Comment of the Day Runner-Up: What You Can and Can’t Get with a Condo

COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: WHAT YOU CAN AND CAN’T GET WITH A CONDO “Maintenance fees, common areas, special assessments . . . all great reasons to buy a single family home on its own lot with a sturdy fence on 3 sides (preferably 4). Bonus: you get to piss in your backyard whenever you want.” [Superdave, commenting on A Serene Single Bedroom in an Un-Orphaned Villa Serena] Illustration: Lulu

16 Comment

  • Not to mention freedom from that imaginary line that runs down the middle of the wall and roof of a condo, and separates your interior walls, which you are free to paint and hang things on, and your exterior walls, which are required by the deed restrictions to look just like your neighbors’.

  • True, but on the other hand, the fees pay for regular exterior maintenance, painting, roof repair, landscaping, insurance, security, water in most cases. Foundation repairs, major structural issues that may not be covered by insurance, protection from litigation in some cases. In a house, it’s all out of your own pocket.

  • That’s all fine and good but not everyone wants to spend their free time taking care of a lawn, cleaning a pool, worrying about rotten fascia boards, etc…..sometimes it is nice to just turn the key in the lock and not worry about it. God knows if you get stuck with some psycho neighbor, they are far too close for comfort but overall, it is not a bad choice for those on the go or those with no desire to spend time at the Home Depot.

  • @Commonsense: You have obviously never heard of a special assessment. Ask the folks at Bayou Bend Towers about how far that maintenance fee goes.

  • Without my garden in which to go crazy, I’d go crazy in other, less acceptable ways.

  • Special assessment can be good because it spreads the cost of whatever the major event damage is, among the large group of people. Not saying I won’t be bitching at the top of my lungs when I have to cut the check, but it’s better than paying the whole amount by 1 person.

  • Crass, but true.

  • To the original poster’s credit, condo regimes in Texas are pretty unregulated and therefore not all created equal. That’s why you hear about HOA shenanigans in the papers.
    However if you live in a residential tower, you should appreciate the fees b/c you can see them at work (literally). As I said before read your CC&R’s.

  • You can’t get exposure to the four winds or light from north south east and west (pick just one.)

  • The notion that condos provide a turn-key lifestyle and a sort of secondary insurance against large casualty loss is true more often in theory than in practice.

    A condo association that is poorly managed or that is captured — in effect — by its own management company can do a tremendous amount of damage to the quality of life of the residents and ultimately to the value of their investment.

  • Niche hit the nail on the head. I’ve seen some condos fall to what I call the “condo complex loophole.” I’ve described it elsewhere, but basically it’s where a slum lord buys up 2/3 or 3/4 of the units and rents them out as apartments. The slum lord controls the HOA board, so he decides what is (or isn’t) spent on repairs. But due to how Texas law is written, if a City wants to take action against the slum lord, they have to go after the other owners as well. In effect, those other owners are used as human shields.
    Of course, this isn’t a reason to avoid condos altogether. Just do your research before buying one. It’s very easy on HCAD to see which condos are used by slum lords in the condo complex loophole.

  • As with any set of options in real life, pros and cons on all sides and no one-size-fits-all answers despite those that think that their situation and preferences can be extrapolated out to suit everyone else. As pointed out above, not all condo associations are equal. Ours happens to be managed very well. We have had our special assessments but they have been reasonable, expected and planned for. My experience does not speak for all condo associations — i.e. YMMV.

  • My brother and father always enjoyed the freedom to take a whizz against a tree in our Memorial area home. Peasants.

  • @ ZAW: That’s not exactly what I was getting at, but you did bring up another good point. And your point applies just as well to slumlord investors at the very low end as it does to developers in new top-tier condo developments.

    To elaborate on what I’d said about ‘capture’ by management companies…when an unscrupulous one is hired by an unsophisticated or perhaps uninterested set of board members, there tends to be no capability for the owners association to perform initial or ongoing due diligence. As a result of that, the management company may underperform in some ways, may provide unsound financial advice to the board (financial ratios for condo projects are notoriously out-of-whack from multifamily industry standards), and recommend related-party contractors in order to distort the bidding process and obtain kickbacks.

    I should mention, this is not ONLY a condo problem. This is an HOA problem. Texas Monthly did a good couple of articles about this sort of thing earlier this year. Here’s a link to the first one:

  • We’re on the same page, Niche. Condos are fraught with unseen risks. Unscrupulous management companies. Uninterested HOA boards. Slum Lord investors…. At least the latter is easily visible if you do a quick HCAD search. (If the majority of he units are owned by the same person, or companies with similar sounding names – run).
    There is a saving grace. The Texas Legilsature passed a list of new rules governing HOAs in 2011. While the new regulations might not have gone as far as the guys writing that Texas Monthly article would have liked, they have helped.
    There was a really awful condo complex here in Houston. It was an extreme case of the “Condo complex Loophole” in action. Local authorities had tried for years to get the slum lord to either clean up his act or sell his interests. They had no success. But the new 2011 HOA rules require better financial record-keeping and transparency on the part of HOAs. The slum lord in this case wasn’t keeping financial records like he was supposed to, and it looked like he was embezzling money from the HOA. The threat of lawsuits hadn’t convinced him to sell, but the threat of criminal conviction did.