There are many types of condominiums, some condos look like houses or townhouses, most look like high-rises or garden-style apartments. Even though a condo can look look like a townhouse or house, owning a condo differs from owing a fee simple property in many ways. There are aspects of condo living that some may view as advantages or disadvantages, and you should be aware of these before you buy.
Here are a few basic benefits and considerations of condo living to help you make your decision.
Busy folk who love being close to the action often choose a condominium because condo developments most often occur in the city. In places like Alexandria’s Carlyle District, Arlington especially around Clarendon or Rosslyn, and in parts of Falls Church, land is at a premium. But in all these examples, your condo is well served by public transportation. These condos are also close to the culture and opportunities of the city.
Of course the downside to being in town is that you’re in the city—that means traffic, hustle and bustle and other disadvantages of living downtown. For example, the USPTO is crawling with people during rush hour. Crystal City is a pass-thru for many many commuters. Most homes and townhomes have a lawn or yard of some kind, but few condo owners have a yard or personal green space.
A condominium owner is part of a community. The community lifestyle has many advantages. For example, the owner of a condo can leave things on a whim. There is no yard to worry about and the building is secure. Neighbors and condo staff will watch the property while you’re on travel or vacation. Most condos in Alexandria, Arlington, Crystal City and Falls Church have security features such as buzzers, a concierge or a guard service. If you travel often for business or pleasure (or if this is a second home), there are no worries while you’re out of pocket. Many condos have clubs, activities and the opportunity to socialize with neighbors.
But, shared walls and common areas mean that you are more likely to hear your neighbors. If you need your home to be a hideaway where you can escape from people, you have to deal with the fact that you might encounter neighbors in the hallway. Nosy neighbors are found everywhere, but it’s a lot easier for them to keep tabs on you as you come and go in a condo. The community will set standards and make decisions about common areas. For example, many condo association have rules about pets so that the common areas are not over-run with pets and pet debris.
You can take part in the decision making (by voting or by being a board member), but you must abide by the rules of the community. As you may know, condos are governed by a set of rules called Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs). This can include restrictions on noise levels, pet ownership, renovations, and even what kind of curtains you can put in your windows.
Every unit owner is a member of the condo association, which also has an elected board. The association serves to enforce bylaws, handles maintenance and repair issues, etc.Because the condo association is made up of homeowners rather than property-management professionals, the association may be weak and inefficient. Most associations oversee a paid management firm.
Also, if you want to make renovations to your unit or rent your unit out, you may have to get approval from the condo association.This purpose of this oversight is most usually designed to make sure that you don’t remove any load bearing walls or short circuit community electricity.
Homeowners have a lot to worry about, but condo owners on the other hand …
Condo owners generally don’t mow lawns. They don’t clean gutters. They don’t even have to hire or pay landscapers. In a condominium someone else takes care of the exterior, the common areas, the snow removal and more. Someone else makes sure there’s money enough to pay for the new roof.
Of course, that service comes at a price: the monthly condo fees. The association collects these fees to pay for maintenance and repair of the common areas. All homeowners pay for maintenance, but the owner of a single family residence can save money by mowing his own lawn. The owner of a single family home can defer payment a little longer if money is tight. Of course, by aggregating the fees of maintenance, condominium owners often have enough money to pay for amenities that are not common in a single family residence. For example, a swimming pool is pretty standard in a condo.
Some condos in Northern Virginia list are every bit as expensive as single family houses elsewhere. Condos in Crystal City, condos in Arlington and condos in Alexandria (especially in the Carlyle District) can be quite pricey. But some condos are surprisingly affordable. This makes a great option for first-time buyers and singles who may find single-family houses unaffordable. Condominiums are more sensitive to trends in the real estate market than single-family homes. Now that the prices have dropped there are some tremendous bargains for shoppers.
Most condominium developments offer a range of amenities in the common areas. It’s pretty standard in Northern Virginia to have access to a swimming pool, gym or tennis courts in most condo complexes.