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Your first condo
Tips for buying into condo association bylaws

by Jeffery Hammerberg

Condo owners normally own portions of the overall property, with fractional ownership and shared duties or obligations.
Buying a condominium can seem just like buying a home for many who have not owned a condo before. But in reality, individual, single-family home ownership and condo ownership can be drastically different.

Much of the difference is not physical, but legal. Within the small print of the contract are condominium bylaws. And these define and outline many of the rights and responsibilities of ownership. For that reason it is imperative that buyers understand the nature of condo ownership. Shop with your realtor, not just for the physical amenities you like in a condo home, but also by browsing the bylaws to find a condominium that suits your lifestyle and personal preferences.

The building inspectors you hire to check the wiring and foundation will not check the bylaws of the condo association for you. And your mortgage company won’t give you a lesson in association fees before you get the bill for things like trash removal or landscaping. But there may be many important and legally binding condo ownership issues that you and your realtor will want to investigate while you’re looking at property. It is highly recommended that a real estate attorney help to interpret the meaning of any legal documents that define and influence your condo experience.

For example, condo owners normally own portions of the overall property, with fractional ownership and shared duties or obligations. These shared items might include such things as the roof of the building, any community meeting facilities or recreational features like swimming pools or tennis courts and outdoor landscapes or interior hallways that lead to the individual condos.

Here are a few key questions to ask before you ink the deal on a condo:
• What are the maintenance fees and what do they cover?
These can vary from a few dollars a month to thousands of dollars a month, depending upon your particular condo association and the price of the property. They pay for things as diverse as elevator repairs, security guards, tree removal, or sewage upgrades.
But keep in mind that fees can be your friend. If your condo property needs landscaping, for instance, sharing the fees with your neighbors may seem like a dream compared to pushing the lawn mower yourself or hiring your own landscape designer.

• Who is on the condo association committee that makes the bylaws, and how do I
participate in the meetings?
You will want to know whether the bylaws are subject to change by a vote, and how that process might affect you and your legal rights and ownership experience.

• Repairs: Who does them and who pays?
Most condos share the cost of exterior repairs, and leave what happens within the walls of your individual condo up to you. But what happens if your unit floods because the community-owned roof leaked and it damaged your ceiling or carpet? Scenarios like these may be spelled out in the bylaws.

• Leasing, subletting, and sharing.
Maybe you bought your beachfront or mountainside condo for a home as well as an income-producing property. You may expect to rent it out to vacationers a few weeks each year. Or maybe you want to share your flat with a new boyfriend who owns an indoor cat. Maybe your neighbor wants to convene a drum circle every night at midnight, or practice electric guitar on Sunday mornings. The bylaws may allow or prohibit such activities, so read them before you purchase a condo or make new plans.

— For more information about real estate for the LGBT community, visit www.gayrealestate.com.

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