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Thinking about buying a condo? It’s important to know what you might be getting into. Here are some things to help you decide if condo living is right for you.

When you buy a condo, you own an individual unit within a shared complex. Unlike an apartment, you have the freedom to renovate and customize your space. But you typically have to share a wall or two, which gives you less privacy than a single-family home. Buying a condo means you agree to be a member of the homeowners’ association (HOA) and must follow their rules and pay any required HOA fees.

There are pros and cons of buying a condo. Consider all the options before you decide.

Pros : Low or no outdoor maintenance, Typically, you don’t need to worry about things like mowing, cleaning gutters or landscaping. Location, when compared to single-family homes: condo units are often in the middle of the action and close to dining and entertainment. Lower cost: condos could be more affordable than other homes in the same area. Amenities: every condo building offers different amenities (some charge extra fees), but some common amenities that you could enjoy are a gym, pool, parking garage, community rooms, rooftop terrace or pet area. Good neighbors, nearby neighbors and shared common space make it easy to meet new people and create a sense of community.

Cons: Interest rates: condo mortgages may be higher than single-family home or townhomes, due, in part, to the added risk of being part of a shared complex. Loan requirements may be stricter with a condo than a home since you and the condo association must meet certain eligibility guidelines. Fees: in most condo buildings, there’s a required HOA fee that covers things like insurance, maintenance in common areas, outdoor maintenance or upkeep on amenities. Lack of privacy: your neighbors are in close proximity, and you’ll likely share walls and common spaces, so be prepared for less privacy than a single-family home. Slower appreciation: condos tend to appreciate at a slower rate than single-family homes. Rules: condo associations have all kinds of rules, like quiet hours, pet policies and lawn ornaments, so make sure all the rules fit you lifestyle.

If you purchase a condo be prepared for special assessments. A special assessment is typically a large fee charged to cover a big project within a condo community, like a structural repair to the building or roof replacement. If you’re buying a condo, it’s really important to know if a special assessment is in the future plans. If it is, there’s a chance the association fees could go up for a period of time to cover that cost.

I mentioned that fees may go for insurance: Please understand that the insurance only covers the building. You will need also to purchase a condominium unit owner’s policy. This policy will cover your personal property, any permanent improvements or upgrades you may install and provide you with liability protection if someone decides to sue you or the entire HOA. A condo unit policy can also help provide protection if you are assessed for a claim to the building to help pay the condominium association’s deductible.

So to be safe ask the following questions before buying: Are their HOA fees and how much are they and when are they due? What do the fees cover? How old is the condo building? What amenities are offered? Where can I find the HOA rules? What type of outdoor maintenance is typically done for each condo unit? How are special assessments handled?

Bob Hollick is a State Farm Insurance agent based in Washington. His column appears every other Thursday in the Observer-Reporter.

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