Buying a Massachusetts condominium unit is VERY different from buying a single family home. A lot of buyers don’t appreciate the difference, unfortunately, until they have lived in the condominium for a short time. From crazy condo trustees (remember the Del Boca Vista episode from Seinfeld?), pet rules and controversies, to leaky roofs — due diligence is critical before you buy a Massachusetts condominium.
Condominium: Special Type of Legal Ownership
From a legal perspective, a condominium is a special type of real estate ownership. When you purchase a condominium unit, you get complete legal title to the unit itself and an “undivided” interest in the common areas of the condominium project which is really everything other than the units. Common areas typically include the land underlying the project, the exterior walls, roof, elevator, building entrances and exits, lobby, interior stairways, swimming pools, recreational facilities and halls.
Common Areas & Financial Management
Each individual unit owner is responsible for everything within the walls of their unit, while the condominium association and its board of trustees are responsible for all the common areas and facilities. This is a critical part of a condominium. You are buying into the entire project as much as you are the unit, and your decision will impact your daily living and your ability to re-sell.
The management and maintenance of the condominium common areas are funded by the collection of monthly condo fees. The condo fees are used to pay for things like master insurance, property management, landscaping, water/sewer, snow plowing, pool cleaning, roof repairs, etc. Well run condominiums will also allocate a percentage of condo fees to a capital reserve fund to pay for expensive one-time capital repairs, usually leaky roofs, old boilers and big ticket items of that nature.
To borrow from a famous phrase, not all condominiums are created equally. Some condominiums are very well run; some are quite poorly run and underfunded. Buyers interested in purchasing a condominium unit must do their homework: not only about the condition of the individual unit they are interested in purchasing, but on the financial health and governance of the condominium as a whole.
Condominium finances also have a significant impact on whether your unit will qualify for certain loan programs. Please read my post, 10 Questions To Ask Before Buying A Massachusetts Condominium for more info on that topic.
Condominium associations are usually run by a board of trustees ranging from 2 to 5 persons. Unfortunately it’s difficult to ascertain whether these individuals are sane and competent. What you can do as a buyer is request the last 3 years of condominium minutes to see what’s been going on with the condo. You should also request the budget for the last 3 years and have the trustees fill out a condominium questionnaire with detailed questions about the financial management. If no minutes are available, that’s a red flag of poor management. Watch out for larger condominiums that are self-managed, that is, not run by a professional management company. Managing a larger condominium is challenging work and a full time job.
No Pet Rules
Another critical part of a buyer’s due diligence is to review the condominium documents, the by-laws, rules and regulations. Here is an example of condo rules I found online from the Liberty Estates Condo in Uxbridge.
One of the most contentious rules in condominium governance is pets. Condominiums can legally regulate pets. They can prohibit them entirely, allow them, or adopt reasonable regulations to control them. Take the Liberty Estates pet rules:
Other important rules cover whether you can smoke, rent out the unit, decorations, paint colors, quiet hours, storage, parking, grills, decks, and signs.
And for fun, here’s that Seinfeld condo clip.
Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts Real Estate Condominium Real Estate Attorney. For further information you can contact him at [email protected].