One of the interesting things about being a Realtor is that you deal with a lot of people who are dissatisfied with their current living situation.
“I will never live in a condo again.”
“I am done with single family homes and will only live in a condo.”
I have heard both of these statements multiple times.
So, which is it? Is buying a condo the right move?
It depends on you, your preferences, and your stage of life.
Here are some of the issues you may want to think about as you make your decision.
More house for the price
In many cases, condos will cost less than a detached single family home for the same square footage and quality.
Many buyers end up searching for condos because they are unhappy with the selection of single family homes in their price range.
Once you open up your search to condos, you may be surprised to find that you can afford a home that has features far beyond what you’d seen in the single family market.
In our current market (May 2019), for example, 275K in Chittenden County may buy you a 1000 sqft 50-year-old dated ranch in the single family market, but for the same price, you may be able to find a 15-year-old condo with 1,600 sqft, and open concept floor plan, and luxuries like a walk-in closet and full laundry room.
Owning a home – be it a condo or a single family – is never totally carefree, but condos take a lot of stress out of the equation.
If you absolutely hate yard work or snow removal, a condo is for you. The vast majority of condo associations take care of these dreaded tasks so you don’t have to worry.
Furthermore, when the roof needs replacing or the siding needs to be redone, it is the association’s responsibility to budget for it and take care of it.
While some argue that you end up paying the same amount no matter what since at the end of the day the work is funded by your association dues or a special assessment, the fact remains that you don’t have to worry about it. Someone else makes sure these things happen on schedule, select the contractors, and coordinate the work.
Ultimately, living in a condo will save you time dealing with the hassles of maintaining a property.
If you have physical limitations that makes doing yard work challenging, travel a lot, or have a demanding work schedule, you may find this benefit alone is reason enough to solely focus your search on condos.
Not all condos offer common amenities, but many offer resources that would be expensive or impractical for a single family home.
A few associations offer pools, tennis courts, beach access, and community centers with fitness facilities and event rooms.
Some have common playgrounds, grills, community gardens, and walking trails.
Most have some common land that can be enjoyed by all residents. The best part is that association dues cover the maintenance of these facilities so you can enjoy them without worrying about their upkeep.
One often overlooked aspect of condo living is that oftentimes, living in a condo can give you a built-in community.
You likely live in close proximity to neighbors, share common land and facilities, and have a communal governance system. Getting involved in your condo association board can be a fast way to make friends (or enemies). Whether you see this as a pro or a con, at least you know that there are other people close by invested in where you live.
You don’t control the land
The biggest reason a lot of people dismiss condos is that they want to have outdoor space that they can control.
While many condos in our area have back decks that condo owners exclusively control, the grassy yards behind them are commonly owned and governed by the association.
This means that in most cases, you don’t have the flexibility to put in a swing set, build a pool, or install a fence (in most cases, even an electric one). A few associations allow you (with permission from the association) to put in a raised bed, but there is a lot of variation on this between associations.
If you have a very specific vision of what you want your yard to look like or have hobbies that require outdoor space, a condo may not be right for you.
Loss of control
When compared with renting, owning a condo will give you more autonomy. You can do interior work like renovate your kitchen, drill holes in your walls to install heavy artwork, or change your tub to a walk-in shower.
Still, there are more restrictions than you may find with buying a single family home. You likely will need to get permission from the association to make certain kinds of changes like replacing windows and doors that can be seen on the outside of the home.
Furthermore, the association may restrict how many vehicles you can have on site, how many and what kind of pets you can have (more on that later), and determining what work needs to be done in terms of exterior maintenance and landscaping is a collective decision not an individual one (and you may disagree).
One couple I worked with said they would not live in a condo again because the tree branch outside their home had grown (in their opinion) dangerously close to their window and had also blocked a nice view they used to have.
They asked the association to trim it, and the association refused.
They felt like they had no recourse since they were not allowed to touch that tree. There is a loss of autonomy when you own a condo.
Aesthetic uniformity and home value
Condos in our area come in all shapes and sizes.
Some are in large buildings, others are built as townhouses or duplexes, and sometimes they can even be detached homes that look exactly like single family options (the difference is that legally they are set up as condos so the owners only control the house not the surrounding land).
That being said, for the most part, condos are typically built with other units that are either exactly the same or extremely similar in look, size, and design.
This means that condo complexes often have a more unified look. Some people prefer to live in a more distinct space, but the other issue to think about is how this affects home value.
When two identical or nearly identical properties are on the market, the least expensive one will (usually) sell first putting a lot of pressure on the more expensive homeowner to lower the price.
Furthermore, even after that one sells, it will be used by an appraiser to determine the value meaning that if the more expensive people hold out for a buyer who is willing to pay more, it still may not appraise when the appraiser sees that a nearly identical property just sold for less.
It is a little bit harder to make an apples to apples comparison with most single family homes (the exception is in some of the newer developments where most of the homes are the same). If someone falls in love with your particular floor plan or the beautiful paint job you did on the outside, you may command a higher price that could actually appraise.
Condos are a bit more susceptible to minor market fluctuations than single family which doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate (they definitely do) but can make selling a bit more complex, especially in moments when multiple homes in the same complex are for sale at the same time.
Most people aren’t thinking too much about resale when they buy, but it will matter at some point and is a good thing to think about.
If you are sensitive to sound and buy a condo property with shared walls, be careful. I have heard tons of stories of people being driven crazy by their neighbors to the point where they have moved out (or the other way around where their neighbors constantly complained about their late night television watching or piano practice).
If you are a very light sleeper, a musician, or will have a baby or small child living in your house, noise may play a big role in your decision.
Some things are negotiable, but usually making sure you live in a place where your pets are comfortable (and allowed) is usually not one of them.
If you are used to letting a dog out in your fenced backyard, make sure you are comfortable with (and have a schedule that will allow) walking your dog every day.
Additionally, most condo associations have some sort of pet restrictions. Many allow at least one cat and/or dog, but some have breed restrictions and others limit the number of cats or dogs you can have at any given time.
If you have more than one pet or a commonly restricted dog breed, make sure you ask your agent to check the condo docs when considering a property.
So… is a condo right for you?
Ultimately, it depends on your preferences and lifestyle.
If you are looking for a simpler way to live with less daily hassle and you are excited about being able to afford more luxuries within your price point, condos can be a great option.
On the other hand, if you have hobbies that require your own backyard space, have multiple pets, or are worried about noise, a single family home may be the best choice.
Whichever path you choose, happy house hunting!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pallas Ziporyn is a Realtor based in Burlington, VT. She is the founder and head writer for The Vermont Real Estate Blog, and she works with both buyers and sellers in Chittenden County and surrounding areas.
In addition to her real estate pursuits, Pallas enjoys serving on the Winooski Planning Commission, skiing, writing, and spending time with her husband Chris and their two small children, Leander and Hugo.