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My wife and I are thinking about saving up to purchase a home. Because housing is so expensive, and because we're a single-income household at the moment, we're considering a condominium as an alternative to buying a house. The condo we have in mind would be in a small city, and part of a condominium complex - a 'short' high-rise.

I know what the running/living costs are for owning a home - but to better understand the decision I'm making, what are the running costs of owning a condo, and how do they compare to home ownership?

Basically - what will it cost me to live in a Condominium, versus living in a house?

  • This depends significantly on the condo - in particular, are you talking a mid-rise or high-rise in a city, or is this closer to a townhome (where it's not in a common building, just common walls or grounds)? – Joe Jun 22 '15 at 18:33
  • @Joe The one I had in mind writing this question would be more the former, but we aren't ruling out a townhome-style living area either - though that'd be quite different from a Condominium. For this question though, I think the focus should be on a more common condo, rather than a townhouse. – Zibbobz Jun 22 '15 at 18:39
  • So you're looking for something like this (but more detailed): "Costs for condo not in house: monthly assessment, special assessments, extra cost for some repairs or modifications [if they require modifications to the common property]; Costs for house not in condo: repairs to external building elements (roof, siding, etc.), lawn/garden maintenance"? Are you looking for common amounts/ballpark estimates, or just a list? – Joe Jun 22 '15 at 18:52
  • @Joe Pretty much on point - a list would be preferable so that I know where those living costs are coming from. – Zibbobz Jun 22 '15 at 18:56
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    Other things to ask: how many units are owner-occupied? Is there a management company? Knock on some doors--what do they think of the board and/or management company? – mkennedy Jun 23 '15 at 16:29
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Of course the exact numbers will depend on the specific property.

But in general, if you own a condo you have to pay for interior maintenance, but not exterior maintenance. Like if the parking lot needs to be repaved, that's not your problem, the condo association should pay for it. But if your furnace breaks down, that's your problem. The exact division of responsibility can vary and is not necessarily obvious. My mother had a condo where when the water main broke, that was her responsibility, even though it was outside her four walls.

You may or may not be responsible for landscaping. If you have your own yard in this condo, you probably are responsible for maintaining it.

You will have to pay a monthly fee to the condo association to cover the maintenance costs that you are not responsible for. (The money's got to come from somewhere.)

Your eating and air conditioning costs will probably be comparable to what you'd have in an apartment rather than what you've have in a house. In a house, you're leaking heat through all four walls, ceiling and maybe floor. In a condo, there are other condos surrounding you on one or more sides, so the temperature difference should be less and heating and cooling should be more efficient.

Besides that, costs should be similar to those for a house. You'll still have a mortgage payment, property taxes and insurance, heating and cooling and water and electricity. A condo is typically smaller than a house, so many costs will be less, but only if you're getting less.

Another option you might want to consider is getting a mobile home. These are usually much cheaper than either a house or a condo. The exteriors tend to be ugly, but I've seen a few where the interior was quite nice. My ex-wife had one that was beautiful until she trashed it.

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    We'd like to move up from apartment living, not down. We already live in a modest-but-nice two-bedroom apartment. A mobile home would be a severe downgrade for us. But, the rest of your answer is fairly good. – Zibbobz Jun 22 '15 at 20:22
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    Note that you need to be aware of the condo association's finances. If the condo association can't cover an expense, they will be passing the costs along to the tenants. – user3757614 Jun 22 '15 at 22:44
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Condo fees can vary from community to community. The per unit prices for some items are pretty standard, other depend on the size of the community and the extravagance of the amenities. Some of these items depend on local law/customs. Some of these items would also apply to a townhouse or single family house if the community has that amenity (Pool)

  • Operation and maintenance of the pool, and exercise center.
  • Maintenance of the tennis court and tot lot.
  • Common area maintenance
  • Landscaping - For a condo all land is a common element, for a single family home community most of the land is not a common element.
  • Snow removal. Depends on the type of community, ownership of the roads, and local law.
  • Fire and liability insurance for all the common elements. You will still need some level of insurance for your stuff and the part of the structure you own.
  • Water bill. Only in some communities, mostly ones where the building was originally an apartment with a common meter.
  • Trash service - Depends on local law. For a condo expect a single contract. For townhouse and single family home it may be community wide, up to the homeowner or covered by taxes.
  • The cost of some community events such as a picnic.
  • costs to run a website/newsletter
  • Cost of a management company to bill the members, organize the records.
  • Reserve fund for capital expenses (pool, roof, parking lot , and other common elements such a stairs and sidewalks)

If the community has an HOA or is part of a condo, you will have 3 days after receiving the official documents from the community for the budget, rules, and bylaws to review the documents. Of course you don't get those documents until after the owner has accepted your offer. You may be able to get an idea of the condo fees by looking up properties on a real estate website. Keep in mind the info on those items is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate.

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My condo fee pays for: Water bill

External landscaping and snow removal

Building replacement insurance (my unit owner and personal liability premium is less than $300 per year)

Dumpster service - city law that condos and apartments don't enjoy municipal collection

Fire alarm upgrade assessment to meet inspection need

Common area maintenance including roof deck

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