Buying a newly built home that’s a good fit for you and your family is all about asking your builder the right questions. Some of the questions you should ask apply to any type of newly built home. Others are specific to certain types of homes, like condominiums.
Condominiums, or “condos,” are similar to detached houses, but there are some important differences, and these differences should be part of your conversation when you talk to a builder or a developer about buying this type of home.
Here are six condo-specific questions that should be on your condo-shopping checklist:
1. Is This Home a Condo or Townhome?
Condos and townhomes have a lot in common. Unlike detached houses, condos and townhomes share at least one wall with a neighboring residence. Condos might also share their floor or ceiling with another unit. Townhomes are sometimes called row houses due to their architectural style. Condos and townhomes are both governed by a homeowners’ association (HOA), which collects dues from the owners and maintains common areas, such as swimming pools, golf courses and hiking trails. An important difference between condos and townhomes is that condo owners don’t individually own their building while townhome owners do.
Condo or Townhome: Which is Which?
|Shared Walls||Shared Floors |
2. How Many Condos Will Be Built and How Many Are Under Contract?
Houses can be built and sold one at a time. Because condos are attached, all of the units in one building must be built at the same time. Buyers can sign a contract to purchase a condo at any time, but none of the purchases can close until the entire building is finished or very close to completion. If most of the planned units in a condo project are under contract, purchases might be able to close soon. If only a small number are under contract, the closing date might be farther off and harder to predict. If your desired move-in date is flexible, you might be comfortable with that uncertainty.
3. When Will Construction Start and Be Completed?
Since condos are built all at once, the construction start and completion dates will be the same or similar for all of the units. If construction has started, a target completion date might already be on the calendar. If construction hasn’t started, the timeline might be less certain and construction might be delayed while more units are sold. Whether this timeline matters to you depends on how flexible you can be in your move-in schedule.
4. What Construction Methods and Materials Will You Use to Reduce Sound Between Units?
Noise can be an annoyance no matter where you live, but since condos and townhomes are attached, noise transfer between units can be a problem. If the builder doesn’t take effective measures to reduce sound transfer, neighbors will have to live with one another’s TVs, stereo systems, barking dogs, crying babies and laundry machines. Modern construction methods and materials can reduce noise between units, but only if the builder uses those methods and materials. If noise matters to you, ask your builder what you should expect to hear and not hear from your neighbors after you move in. For townhomes, walls are the primary concern. For condos, walls, floors and ceilings can be affected.
5. What Construction Methods and Materials Will You Use to Enhance Fire Safety in the Building?
Fire safety in a condo or townhome means more than just smoke alarms and disaster evacuation plans. That’s because when homes are attached, a fire in one unit can spread to the next and the next until the entire property is aflame. Insurance can help to replace the building, interior elements and owners’ personal possessions, but insurance offers no protection against loss of life. A brand-new building can be significantly safer for its occupants when the builder designs fire safety measures into it and uses fire-retardant materials where they make sense. Fire can happen anywhere, so it’s smart to ask your builder about fire safety and how they’re meeting state and local fire prevention codes.
6. How Much Will the Monthly HOA Dues Be?
There’s no way to figure out in advance exactly how much an HOA will spend every month to maintain a specific building or community amenities. Still, you should try to get a sense of how much your monthly HOA dues might be if you buy a particular condo or townhome. HOA dues can vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars per month. Keep in mind that lower dues aren’t necessary better since owners are still responsible for shortfalls or underfunded expenses and repairs. Ask for copies of the HOA’s bylaws and Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs), which outline the rules and fines that can be assessed against owners who violate them. If you’re not comfortable with the rules, don’t buy a home in that community.
Asking questions isn’t always easy, but you’ll need to speak up to find out everything you should know about a condo or townhome you might like to buy. With the right questions and answers, you’ll soon be on the road to your new home.
Marcie Geffner is an award-winning freelance reporter, writer and editor in Ventura, California. In the last decade, she has penned more than 1,000 published stories about residential and commercial real estate, banking, credit cards, computer security, health insurance and small business, among other subjects. Editors describe her as “detail-driven,” “conscientious,” “smart” and “incredibly versatile.” Her award-winning reporting has been lauded as “rock solid,” “spot-on relevant,” “informative,” “engaging,” “interesting” and “nuanced.” Her stories have been cited in seven published nonfiction books and two U.S. Congressional hearings.
Prior to her freelance career, Geffner was senior editor of California Real Estate magazine. Later, she became managing editor of Inman.com, an independent real estate news website. She also has prior employment experience in technical writing, corporate communications and employee communications. She received a bachelor’s degree in English with high honors from UCLA and master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. She enjoys reading, home improvement projects and watching seagulls at the beach.