A few years ago, I declared I would (probably) never buy a condominium. I still believe this to be true. All my adult life, I’ve lived in rented apartments. Some have been nice, some have been not so nice. My least favorite living arrangement was a railroad apartment in Jersey City, New Jersey. It was a great deal in a great location, but a grocery store on the ground floor attracted a variety of critters and my roommate needed to walk through my bedroom in order to get in and out of hers.
Condo ownership brings with it some of the benefits of owning a home, some of the benefits of renting an apartment, but many of the drawbacks of both.
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- Proximity to neighbors who may by inhospitable. I may not always be the first person to meet and greet the neighbors, but I try to be friendly and courteous. In my first apartment out of college, I lived on the ground floor. The ceilings were thin, so every night I endured the romantic sounds from above. In another apartment, I lived above a one-bedroom unit which was considered a home for somewhere between ten and fifteen loud residents. While condos are generally occupied by more serious, more mature residents, and the neighbors would tend to be less transient, in good rental markets, or in areas where condominiums are viewed as a good investment, the units are more frequently rented out.
- Condos generally appreciate slower than comparable single-family homes. While there are always exceptions, condos are worse investments than houses, and houses aren’t good investments to begin with.
- Fees and rules govern condos. While this may be true of single-family homes as well in some cases, there’s even less you can do with condos. Ownership associations limit your ability to personalize your front-facing living space, but you are often generally free to arrange the interior as you see fit, unlike apartments. Association rules can often work in your favor. Some rules can help prevent the property values from decreasing by requiring a standard of upkeep within the units, and fees often cover services like lawn care.
- Less work for the owner. Like apartments, regular maintenance and repair are the responsibilities of the owners. Condo owners do not need to mow lawns or fix pipes. Less time and money maintaining the operation of the household can result in more time and money for other concerns, like family, friends, and income-generating work. This is a trade-off; you will pay more in fees so that you need to do less work on the property.
- Condos are less expensive than comparable houses. You can find condos for less money than comparable single-family homes. The prices are lower for a variety of reasons, including the fact that you don’t own the land on which the condo sits. Condos can be ideal first homes simply because it’s more affordable. Many of my friends, some with the help of their parents, bought condos not long after graduating college.
A condominium can be the right choice for a family. A friend of mine considers himself a real estate broker, and one of his homes is a condo in an upscale neighborhood in New Jersey, very convenient to Manhattan. He showed me around a few empty units in his building, featuring thick enough walls to prevent disturbance from neighbors, a wide open floor plan, and amazing views of the New York City skyline. Even with a door man, a pool, and a parking garage, the condos were relatively affordable. Nevertheless, it felt like an apartment. When I’m ready to find a place to spend the bulk of the remainder of my life, I still believe I’d prefer a house with a yard, a garage, a basement, and a quiet street.
Do you live in a condo? Why did you choose a condominium rather than a single-family house?
Updated October 21, 2015 and originally published July 25, 2011.