What Questions To Ask Before Buying A Condo In Connecticut: Part 1 of a series

This is the first of a multi-part series from veteran condo owners on what they would have asked when they first bought their condo if they knew what they know now.  Gail is a former board member, president of her condo association, and is now a member of the Executive Committee of the Connecticut Condo Owners Coalition.

Whew, no more mowing the lawn, no more shoveling snow, and no more outside maintenance; I can play golf every day! Isn’t life grand — or is it?

Do these narratives sound familiar:

My first letter from the condo association; aren’t they nice to send me a welcome letter. Surprise! “Your monthly common fee payment is past due and you also have been assessed a late fee.” Gee, I remember my agent telling me something about monthly fees. Now where did I place that large envelope of “important condo documents?

What do you mean in addition to my monthly common fee; all owners now have to pay an additional monthly assessment for new roofs. No one told me that this condominium complex was putting on new roofs. I cannot believe that the association is also discussing the possibility of replacing the entire swimming pool?

My friends and family will soon be arriving at my new condo. Everything looks great, the new patio furniture came yesterday and this week I finally finished planting a new rock garden in the lawn at the front of my condo. A knock at the door – my first visitor. Oh No! A board member stopped by to tell me that I cannot plant anything on the “common ground”. Not only do I have to remove all my beautiful flowers and pay to have the lawn reseeded but I am going to be assessed a fine.

If you have chosen to purchase a condo thinking that it is the most suitable to your lifestyle, you should speak with your agent, the management company (if the condominium has one) or the individuals who are in charge of the condo association. There are advantages and disadvantages to owning a condo and only by asking questions will you be able to make a sound decision on this major investment.

FINANCIAL

    1. When are my monthly common fee charges due? Is there a late fee and how much?
    2. Does the Association have reserve funding – How much money is invested?
    3. How many owners are behind in their monthly fees?
    4. Has the association been involved in any civil or criminal law suits?
    5. Ask questions about the master insurance policy; what does this policy cover, and what are you responsible for?

STRUCTURE & GROUNDS

    1. What is the association’s responsibility – what is my responsibility?
    2. Are doors and windows “limited common property? This may mean you pay to replace, but there could be specifications for these replacements as well as specific requirements on the type of contractor.
    3. Can I plant on the common ground – What is the common ground?
    4. Are bird feeders allowed?
    5. Can I put hanging plants on the front soffit?
    6. Can I have a fire pit on my patio?
    7. Are generators allowed?

CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS

    1. Remember, if you are being told that common fees have not increased at all, although it may sound wonderful, be attentive. Look at the unit structures, look at the grounds, are they well kept or do they look like they need upgrading or repairs.

              What major improvements have been done – What improvement are being planned?

 

    1. Ask about roofs, paving or asphalt repairs, swimming pool/tennis court/club house renovations, concrete patios that need replacing, attached decks that may need replacing.

 

    1. Will the reserve funding cover these improvements?

 

    1. Listen to the voice inside you – the barometer: is there a sizeable reserve fund that will cover these major repairs. No or low reserve funding could mean a possible increase in your monthly fee or an additional assessment.

Some of these questions are addressed in the “Resale Packet” that is provided by law to your agent for you by the Association and/or Management Company.

Ride or walk through the complex, talk to individuals you may see, do research if you can, be observant. Is there a no pet rule? You do not want to move in and find out that your loyal family pet can no longer be a part of your family – ask questions.

You will be provided with the governing covenants for the condo complex. This will be the Declaration, and probably By-Laws and Rules & Regulations. When you first look at the declaration, don’t be traumatized. It must be provided by law and although you may not want to read through what may seem to be numerous pages of legalese, keep it in a safe place for future reference.

Read and become familiar with the “Rules”. These should outline the basic set of guidelines for what you can and cannot do. If you don’t know or are uncertain about what you can or cannot do – call, email, or write the management company or the person who is the head of the condo association and ask your question.

