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Originally appeared in Haverhill Life magazine, March 2018

All types of real property can become condominiums. Most people are familiar with apartment-style or townhouse condos. But other examples include garages, boat docks, storage bins, and boat-storage racks. Any multi-unit house or commercial or industrial property can be built as a condo or converted into a condo.

Owning a condo can be the perfect fit for many people. One benefit is not having to worry about common-area maintenance and tasks such as landscaping, snow removal, painting, exterior-building maintenance, etc.

In most cases, the unit owner is fully responsible for his or her own unit’s interior. The condo association is responsible for care of most of the common areas outside the unit itself—from rooftop to foundation. Many condos have common heating and cooling systems that also are maintained by the condo association.

Having a condo association that is responsible for common-area work is great, but keep in mind that it’s not free. All unit owners pay a monthly condominium fee to cover common-area maintenance. Fees vary greatly depending on the amenities of the complex. For example, a complex with a swimming pool, life guards, tennis courts, and a fitness room might have much higher fees than one lacking such amenities.

Condo fees can increase to pay for major repairs in an older, deteriorated complex. An older complex could have a roof, siding, asphalt, heating system, windows and decks that need costly attention. When common-area work is required and the condo fund does not have sufficient reserves to cover the cost of the work, each owner can be required to pay an additional fee—called an assessment—on top of the monthly fee. It is a one-time fee and is often due all at once. My downtown office condo had a problem with the common boiler that cost me $16,000 as an assessment. This is a reality that all condo owners need to be ready for.

One building we inspected in Boston had deteriorated mortar between the bricks. We warned the buyer about it, telling him to ask the association to fully explain what his responsibility would be relative to the brick problem. Our buyer never took our advice, and two months after the closing, he had to pay an assessment of $35,000.Before purchasing a condo unit, do some due diligence to inform yourself about the reserves and condition of the common areas. Obtain the condo documents from the real estate agent and read them fully to learn what the rules and regulations are. Condominiums can have many rules that will affect your ownership experience. The condo board has the power to control many things, such as allowing animals, signs in windows, planting flowers, certain patio furniture, bikes and toys left in the yard, etc. Some condo rules require that all units are owner occupied, not rented.