Condos are not houses — questions to ask yourself before trying ‘complex’ living

This condo that’s for sale at the Aspen Lofts in Downtown Boise may not have a yard, but it comes with beautiful views.
This condo that’s for sale at the Aspen Lofts in Downtown Boise may not have a yard, but it comes with beautiful views.

When you own a house, you are responsible for everything, and everything is on your schedule. You make the rules, you make the repairs and you mow the lawn. You decide when to paint the house or change the filters, and you decide where to park your bike.

But when you own a condo, someone else gets to do all that fun stuff. Someone else does the worrying, someone else does the maintenance and someone else makes the rules.

Condo living can be a perfect lifestyle choice for some people. It’s safe, secure and easy. For others, not so much. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, your do-it-yourself days are over. Whether that is a pro or a con depends on you.

It doesn’t matter whether you buy a home in a subdivision or a condo on the fourth floor of a Downtown building; you still need to do your due diligence. But be aware that the parameters are a bit different. With a house, you also have a piece of land. Some people have described a condominium as “a box in the air.” But a buyer needs to be concerned about the foundation, structure and condition of the building in either case. You will need to be aware of potential and future maintenance costs and be prepared for those expenses when the roof develops a leak or the heater goes out. That’s all part of being a homeowner.

“You can choose when you do it in your home,” said Stan Smith. He’s the manager of Rim Crest at the western end of Crescent Rim Drive, a 50-year-old building that was turned into condos in 1980. “But in a condo building, you don’t have a vote in that. The Board decides how and when the building will be maintained.”

Which is just fine with condo residents. But that is also where your due diligence comes in. Smith recommends you look at the structure and maintenance of the building, just as you would a home. Look at its construction (will it be soundproof?) and the efficiency of its infrastructure. Also check out the association’s type of management and its finances. Those numbers are all available in black and white. Can the budget handle an emergency roof repair or that parking lot resurfacing without a special assessment?

“You need to know what the association takes care of for you and what they do not,” Smith said. “And that varies by virtually every single project.”

It’s true that many subdivision homeowner associations have rules and regulations, like how tall your flagpole can be or what kind of fence you can put up, but condo associations often have more of these, just due to the proximity of residents or to be in keeping with the building’s style. For example, what are your remodel parameters? Each building is different.

Some have shared amenities like a pool or exercise room or other common areas. Also make sure you can live with the other rules and regulations. Parking will be a major concern. Forget that RV. And what about pets? Or smoking? Can you put a barbecue on your balcony or not? What about bike storage?

“You are buying a lifestyle, and it doesn’t matter if you are 25 or 95,” Smith said. “But there are compromises you have to make. There are rules and regulations you have to abide by. But you need to know what those rules are going in, and whether they are a good fit for your lifestyle. A particular condo will either fit your needs or it won’t.”

That condominium won’t be tweaking its rules or changing its declarations just to fit you. You’ll need to fit to it.

So look closely at those trade-offs.

One of the big trade-offs, of course, is that someone else is doing 90 percent of the routine maintenance.

“I can leave for the weekend — or the winter — and someone else will oversee the building,” he said.

It’s really not a bad deal at all. And having a secure building is also a plus.

“I feel very safe,” said Joan Lind, a resident of Rim Crest. “I don’t have to do any repairs myself. I don’t have to mess with anything.”

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