Jennifer & Julie write a monthly article "Condo Conversations" in the Virginian-Pilot. This article was written by Julie Ulrich, featured in the March 23 edition.
I often hear people say it’s time to downsize their lives. Sometimes that means minimizing what they own and moving into a smaller home. Other times it may mean downsizing of their responsibilities and financial obligations.
Single-family detached homes almost always come with upkeep, including cutting the grass, caring for a pool, exterior maintenance and shoveling snow. If you are ready to make a change in lifestyle, many options are available. Could it be time for you to “condo-size” your life?
A condo or townhome can be a great choice for someone looking to “downsize,” or as I like to say, “rightsize.” There are many benefits to this style of living, but there are cons as well. Let’s first explore the positive sides along with some thoughts to ponder.
Lock-and-go lifestyle: If you like to travel, a condo makes it easier to lock up and go, as the exterior and grounds maintenance is almost always performed by the association.
If you travel often, or use your condo as a second home, be sure you have a neighbor or friend look after it while you are away. You wouldn’t want a leaky pipe to go unnoticed causing a major amount of damage.
Thermostats in the unit should be kept at reasonable temperatures year round. Faucets should be run at least every couple of weeks. Most condominium governing documents will address specific requirements for absentee owners.
Condo assessments: I know, you are probably thinking, “Condo assessments are a positive? Yeah, right.”
The truth is they actually can be a positive in a healthy condo association. If the board has managed the maintenance, budget and reserves properly, you shouldn’t have any surprises down the line. Therefore, your monthly assessments will ensure your property is well-maintained, which ultimately helps protect your investment.
Depending on what your association covers, a portion of your monthly assessments will be going into reserves to cover large repairs and replacements like roofs or windows . Many condo owners like the fact they have a set monthly fee (although, keep in mind the assessments will most likely modestly raise over time) to also cover routine maintenance like power washing, landscaping, trash, etc. Some communities even cover the water or other utilities.
The key here is to take the time to review the association documents during your due diligence period after signing a purchase contract . It is a law in the state of Virginia for a potential buyer to receive a Resale Disclosure Package from the seller. Review carefully and consider enlisting the assistance of your accountant and/or attorney to avoid surprises later.
More time for … : Here’s where the fun part comes in. With the lower maintenance lifestyle, you’ll have more time for the things you want to do. Many condo communities offer amenities like pools, fitness facilities, clubhouse and even on-site activity/lifestyle directors. Active 55-plus communities can be a great place to meet new friends and discover new hobbies.
Condo assessments: The downside to assessments is they are not set in stone, especially if you are buying in a new-construction community. No matter what, you should expect assessments will be raised throughout the years. What we all hope to avoid is getting hit with the dreaded “special assessment” if the association has not properly managed the maintenance and reserves as we discussed above.
Association rules: There’s no doubt about it, condo living is not for everyone. Before deciding to buy a condo, really think about how the rules might affect your normal daily life. I can say with certainty my dad never would have been a candidate for condo living. Nobody was going to tell him what to do.
Are you OK with the association's saying you can’t have a wreath on your door, no more than one pet, or that you must replace your water heater? Review the rules and regulations very carefully and ask questions if you don’t understand. While every community is different, almost all condo communities have some restrictive rules in place in regard to the exterior surroundings of your unit, pet restrictions, parking policies and maintenance you are responsible for.
Parking and storage: Many condo communities do not have garages or driveways for parking. In communities with very little parking, you may find rules restricting the number of vehicles you can park on-site. Find out in advance where you and your guests will park. Without a garage, your available storage space can be limited, so you’ll need to be sure to do enough downsizing prior to your move.
It’s a big lifestyle shift, so take it one step at a time. You may even want to consider trying out the lifestyle first by renting a condo for a year. Whatever you do, try to plan ahead, and meet with a Realtor who can help locate communities that fit your wants and needs.
Jennifer Ireland and Julie Ulrich are Realtors® with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Towne Realty and serve as Co-Chairs of the Common Interest Community Forum at the Hampton Roads Realtors® Association. Both live in Condos, and serve as Board Members in their own Condominium communities.