In the market for buying a condo in DC? Do your homework! Condo living can be truly fabulous, but only if you know what to expect and you’re prepared. Before moving to a condo building with close neighbors, common space, and a host of rules and regulations, be sure to consider some of these important factors. Here are our top ten tips for buying a condo in DC, Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax County and throughout the DC Metro Area.
OUR TIPS FOR BUYING A CONDO IN DC & THE METRO AREA
1. TAKING OUT THE TRASH
You might be surprised at how many buyers overlook this basic concern. When you’re living in a condo, make sure you know the process for taking out your trash! Is there a trash chute on your floor? Do you have to carry it down to the basement or a trash area outside? It may seem like a small detail, but this will be a major part of your life! Find this out in advance.
2. THE WASHER AND DRYER
Is there a washer/dryer in the unit or will you have to go to a common area to do your laundry? If there is no laundry in your unit, find out if the building allows them to be installed, or if you’re stuck with common laundry. If you have a common laundry room, find out how payment is handled. Is it free? Coin operated? Credit cards? Also, keep in mind that having a washer/dryer in unit is a major factor for a lot of buyers, so can impact re-sale value down the line.
3. LOCATION OF THE UNIT
Is the unit near the trash chute, laundry room, or elevator? If so, are you ok with the extra noise and traffic? If you’re in a large building, are you willing to walk five minutes once you’ve gotten off the elevator if your unit is at the very end of the hall? Similarly, is the building a walk-up? If so, how many flights are you willing to climb?
4. OUTDOOR SPACE
If outdoor space is important to you, make sure you check what the condo unit and building offer. Is there any sort of patio or balcony with the unit? If so, are there any restrictions on usage or grilling? If not, is there a common outdoor area, pool, or dog run? Is what’s offered enough for you? If you don’t want to take your dog three blocks away to a park for his daily outings and there is no outdoor space, move on.
5. CLOSE QUARTERS
Without a doubt, condo owners are close neighbors. Are you ok with sharing walls and hallways with people you don’t know (and may not necessarily enjoy)? Are there any strange smells in the hallway that will bother you on a daily basis? Do you see any nasty notes between neighbors posted in the common area? Be sure to think about how you will handle these issues.
On the upside, the condo setting can be fabulous for your social life if the fit is right. When buying a condo in DC, try to spend some time near the building to get a sense for the closeness of the community and if you see any red flags!
THE FINE PRINT
Once you’re under contract on a condo, you will have three days to review the condo document package to make sure you don’t have any issues with the rules, regulations, finances, what’s included and how things are run in the building. Be sure to read this article on what to look for when reviewing condo docs! But, before you’re under contract, you should probably also consider the following.
6. THE RULES AND REGS
As we mentioned above, once you are under contract on a condo, you will have three days to review the association’s documents, or condo docs, once they are delivered. Plan to take some time to review this paperwork to see if there are any rules you cannot handle. However, if there is something you know is a deal breaker up front, be sure to tell your agent so you can eliminate looking at buildings that won’t be a fit. A few things to consider:
- Are pets allowed? Is this a negative or a positive for you?
- What are the restrictions on renting? Do you want a building where you can rent your unit out in the future? Or, do you prefer a building with a higher owner-occupancy rate?
- Are there any restrictions for use in your unit or other space? No grills on the balcony? No noise after 10pm? No taking down walls? Again, think about the pros and cons of these rules.
7. THE CONDO FEE
If you’re buying a condo in DC or the surrounding areas, brace yourself for some steep condo fees! However, not all fees are created equal. Fees vary from building to building and can depend on my factors, including amenities offered, the size of the building, if utilities are included, and even the age of the building. In our area, fees range from a low of $100 a month to upwards of $1,000 for a one-bedroom unit. Keep in mind that if you’re buying new construction, or in a newer building, your fees might be artificially low at the beginning when upkeep costs aren’t as high.
When weighing if the condo fee in the building you’re considering is appropriate, dig a little deeper. You’ll want to know if the building has a history of increasing its fees frequently so you know what to expect in coming years. Also, be sure to look at the reserves to make sure a special assessment isn’t necessary if there is a last minute issue! Sometimes, a higher condo fee is actually a good thing. It can mean the building has plenty of reserve funds and they have budgeted appropriately for the needs of the building.
You’ll also want to see which utilities the fee might cover, if there are any places you’ll save, like if it has a gym or fitness center, which brings us to our next point….
8. THE AMENITIES
The amenities that can be found when buying a condo in DC can be overwhelming — rooftop dog parks, grilling stations, electric car charging stations, and more. There is truly something for everyone! However, do you want (or need) all of these perks? You may decide on a handful of amenities that are “must-haves” (perhaps an onsite gym and/or concierge service). If you don’t need certain amenities, look elsewhere so you’re not paying for services you won’t use. Keep in mind that in many older buildings, or smaller boutique style buildings, there is no room for amenities so your condo fee might just include building maintenance, reserve funds and basic things like trash and snow removal.
9. THE CONDO MANAGEMENT
In addition to reviewing the condo docs, take a look at the annual budget and look where the management is spending money. Check to see the amount of the reserve fund. It should be healthy enough to avoid a special assessment to cover major improvements to common areas (such as the roof).
It’s also a good idea to check to see if the building is professionally managed, or if it is just managed by the board.
You will also want to review the minutes of some recent condo association meetings. Doing so will help you get a better sense of the inner workings of the community and if there are any major changes coming down the pike.
10. YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES
Be sure to determine exactly where your responsibility for the unit begins. The dividing line could be the paint on the interior drywall, the back end of the drywall, or the inside surface of the exterior wall. Why does it matter? If there is any sort of leak or damage, you’ll want to know ASAP who is responsible!
THE BOTTOM LINE
Condo living can be fantastic! But, it only works if you know exactly what to expect. Be sure you have a solid understanding of the fees, amenities, rules, and responsibilities before you sign on the dotted line. Just review our tips for buying a condo in DC above and you’re well on your way!
If we can help you find your dream condo (or townhome or single family home), please reach out. Our passion is helping people love where they live!
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