In most cases, directors of association boards are unit owners too. Most volunteer their time; their decisions on financial matters and the managing of the condo complex affects them as well as you. However, whether you are a first time owner or if this will be your retirement home, it is a major investment – you cannot make a decision without weighing all the facts.

Relax, enjoy your new home and don’t forget to READ AND ASK – ASK – ASK!

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7 Responses to What Questions To Ask Before Buying A Condo In Connecticut: Part 1 of a series

  1. HappyOwnerAndBoardMember says:

    All good suggestions. I would emphasize reading the rules and other documents.

    I would also add “don’t trust your (sellers?) realtor and ‘your’ lawyer”. They may not understand condo’s and condo law, they are unlikely to understand a particular community’s fit with the buyer. (Did the realtor recommend the lawyer? Ask yourself what their interest are?)

    As a 55+ community, with no residents under 18 allowed, we had an under 55 couple with a young child move in – they must have not read the documents at even a cursory level – their lawyer must had no idea of the condo documents or their clients’ situation – same for their realtor. Hopefully their lawyer and their (sellers?) realestate agent participated in making them whole.

  2. kiragirl says:

    When asking questions, do not forget about tv satellite dishes, are they allowed and where can they be intalled.

  3. Vatile says:

    Don’t be afraid to take a little random “survey” of people already living there. If possible, visit the property a few times and linger…a few friendly smiles and “hellos” on a drive or stroll through the property to jumpstart a conversation with current residents just might uncover some hidden little secrets that your realtor, management company or board does or cannot reveal. The people willing to speak or not tells you much about the association’s culture. Are neighbors involved? What percentage of owners attend meetings and vote? Do they get straightforward answers that satisfy their concerns and needs? If you learn of a complaint, try to investigate. The more you need to probe, the better. Financial figures and policies in writing do not always tell the whole story.

    A long time ago, I read that when buying a home (not a condo), “camp out” on the property overnight. That then seemed a bit far fetched, but once you make so big an investment, you realize how careful you need to be! When you buy a condo, camp out to get the information you don’t get face value.

  4. David Maddern says:

    The article on what to ask prior to condominium ownership is most helpful to potential condo buyers and clearly good information to many current unit owners.

    Thanks…

  5. Donna L. Schatz says:

    Dear CCOC: I have lived in my condo for 28yrs. Never asked for anything. About five years ago, my skylight became very cloudy and I can feel freezing cold coming from it in the winter. A roofer told me the seal was broken. Did I want a new one done hap hazard or keep what I got. I said I need a replacement but done properly. I was since refused, have seriously high heating payments in winter, others have been replaced, when I got an attorney he was told I did not need one so that was that. I have given up fighting. I live in a small complex ruled by a certain few, who give them selves carte blanche on what they get and not obeying rules. If something is broken, they replace, while leaving mine broken. I am now trying to sell but the grounds are overgrown with weeds, the trees and schrubs overgrown, the sidewalks broken and management says the board refuses to pay so I am stuck out of luck. If they choose, not to spend any money, I cannot do anything about it. Why am I paying condo fees? I would gladly pay more to beautify my surroundings. I thought it was the duty of management to see that the grounds are taken care of. They do not like to get a call but refer us to the same board members. I am tired of fighting and ruining my health over this and will not attend a meeting and be belittled by board members. So, I am losing monies in property value as we speak. I have almost no mortgage but in my senior years, am being forced to sell for my own health and sanity. Are there no kinds of protection as an owner. ?? It is like I live in an apartment being run by the board, aka landlords. Help. Thank you for listening

  6. Kevin says:

    I was told by a Ct state legislator that generator use cannot be prohibited during an state of emergency. We had a huge battle over installed quieter and more efficient natural gas units in our association and lost the ability to affect common area but the board could not and does not prevent safe portable generators used during extended power outages. Under State law- a person cannot be prevented from staying safe in their home during an emergency. Now the board has to listen to loud gasoline portables during power outages.

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