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Condo Buyer's Checklist

By Andy Sirkin (03/22/11)

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Introduction

While most buyers and Realtors are familiar with condominiums, few understand what to look for in the package of dense legal documents and HOA financials they are asked to review and approve during the buying process. This checklist is designed to help buyers and agents quickly sift through the disclosures and find the information that is critical to an informed buying decision.

Space Assignments and Usage Restrictions

    1. Are all of buyer’s space assignments permanent, or are they subject to change by owner or board vote? Note: Exclusive use common area is “deeded” and therefore permanent, but other types of usage rights may not be.

    2. Are the buyer’s parking, storage and exterior areas clearly defined on a drawing? Can the buyer determine the exact boundaries of the spaces assigned to each owner? Will buyer’s parking space be accessible independently no matter where each of the other owners park within their parking space boundaries? If not, are there key sharing provisions that will not be overly burdensome and inconvenient?

    3. Is it clear which elements of the building are maintained by individual owners and which are maintained by the group? Note: Exclusive use common area is not necessarily maintained by the owner to whom it is deeded.

    4. If the buyer is planning additions or renovation, do the condominium documents impose any prerequisites or requirements?

    5. What noise mitigation measures (such as floor covering or stocking feet) can buyer require of other owners, and what can other owners require of buyer?

    6. Will buyer’s pet be permitted, and what restrictions will apply to the pet’s use of exterior areas?

    7. Are there restrictions on buyer’s right to rent out his/her condominium?

Repair/Replacement Reserves

    1. Is a repair/replacement reserve included in budget and dues? Have it been calculated accurately and scientifically?

    2. Is the repair/replacement reserve in a segregated bank account? How does the repair/replacement account balance correspond with inspection reports?

Owner Dues

    1. Are all owners current in their dues? Do the recent bank statements reflect consistency in owner payments, or have some owners been late?

Management

    1. Is there a formal system in place for managing both the bookkeeping and the cleaning/repair of common area? Will that system ensure that some specific person will be responsible for each of these tasks at all times?

    2. Is there a governing board and, if so, which decisions are reserved for owners? For owner-decided matters, which decisions require a super-majority or unanimous vote?

    3. When did the owners last meet? Are there meeting minutes or another record of owner decisions?

    4. Is there a schedule of fines and penalties?

Lender Requirements

    1. Many lenders insist on reviewing CC&RS, Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation, but not all condominiums have all three. If the homeowners association is unincorporated, it will not have Articles of Incorporation, and most small HOAs do not have separate Bylaws. Most banks will accept an attorney’s explanation letter as a substitute for a document that does not exist.

    2. Lender guidelines very widely, so a condo that is rejected by one lender may be accepted by another. Even when dealing with FHA, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac requirements, approval may depend on who is processing the application because underwriters vary in terms of how they apply the FHA/Fannie/Freddie requirements.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Sirkin has was co-author of more 10 editions of The Condominium Bluebook. He has prepared governing documents for more than 600 condominium projects, including San Francisco’s Opera Plaza, Grammercy Towers, Ocean Beach, and Cathedral Hill. Contact us via email at DASirkin@earthlink.net, or by telephone at 415-738-8545.

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