unit suing the Association for any number of reasons, or the Association being sued by a bank or contractor.


  • Why is this a problem? To put it bluntly, a bank won’t give you a loan if there’s litigation against the Association. The bank fears that if the Association is found liable in a suit, its finances will be decimated. Also, a suit should give you pause – the Association may be blameless… or it could be poorly run, incompetent or lacking in integrity. At the very least, find out what’s really going on – most likely, you’ll end up staying away.

The builder of the building is being sued by the Association. What does this mean? It means that the condo building itself is so flawed in its construction that the Association is suing for compensation to make repairs. It’s a nasty situation, and something you should definitely avoid, even if there aren’t any obvious flaws in your unit.


  • Why is this a problem? If the building itself is in poor shape, or has some sort of deep structural issue, it’s not going to be appealing to live in, it might become un-livable, the repairs will be time-consuming, noisy and expensive – and your unit’s resale value will likely be significantly reduced. In other words, do you want to buy into a building that has a sinking foundation or chronic leaking or siding that has a habit of blowing away on windy days? No, you don’t.

Water damage and mold. This doesn’t mean that every time a condo has undergone water damage you should walk away. After all, there are different types of damage – for example, a gasket on the dishwasher hose failing is a one-time, fluke event. As long as the damage has since been repaired, you should be fine.If, on the other hand, there’s damage to the ceiling that’s been repaired twice and still comes back, or there’s mold behind the wallpaper, this speaks to a larger problem: there’s some sort of dripping, leaking or moisture issue that hasn’t been properly addressed.


  • Why is this a problem? If the previous owners haven’t been able to fix it, you may not be able to fix it either. And while you might not mind an ever-growing spot on the ceiling or a bit of mold behind a radiator, these are more than aesthetic concerns. Mold lives on moisture, it can be toxic and it slowly eats away at materials – i.e., your walls. If it’s not something that can be fixed permanently (and before you buy), stay away.

Other structural problems. If you get to the point where your offer has been accepted, you’ll need to have your condo reviewed by a professional. This process, known as the inspection, is done in part so that if there are minor issues with your unit, the owner can have them repaired before you buy, or can give you a credit on the sale price, so you can have them repaired yourself. (Say, for example, a kitchen cabinet door is wonky and won’t open properly. The onus is on the seller to have it fixed or replaced before the sale.)That said, the inspectors are also looking at major issues. They will inspect the building’s exterior, including its roof. And, for example, if it turns out that the roof is missing numerous shingles and shows signs of significant damage and leaking… well, that’s a serious issue. Or, say an inspector determines that the slight slope in the floor is actually indicative of an unsound load bearing wall below you… that’s also an issue.


  • Why is this a problem? You may love the place, but will you love it as much after paying a huge special assessment? Or after there’s litigation? Or after a complex, three-unit construction project to fortify a wall? Probably not – basically, if there’s a major structural issue that’s been confirmed (getting a second opinion is a good idea), the amount of time and money needed to fix it is an open question. Of course, owning always involves a certain amount of risk, but why walk into a situation already plagued with a major problem?

While it may be difficult to pass on what you thought was your dream place, remember that in the long run, you’re doing yourself a favor – and that there are always other places on the market. In other words, if you encounter any of the problems above, keep your head up – and keep looking.

Author My First Apartment
Alex Starace

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Alex Starace and his wife own a condo in Chicago. Alex enjoys basketball, biking and jazz. His writing also appears regularly in My First Apartment, South Florida Opulence and TriQuarterly.

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