I field calls every single day from renters who are interested in condominiums.  The names and locations change, but there are a few fundamental misconceptions that are so common, I feel the need to write this note for the general benefit of the world at large.

It looks like an apartment, but it’s not an apartment.

First of all, a renter needs to understand the difference between an apartment and a condominium.  An apartment, or any multi-family dwelling, is owned by a single entity. Most usually the owner is a company, but more rarely an individual owns the property. Employees of the apartment complex, or the owner himself, manages the property.

A condominium is different because there are many owners, meaning each unit is individually titled.  The owners of a given condominium complex make up something called a condominium association.  The association jointly owns the common areas such as the lobby and the lawns. The association oversees the management of the property.

There is no rental office: you need an agent.

When you rent at an apartment complex, you’ll see a big sign that says “RENTAL OFFICE”. That office is staffed by folks whose job it is to explain to you why that particular building is the greatest place to live in the world. They are generally helpful and pleasant and they will gladly show you a model apartment and give you an idea of what is “coming available”.

A condominium complex is completely different.  The condo office is filled with employees of the condominium association.  The employees at the condo office are concerned with the maintenance and security of the building. They couldn’t care less where you rent or where you live.  In most condominiums in Northern Virginia, staff won’t allow you to enter the property and they won’t show you any rentals here or anywhere else.  The staff has no idea what is available or what is “coming available”.

A condominium complex looks like an apartment building on outside, but it’s more like a neighborhood full of townhouses or houses.  In a neighborhood everyone lives in the same place with similar housing but each person owns his own house. If you want to rent in that neighborhood, you CAN’T do so by banging on people’s doors and asking them to see their house. Nobody in the neighborhood knows “what’s coming available”.  If you want to tour a house in a neighborhood, you need a real estate agent.

It’s the same in a condo.  If you don’t have an agent you can’t see a condo, or any private residence.  Homeowners don’t want strange people walking through their house and they don’t want to make allowances unless a real estate agent knows their is a possibility that you can afford the rent.

There are always other options.

If you don’t want a rental agent, you do have a choice. You can rent from an apartment complex—less hassles on the front end, more hassles on the back end. Or, you can take your chances on Craigslist.  My advice: Craigslist is great for room shares, but doesn’t work so well for grown-ups.

The most important thing every renter should know about condos.

Then, the last and most important thing any renter should know about condos: in today’s market purchasing a condo will cost you a few dollars more each month than a renting a condo.  But buying a condo will cost you less on an annual basis.

How is this possible?  Condo owners pay association fees and mortgage. Taken together, a first time buyer with a low down payment will have payment slightly higher than a rental. But each year we all file taxes. Renters take a standard deduction. But, property owners can deduct real estate taxes, mortgage interest, depreciation and certain other expenses from their taxes. This can amount to thousands of real dollars in your pocket each year.

Don’t forget, next year, the renter will get a rent increase.  Next year, the mortgage will be the same.

It’s your choice, but this is a great time to buy a condo.
For more information or to set up an appointment call Stuart at (703)765-0300.

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Stuart Nesbitt

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Stuart Nesbitt is a Realtor® licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia. His office is located in Fairfax County near the City of Alexandria in Belle Haven. He was born and raised in Northern Virginia and attended Fairfax County schools. Call him at any time to discuss your real estate needs.