One of the major attractions to condominium ownership is a desire for fewer maintenance and repair responsibilities. This may be an elusive goal. While the ownership of some larger, more expensive and/or well managed condominium complexes may require few maintenance responsibilities, the opposite can be true in smaller, less expensive and/or older complexes. But problems with condos can be found in all types of complexes.
Condominium ownership may also be plagued by factors related to the building's design especially issues which are unique to or common in multi-family structures. Other woes may be related to the very nature of condominium ownership, that is multi-party joint ownership.
Condominium purchase decisions require more information than most types of real estate purchases. Yet the information available to the buyer is usually incomplete, misleading and inadequate.
Please read on.
In my work I have discovered specific conditions which may complicate condominium ownership. The ten potential plagues of condominium ownership are as follows:
See Q&A: Building Envelope Defects, and the report of the Comm. of Inquiry Into the Quality of Condominium Construction in BC.
|A Shrink Wrapped Condo
A condo with exterior envelope failure. Repair costs in such cases are often in the 10's of thousands of dollars per unit.
Luckily the above described 'plagues' are not universally found in condominiums. Well built, well managed and well maintained complexes can be relatively trouble-free and can result in a relatively maintenance-free home.
Purchasing a condominium is a bit like entering into a business partnership. The success or failure of that partnership will depend on numerous details. Trouble free condominium complexes tend to have the following characteristics:
|Here is an example from a 5 year old condo with vinyl siding and sloppy trim and flashing work. The mushrooms in the red circle (no, I don't think they are edible) appear to be the result of leaks from the vinyl siding and sub-standard trim and caulking work. The blue arrow shows fungal wood-rot as a result of water wicking from a sub-standard flashing installation.|
Based upon my experience as a home inspector and my understanding of the experience of others, there are some useful "risk factor" guidelines which can help identify structures which are prone to exterior envelope failure in wet climates:
None of these risk factors can be used to predict exterior envelope failure by themselves. I am also sure that there are buildings with multiple risk factors and no exterior envelope problems. However, buildings with one or more of these risk factors:
Or, as my doctor tells me: a history of heart disease in the family and my elevated cholesterol levels do not predict a heart attack, but such risk factors do suggest a need for exercise...(darn!)
Many of these concerns about condominiums are faced by owners of single family residences; some are unique to owning one unit with the joint ownership of common areas. Unfortunately, condominiums and other multi unit structures tend to have more of these problems. A particular shock for those who purchase a condominium out of a desire for fewer maintenance and repair responsibilities.
For a comparison of condominium vs. single family home ownership, see Q&A: Should I Buy a House or a Condo?, one of the hundreds of indexed questions and answers in the Sound Home Consultant section of this site.
Preventive measures and good maintenance practices can reduce the risk of the types of problems described above. These measures will cost more money now but will most likely save a lot more money down the road. Here are a few tips:
When you buy a condo you purchase a specific unit and you are also buying into a home owners association (HOA) that owns and manages the complex. In other words, you are buying into the business that owns and manages the building(s) that contain "your" unit. You are entering into two roles:
When you buy into most other types of businesses you want find out about the business and about your future partners. Yet when you buy a condo you may not have all the necessary information needed to evaluate the business and you will know very little about your business "partners" - your fellow HOA members. For example: