Check out the previous post, Why Buy a Home?.
Living in Condominiums, Townhomes, and Homeowners Associations (“Community Living”) offer some benefits over a single-family home, and has some disadvantages too.
On the advantages side, maintenance of common areas are the responsibility of the association. Depending on the community, you may find amenities including playgrounds, pools, fitness centers, golf courses, even marinas.
On the disadvantages side, you will have to pay periodic assessments (also know as fees, dues, maintenance, etc., but I will only use the term assessment). This is a legal obligation to the Association, necessary to pay for the maintenance, repair, and replacement of the common areas and amenities. Regular Assessments can range from a few dollars a year to hundreds of dollars a month. If something breaks that wasn’t budgeted for, the Association can also impose a “Special Assessment”, which can run into the thousands of dollars and may be due immediately.
You will also have to seek the Association’s approval regarding any changes (even minor) to the property.
Buying in an Association also effectively puts you in business with all of the owners of the units in that Association. You will probably never know all of your “business partners”, you might even severely dislike a few of them, and you have no choice but to live with them.
Specifics by Type
They Association Type will most likely be either a Condo or an HOA. Townhomes do not have a distinct legal category.
Typically they will have at least one shared-wall with another unit, possibly many units in a single building.
Exist in their own legal category. Style can vary from a group of single-family homes to a high-rise building. Typically it is a multi-unit complex.
Even in a single-family home style unit, the Association maintains the building, grounds, and common areas including the parking lot.
You are still responsible for the interior of your unit, meaning that you have to change your own lightbulbs, any painting, flooring changes, etc.
Additionally, because what you do in your unit can affect neighboring units, you will need to get approval from the Association and possibly have your contractor supervised when dealing with anything that goes on / into the flooring and the walls.
Many a lower unit has been flooded by an upstairs neighbor who skipped this step, and that upstairs neighbor can be held liable for the damage.
Home Owners Association (HOAs):
Generally speaking, you will find the vast majority of new construction homes are in HOA’s. New construction can be fantastic, with new innovative features, wonderful fixtures, and homes in HOA’s typically hold their value better because every owner must comply with the Association rules, resulting in an overall nicer neighborhood.
New construction may also have unknown issues (so-called “Chinese Drywall” was an issue a few years ago).
You will not have much negotiating power on the price point.
Assessments are typically lower than Condos / Townhomes.
Older construction homes in HOAs will have the same potential issues with neglected maintenance as any other home.
Additionally, in an HOA, there may be a lien against the property for unresolved maintenance issues or unpaid assessments. As the new owner, you may be liable for these, but it may be possible to negotiate them too.
Depending on the Association rules, you may be very limited with the exterior of your unit. HOAs typically specify much of the exterior condition, and it is not unusual to find there are only a few approved paint color schemes, a couple varieties of sod, and only one type of fencing allowed. Even planting flowers may require prior association approval.
Only you can decide if Community Living is right for you, your circumstances, your budget, and your tolerance for being in business with strangers.
If you have any questions regarding this topic, please contact me. I am also a Licensed Community Association Manager, and I have years of experience with Condos, Townhomes, and HOAs.