Maybe you’ve reached the point where you’re ready to put down some roots — and a down payment too. You’re ready to take the plunge and graduate from landlords and leases to legit property owner. Or maybe you’re a homeowner who wants to downsize, and a condo is just one option you’re considering.
Whatever your situation, and whether you’re looking at urban real estate in New York, NY, or homes for sale in the suburbs, condos have probably surfaced as an option during your home search, and they’re worth the consideration. Buying a condo comes with a number of pros and cons — this list will help you decide if these units are right for you.
Pro: The condo is all yours, but you don’t have to fix everything.
With a condominium, you’ve got the equity of a property owner and the benefit of calling someone else when (some) things fall apart. Score! Of course, you’ll pay maintenance fees for this glorious service, but why not? “The condo association takes care of shoveling, snowplowing, landscaping, roofs, painting the exterior, paving, and more — all of those things that can drain your budget and your time on a house,” says Joe Houlihan, managing partner of Houlihan & O’Malley Real Estate in Bronxville, NY.
Con: You have to rely on the maintenance workers’ timelines for these repairs.
And not all repairs are cheap. Shoveling, snowplowing, landscaping — all of those luxuries listed above — are probably included in the homeowners’ association [HOA] fees. So, if you’d prefer doing your own shoveling to save a little cash, condo living might not be for you. Also, you’ll have to consider the repairmen’s timelines when you need a fix.
Pro: Condo associations set rules to keep the building clean and residents happy.
Condo or homeowners’ associations may keep your neighbors from painting their balcony pink, or from allowing your upstairs neighbors to play loud music after 11 p.m., both of which can be welcome when you’re living in close proximity to other people. Homeowners’ associations will also make sure common areas are clean and in good shape for residents to enjoy. “Let’s say the HOA chooses to change the landscaping or the color of your building to purple — then that’s the color it will be, and you will be required to pay for any assessments attached to any of these changes,” says home improvement consultant Heidi Baker. “For some, this lack of control can be quite freeing.”
Con: You’ll have to abide by those rules.
The HOA isn’t necessarily a bad group; it just happens to be one that’ll determine the quality of your lifestyle in your condo. It will also hit you up for money. If you need to be in control of everything about your space, a condo is definitely not for you. Plus, when you have to listen to the board or participate in its decision-making process, your HOA can feel like a part-time job.
Pro: Condos often have fun activities to take part in — and can be a great place to make friends.
When I lived in the South, I often rented apartments in complexes with pools, tennis courts — the works. And that’s standard for condo living, which can foster a sense of togetherness. “In a condo, you’re part of a community immediately,” says Kuba Jewgieniew, founder and CEO of Realty ONE Group. “Condos offer many perks such as pools, gyms, and events that bring residents together, which can be beneficial to a single person or young family.”
Con: Privacy? What privacy?
Condominiums share walls with neighbors, along with parking and other common areas. Your community may even have a policy about how long you can host overnight guests (just as with a lease) or whether you can decorate your front door during holidays. That’s something many homeowners don’t have to deal with. Of course, every complex is different, but Philadelphia, PA–based real estate agent Denise Baron of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach says you can always opt for a more intimate condo building — for a price. “The question to ask is: How do you feel about community living in a large building with 100 apartments or so?” she says. “Or do you want a boutique, small condo building with four or six units? Smaller buildings tend to have high fees, but they are more private.”
Pro: Condos have elevators.
A lot of condo buildings have elevators and, well, most houses just don’t. Hasmik Petrosian, a Toronto, Canada–based consultant, lived in a condo before buying a house with stairs and soon realized it was a major frustration. “My experience with the stairs has given [me] newfound respect to elevators and the fact that condo living is virtually stair-free living,” he says.
Con: You’re still lugging those groceries from the car to your unit.
Even with an elevator, you’ll have to park your car in a parking lot — whether it’s outside or in a parking garage. This makes unpacking cars (think groceries and suitcases) especially challenging. Making two trips out to the car in your home’s garage is much easier than waiting for the elevator or taking the stairs.
Pro: Say goodbye to mowing and trimming.
Imagine pulling into your driveway after a long day and noticing the hours of yardwork you have to add to your to-do list. Now imagine the same long day, except when you pull into your driveway, the landscaping is professionally cared for and maintenance-free. That’s the perk of condo living — if landscaping and gardening is an afterthought for you, living in a condo is a great option. You’ll enjoy a cared-for green space without having to lift a finger.
Con: Condos don’t have yards you can make your own.
Although some condos offer community gardens, you most likely won’t have much of a say in what’s planted in the building’s outdoor areas or how the landscaping is maintained. If you’ve got a green thumb, then you’ll have to settle for a hanging garden or decide that condominiums aren’t the housing option for you. “With a house, you have free rein to do what you like to the exterior and your yard, which is usually not the case with condos,” says Joe Houlihan.