The “condominium” (or “condo” for short) is generally seen as the missing link between renting an apartment and owning land with a house. Commonly, at least in my experience, a condominium is an apartment building in which the units are individually owned but the common spaces are jointly owned by all individual owners.
There is one primary advantage in owning a condominium unit above renting: your equity an an asset with a possibility of appreciation. There is also one primary advantage above owning a house and land, the probability of finding a comfortable dwelling for a lower price.
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The disadvantages are numerous:
Lifestyle of dwelling. Living in a condominium is much like living in an apartment building. You are close to your neighbors, and no matter how things appear initially, the walls and ceilings are never as thick and sound-proof as they appear to be initially. If I want to hear the children living downstairs screaming at 3:00 in the morning, I’d prefer to stay in an apartment.
Price won’t increase as much as a single-family house. Even when the real estate market is in an upward trend, beneficial to sellers, the price of condominium units won’t increase as much as the price of houses. There seems to be an endless supply of condominiums. Apartment buildings are often converted to condos when the market is favorable to such a move. Houses, and more importantly the land they sit upon, are much more limited in supply. If you own a condominium you own a certain cubic feet of air within your particular enclosure. You do not own the biggest driver for appreciation, the land.
Association fees. The common areas in a condominium are owned jointly and are usually governed by a board of directors or another group of representatives. In addition to your mortgage and taxes, you will also be responsible for association fees. These fees ensure there is enough funding to mow the lawn, fix the roof, insure the owners against liability, and advertise unsold units.
Association rules. Rules vary from one condominium to another, but they are designed to keep the appearance of the buildings professional and uniform. This supposedly keeps property values higher. Don’t expect to be able to paint the outside of your unit in a way that reflects your personality. Your landscaping options are limited. In many cases, you won’t even be allowed to erect a small flag on your door frame or window. Some associations don’t allow pets.
While I reserve the right to change my mind, I’d rather skip “Apartment Living Part 2” when it’s time for me to “upgrade” my living situation. My intention is not to insult condo owners, it is only to discover what is best for me.
Photo credit: edkohler
Updated October 15, 2015 and originally published August 18, 2008.