Whether it’s a waterfront condo or a downtown brownstone, multi-family dwellings like condos and lofts are gaining appeal for those considering downsizing, buying a second or vacation home, or desiring a shorter commute to work. As a Member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, I am often asked for my advice on the best way to go about choosing and buying an urban home. Here are some great tips I’d like to share from Frontdoor.com:
1. Consider co-ops.
In many high-priced cities, like New York and Chicago, cooperatives (co-ops) are the easiest way to break into homeownership. About 80% of the housing stock in Manhattan, for example, is cooperatives (co-ops). Co-ops, however, all have different financial standards. It's important to be upfront with your real estate agent so they know what you're qualified to buy.
If you don't have the cash to make a 20 – 25% down payment, some co-ops will allow you to use gift money, while others will not.
Also, some co-ops require that you have a certain amount of cash reserves after the purchase—sometimes equal to the purchase price. Putting all your financial information on the table can help your agent find a co-op that's perfect for you.
2. Explore emerging neighborhoods.
You might be able to get a deal on an urban property in an up-and-coming area, but make sure the area is well on the upswing before you buy. An emerging neighborhood can take several years to redevelop.
To make sure it's a good time to buy, investigate the area—see what stores, restaurants or cultural establishments have recently opened or are planning to open in the area. These are always good indicators of neighborhoods on the rise.
3. Investigate a potential building's financial condition.
When you buy a condo, loft or co-op, you're not just buying a property—you're also buying into the building or community. HOAs govern condo communities, collecting dues and maintaining the common areas. A board of directors takes care of these tasks in a cooperative.
Hire an attorney to research the association's financial stability and its rules before you sign on the dotted line. Your attorney should look at the corporation's yearly financial statements to see how much money it has on hand.
If a building doesn't have a large reserve, they can charge a special assessment fee to cover a big repair. These fees are typically announced fairly far in advance (a year or more is normal), so your attorney should also read the minutes of corporation meetings to see if any fees have been proposed.
You can also do some of your own investigating. Don't forget to find out about the surrounding buildings and their construction plans as well. You don't want to buy a home overlooking the water, then find out the week you move in that someone is building something taller that blocks your view.
4. Don't plan to buy a co-op as an investment property.
Multi-family homes can be great investment properties, but cooperatives (co-ops) have very restrictive rules about renting. While condos are typically much more lenient about rentals, be sure to check the property's covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) to make sure you're allowed to lease it to a tenant.
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