Looking to buy a high rise condo and want to find out the right things to look for.

Asked by K O'leary, San Francisco, CA Thu Jun 21, 2012

I have heard that it is very important to look at the strength of the Home Owners Association. How do you know if it is healthy or not? Also heard to look at the reserves. So what is considered good reserves? Is there some type of ratio to be looking at? Any thoughts on the best high rise to live in?What is the best way to select an agent?

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Brad Golik, Agent, Portland, OR
Fri Jun 22, 2012
Here is some 3rd party advice from an out of town agent (Portland) not trying to get your business :)
Actually, the agents below gave you some very good advice and you can tell most understand the condo business.
The one thing I would highly suggest is to work with a condo specialist!!!
An agent that specializes with condos knows the market. They understand pricing as well as all of the nuances of the condominium and loft markets. As a condo specialist myself, I get notified everyday of any new listings in the market. I will review those new listings to see how the pricing stacks up. If it's a deal, I get on the phone to my clients to let them know asap. I absolutely believe that an agent who works the suburbs is NOT going to be able to represent you with the skills that the specialist has. How can they? They are looking at pricing north of town one day and then homes 10 miles away on another day. They may be good agents but they cannot acquire the skills of the specialist until they are in the market EVERYDAY!
A good agent will review all of the information that was mentioned by the agents below. They should know what to look for and will typically already know most of this information on many of the buildings you will be looking at.
Which high rise to buy? Go and look at them all! You will know right away what buildings you like and which you don't. If the agent doesn't have the time to show them all to you, this is probably not the agent for you.

In selecting an agent... here is my 2 cents worth!
Make sure that the agent you select has good communication skills and will take the time to make sure every question you may have is answered clearly. In the beginning, make sure that they spend more time listening to you instead of talking so that they get a good understanding of what you really want.
Be open to suggestions. You may be thinking you want to be in a certain area or building and a good agent may make some suggestions you were not thinking about that turn out to be a very good experience.

HAVE FUN... you will be spending a lot of time with your agent. While buying a new home is a very serious purchase, it should also be a pleasurable one as well. You can have an agent that is VERY good at what they do that also enjoys what they do and have fun doing it.

Good luck...I hope you find a great condo (and a great agent!)

Brad Golik
1 vote
Robert Chome…, , San Diego, CA
Mon Jun 25, 2012
Top things to look for:

1. % units occupied by owners
2. % units late on hoa dues
3. hoa reserves
4. Is there any pending litigation?
5. Are there any pending special assessments?
6. Have there been any special assessments last few years and how much?
7. Last 12 mos meeting minutes from the hoa board

Yes condos take a lot of due diligence. I would look for a Realtor who is super sharp and specializes in condos in your area of SF.

For reserves see you can request a reserve study and the reserves should be funded at a high %.
1 vote
Annette Law…, Agent, Palm Harbor, FL
Mon Jun 25, 2012
Wow. All that will make your head spin. Unfortunately, it's ALL true.
How do you assimilate all the information and put handles on it so you can use it?

You don't. Tomorrow it will change.
That is why you hire professionals. These professinals will, during your conversations, assess where your fears are and to what you have a real aversion. With condo sales, there are important issues everywhere, and after you buy..you are stuck. Don't be stuck.

Your agent will indeed by a vital member of your team in finding, negotiating, interpreting and developing strategy, to achieve the best outcome for you. Selecting the right agent is incredibly important.

There are five personally important things you need to know about any agent you interview. You may need to interview more than one, but not neecessarily.

There are five questions you want the answer to even if you don't know these questions. The answer you are seeking is revealed in how agents will respond to you with the following questions: (the following are not YOUR five unspoken questions)
1. Is this a safe neighborhood?
2. What are the taxes?
3. What if I can not find what I want in the existing inventory?
4. You will rebate a portion of your commission to me, right?
5. How will you (the agent) identify a great value when it becomes available?

Keep your eyes open, listen carefully. Look for respect and honor in all things. The response, the reaction to these questions will reveal what you need to know about an agent and their commitment to assuring you the very best results and in assuaging your unspoken concerns.

IMPORTANT NOTE: the answer to any of these questions is quite irrelevant. What is relevant is how the agent relates to you in their response, AND... you must trust your greatest asset in this process...your intuition.

Best of success to you.
1 vote
Alina Aeby, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Fri Jun 22, 2012
Hi K,

There are many great questions from my fellow San Francisco colleagues already.

I represent a lot condo buyers, but I would like to speak from my HOA Board President capacity. I own a condo in a 67 unit building and I am having the honor to be the HOA President this year.

There are a lot of things to look for when buying a condo in a medium to large building, high rise or not:

-first thing first: ask if the building is in any sort of litigation- there are quite few buildings in this situation and it is hard to obtain a loan; knowing in advance will save you a lot of time and efforts. Most of the litigations have to do with construction defects.
-is 10% of the building own by only one entity ?( for example, some developers retain a number of condos for rental purposes)- this is another condition that makes lending hard.
-percentage of HOA dues defaults.
--percentage of renters v. owners( a 25% of renters is pushing the limits).
-foreclosures and short sales in the buildings.
-CCR's- the rules and the regulations that govern the building( are pets allowed? can you install hardwood floors?can you rent out? are they rent restrictions or percentage limitations?); Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation;
-Budget and reserves. As mentioned by other colleagues, over 80% funded reserves show a top shape HOA, but don't be too scared if you see reserves funded at 50%. There are years when the HOA has more maintenance expenses than others and they need to make payments from the reserves funds. I would be skeptical if I see a HOA with lots of reserves and with a very dated building too. That means there is not willingness to do any improvements. Also, consider the amenities and services included in the monthly HOA fee.
-Minutes- they give you the whole history of the last year happenings- what were the problems, what the homeowners complained about.

