Read the meeting minutes before buying a condo
Know as much as you can about your neighbors as you do your potential property
One of the documents that potential condo owners receive before a purchase is meeting minutes. But being in meetings are boring enough, so why in the world would you want to read minutes from meetings you didn’t even have to attend? Do not look at it this way. In fact, meeting minutes for your homeowners association (HOA) may be the most interesting thing you’ll read of all the documents — or at least more intriguing than bylaws. Why? This is the easiest way to get to know your neighbors, and be informed of potential repairs and other expenses, assessment queries, how common areas are treated, and legal disputes.
Each condo association has a board of directors, with the president usually running the meeting. While that president may have a planned list of meeting points and the treasurer may have announcements for any estimates, with a secretary taking meeting minutes in between time, owners can show up with their own list of concerns. Whether these concerns relate to the point of the meeting is a coin toss. Some meetings may be cut-and-dry, with few members, little attendance and not much conflict. The downside of this is if you’re someone who wants to be actively involved, you may find yourself dealing with tumbleweed when it comes to homeowner needs. If the HOA board has a property management company that handles the day-to-day, this may be who you’ll talk to anyway.
But if you have an active board with owners who are openly vocal about a variety of issues, pay attention to everything. This means looking at which owners you may or may not agree with; who appears to be making valid points versus being inexplicably loud (and wrong); who appears to know the ins and outs of the building; when there is conflict between owners and how it’s handled; and how often or how long it takes for repairs or concerns to be acknowledged and resolved.
While there are some people who are never happy, there’s a difference between a consistently grumpy owner and someone who is grumpy because their concerns are ignored in each meeting. If you’re finding that owners are more combative than working as a team to resolve anything — or at least with a board making a good-faith effort to do so — you may want to give this property a second thought.
However, as with jobs and families and any other group, there can be rough patches. If you’re expecting to live in a neighborhood full of Fred McFeely Rogers, you may be better off investing in a house instead of a condominium. But that means you’ll also take a chance that you won’t have a difficult homeowner on your block who is as difficult as a fellow condo owner.
So how do you reach a happy medium? If possible, ask your attorney or the board association if you can meet one of them when doing your walkthrough. If board members live in the building, you’ll at least get to meet one ahead of time to ask any concerning questions. Keep in mind that if you got this far, the HOA has probably waived the right of first refusal and are betting on you to be a decent condo owner, too. They know you as well as you know them, meaning not at all. So they’re sizing you up as much as you are them.
If you’re uncomfortable and can’t shake the feeling that this may not be the place you want to live, keep looking. There is no point in spending six figures (or five if you got a really good deal) on a 15-year or 30-year deal to be miserable the whole time. You have every right to feel like a “house is a home” wherever you live, from an apartment to a condominium, and sometimes those meeting minutes give you a look into your homeowner future.
You could also consider buying and then renting out your condo, and becoming a landlord instead. Be very careful to read the bylaws when it comes to how the board of directors and bylaws handle rental agreements. Some condo bylaws are written with the intention of being all owner-occupied. Others allow a percentage of owners to rent. Still others can start to feel more like apartments with everyone renting and defeat the whole purpose of a homeowners association. Should you live there initially, you’ll want to know how many units are owner-occupied. No matter what you choose, make the best financial decision that is both personally and professionally comfortable for you.
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