Q: I am ready to purchase my first home. In researching values, I realize all I can afford in Santa Barbara is a condominium. How is a condo different than a single-family home? What exactly will I be purchasing?
A: Making your first purchase a condo is a smart move. It’s convenient and economical, and you’ll be in good company. According to the California Association, “there are over 49,000 Common Interest Developments in the state of California with probably over 9 million people living in them.” But what are condos and how are they different than single-family residences?
When you buy a condo, you purchase into a community. Your community is called the Homeowners Association (HOA). A condo association is a form of shared ownership, and the HOA is like a family. Every condo owner is a member of the HOA and pays a monthly fee (the HOA dues) to maintain their shared interest. This fee may cover hiring a management company, common area maintenance, the outside paint, roofs, cable service, gas, water, or trash. The board of directors, voted in by the HOA, controls policy, dues and assessments, fines for violations, meetings, and minutes.
With a single-family home, you own the land and the house, and you have total responsibility for the property. You maintain the infrastructure, the garden, the roof, the painting … everything. When purchasing a condominium, you own the inside of your home, from the paint in. You may decorate how you want within the condo. The exterior is owned jointly by you and the HOA. If you have a patio, deck, or garden, that is considered “exclusive use” of a common area; the HOA owns it, but only you can use it. Any clubhouses, pools, or tennis courts are common area are enjoyed by all in the HOA.
What are the pros and cons of buying a condo versus purchasing a single-family residence? The pros of owning a single-family home are privacy, more space, a private back and front yard, and deciding the color and design of your home. Single-family homes have better resale strength. The cons for the single-family home are utter responsibility: infrastructure, yard maintenance, plumbing, electricity, and roofs.
The pros for condos: your HOA dues pay for upkeep and maintenance. In addition, many associations offer amenities such as gyms, recreation rooms, tennis courts, and swimming pools. HOA dues contribute to items which would be too expensive in a single-family home. The cons include relinquishing privacy and control. The HOA will dictate where to park, what kind and size of pet you can have, what color the outside of your home is, and much more.
If you have a limited budget, then a condo is the way to go. You’ll have more control over your living environment than you do as a renter. Buy your condo and become a property owner. You’ll be glad you did.