I am always available for an advise if needed.

Good luck!

Best regards,


Alina Aeby

Pacific Union International
1 Letterman Dr, Building C, Suite 300
San Francisco,CA 94129
1 vote
Thank you, Gabriel! So did you and everyone else.
Flag Sun Jun 24, 2012
Alina, you provided some really good info here!
Flag Fri Jun 22, 2012
Sorry, I meant many great 'answers', not 'questions'...honest mistake..
Flag Fri Jun 22, 2012
K O'leary, Home Buyer, San Francisco, CA
Mon Jun 25, 2012
Thanks to all for your informative and helpful input!
0 votes
Sally Rosenm…, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Sun Jun 24, 2012
Lots of good answers. My suggestion is to interview 2-3 realtors and go with the one you feel is best qualified to help you find a new home and with whom you have the best rapport. See how knowledgeable she/he is on the different districts that have high-rise buildings in them. Your realtor should also know what the differences are in each building, what you get for the amount of dues you pay and why the purchase would be a good buy. Many of us have websites with information on the different neighborhoods. I would suggest driving around and seeing what kinds of shops, restaurants and entertainment are in each area. We also have lists of public and private schools. For instance, in my website, under links, you can find information about these schools. Go to Yelp or SFstation to learn more about the events in the different areas of the city.

Once you choose your realtor, you can then discuss all the aspects of a purchase. Most of us have Buyer Booklets which also detail sales (from soup to nuts as the expression goes.) I'd love to hear from you but if not, please do talk to other realtors. Our fudiciary responsibility is to you!


Web Reference:  http://www.sallyrosenman.com
0 votes
Lance King, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Fri Jun 22, 2012
You have been given a lot of great information below and I would add the following:

The dollar amount of reserves can be misleading as a newer building will have less because they haven't had time to build up reserves. What you want to see is that the building is on track to have funding in place as components fail/need repair so the owners don't get large special assessments.

With regards to the "best" high rise, this is very subjective and depends upon your lifestyle, location preference, and budget.

Selecting your agent/broker is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. I wrote a blog in the subject that I hope you will find helpful:


As the owner of the company with a team of pros to back me up, we can provide the skill, experience, and dedication to client interest you need to make sure you get the right place for you at the right price. Contact info below for a free expert consultation.

Best Regards,

Lance King/Owner-Managing Broker
DRE# 01384425
0 votes
Toby Jackson, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Fri Jun 22, 2012
Hello K,

I'll echo what some of the other agents have said here regarding reserves - A good development will have strong reserves which is necessary for future repairs as well as ongoing maintenance.

The best high rise to live in is the one that has a combination of the features you're looking for - location, views, size, finishes and amenities. Make sure you're comfortable with the HOA dues and what they'll provide you with - is having an on-site fitness center necessary if, say, you have access to a good gym through your work? If there's a pool/BBQ area - will you really be using it? Remember, you'll be paying for it every month.

I've lived in San Francisco for almost 20 years and I've been in real estate for the last 15 - feel free to contact me to talk further about what's best for you.



Toby Jackson
Better Homes & Gardens/Mason-McDuffie Real Estate
2200 Union Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
Mobile: 415-627-8200
Office: 415-921-0113
0 votes
Gabriel Rojas, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Thu Jun 21, 2012
Greetings and thank you for your questions.

My name is Gabriel and I work with Climb Real Estate Group in San Francisco. We do a very large amount of business in new construction, high rise residential buildings, and conversion property in the city.

Your Home Owners Association (HOA) should always look strong. Ms. Santos is right about the reserve amounts and, of course, you would like to see 75-80%. Your first two questions merge because a healthy HOA usually means a strong reserve of money. This could also mean you have the right people in place to make it happen. As a building ages, necessary costs will arise. HOA dues go up and down so prepare by being active in your HOA meetings and know what's going on.

Think about amenities. What things are you going to utilize in your new building and are they worth it to you in the price of HOA payments? There are some great high rise condos in San Francisco and they can differ greatly. If you'd like to speak in more detail I'd be happy to help.

Good luck!


0 votes
Lizete Santos, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Thu Jun 21, 2012
Hello K,

You'll find that information in the property disclosures. A strong reserve fund is over 70%. Between 30-70% is considered fair and below 30% is weak.
There are many options in SF and the "best" is subjective. Are you looking for views, finishes, location-all of these will dictate condo recommendations as well as your price point.
I recommend talking with a couple agents and seeing which would be a good fit for you.

Web Reference:  http://www.LizeteSantos.com
0 votes
Matthew Goul…, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Thu Jun 21, 2012
Good evening,

You really need to look at what features you want like full service concierge compared to a doorman only during the day. How important is a view and the style /period that you prefer.

I have seen many units in the high rise, especially in the downtown / south beach area and they vary from the $400 to the multi million price tag
0 votes
Matt Woebcke, Agent, San Francisco, CA
Thu Jun 21, 2012
When looking at any high rise condo you will want to request a disclosure packet. This will include the CC&R's and budgets. When reviewing the disclosure packet you will also be able to review meeting minutes and other disclosures about each building.

I spent many years working for The Mark company and sold numerous buildings including The Infinity. I have close relationships with the sales team at Millennium Tower, One Hawthorne, Madrone, and Esprit Park.

You will want an agent that specializes in this market as it is a bit different from other areas of real estate. If you have any other questions please feel free to contact me anytime. My personal email is MattWoebcke@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful weekend!

0 votes
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