So you finally want to buy a house. That’s excellent! Homeownership is a big part of the American Dream, after all. But sometimes your dream includes a house that you aren’t quite ready for, whether that’s financially, logistically, or emotionally. Maybe you don’t feel like a single family home is affordable for you right now. Maybe the responsibility of owning a whole house and its plot of land sounds daunting to you (you’re just not ready to commit to a relationship with yard work!). Or maybe you travel a lot for work, and the thought of leaving an empty house for long periods of time makes you nervous. All of these are perfectly valid reasons for anyone to steer clear of homeownership, but they’re also great reasons to think about something you might not have considered yet: buying a condo.
What exactly is a condo?
If you’ve never quite grasped the idea of what a condo (short for condominium) is, think of it as an apartment that you own. In the most basic of terms, you own everything from the walls in, and everything from the exterior walls and out is taken care of by your homeowners association (HOA) or condo regime. If you’re used to apartment living, purchasing a condo is the perfect segue into homeownership.
Is it really cheaper than buying a house?
Generally speaking, buying a condo is a good bit cheaper than buying a single family home. In fact, in January of 2018, the national median price for a house in the U.S. was $241,700, but the median price for a condo was just $231,600. Take into consideration, however, that just like with single family homes, condos come in a wide variety of flavors. There are the most basic and efficient, one-bedroom, one-bath units; there are sprawling luxury condos in the city; and then there’s everything in between. One caveat: while the total purchase price for a condo will be usually less than a traditional house, keep in mind that you’ll have to factor the monthly HOA dues or regime fees into your budget. Every condo owner pays monthly dues that go into an account that pays for things like exterior maintenance and repairs, insurance covering exterior damage, trash pickup, etc. Check the details of what your dues cover before you decide that they’ll blow your budget. Some dues might include water, utilities, and even cable/internet service.
Will I have fewer responsibilities?
Yes, you definitely have fewer responsibilities as a homeowner when you buy a condo. As we said above, you are responsible for everything from the walls inside. If you’re used to calling the landlord when something breaks, you might want to invest in a toolkit and get familiar with DIY tutorials—or put together a good list of handymen and contractors. You’ll also need to get homeowner’s insurance for the interior of your home and your belongings. The great thing is that when it comes to mowing the grass, cleaning or painting the exterior, and keeping up with general curb appeal, you won’t have to lift a finger (except to sign those checks for HOA dues).
What else do my HOA dues cover?
Besides the necessary maintenance and repairs to the exterior of your building, HOA dues also include the awesome amenities many condos offer. A lot of condos will come with amenities like community pools, parking garages or lots, gyms, playgrounds, and tennis courts. Some even boast entertainment features like theater rooms, cafés, and coffee shops. Of course these amenities aren’t technically free; the cost of maintenance and use is included in your dues. Therefore, the more amenities your condo regime offers, the higher the monthly dues will be.
Does living with an HOA mean I’ll have to follow strict rules?
There’s honestly no hard and fast answer to this. The goal of any homeowners association is to retain value, keep a neighborhood or building looking nice and cohesive, and keep things safe. This means there may be strict rules about things like exterior decoration, painting, and storage or entertainment areas. For example, there may be rules that say you can’t store your bike on your patio, hang anything from the eaves, or put a doormat outside your door. Little things like this might seem annoying, but the rules are there for a reason. Most planned subdivisions will have rules and guidelines like these, condo or not.
What if I travel a lot? Is it safe to leave my home unattended?
As with any residence, you take a chance when you leave your home empty for any long period of time. When it comes to condos, however, the HOA usually includes some type of security surveillance or patrol. And since your neighbors are extremely close by, you can always ask them to keep an eye on things when you’re away. Even better, though, is the fact that you might be able to rent your condo out when traveling for an extended period of time. HOA restrictions could possibly put the kibosh on that, but if there aren’t any specific rules against it, leasing your condo to a tenant or putting it on AirBnB is a great option for when you’re not there.
There are lots more reasons buying a condo might suit you more than buying a single family home, but we hope we’ve provided you with enough to pique your interest. If you’re interested in homeownership, but you just aren’t sure about the level of commitment and responsibility, purchasing a condo is definitely a viable option. Feel free to reach out to one of our knowledgeable and friendly agents anytime with all of your condo vs. house questions and concerns!