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What do you need to know if you’re buying a condominium in Silicon Valley?  Isn’t it simpler and easier than buying a house?

No, not really.

With a condo, you are buying not just the unit (or airspace) that you intend to occupy, you’re also buying a shared ownership in the common features.  This means, of course, that you are also buying into any potential liabilities.

Here are some questions to ask and areas to investigate when buying a San Jose area condo:

  • What is the percentage of owner occupied homes? (Too high of a ratio and buyers will have trouble purchasing with a loan, which means you could have trouble selling.)
  • Is there any litigation (lawsuits) ongoing?  Again, this can impact saleability.  Often newer condo units investigate any building problems around years 7-9 as there’s a 10 year statute of limitations for finding building errors, so younger homes that are just under 10 years of age could be involved in a lawsuit.
  • Is the complex professionally managed or managed by owners? (There will be implications for each.)
  • How much have the dues been going up each year?
  • How many home owners are currently in default on their HOA dues? (HOA dues are often skipped before distressed home owners default on their mortgage.)
  • Do the reserves look adequate or will there be a dues increase or special assessment?
  • What is the cost and timetable for getting a complete set of Home Owner Association (HOA) documents?
  • Are the documents complete? Is there a complete set of newsletters, meeting minutes, bylaws, CCRs, Articles of Incorporation, etc.?
  • Is the complex itself in or near a flood plain or on or near an earthquake fault or area of any other natural hazard?  These areas periodically get re-mapped and locations that were previously not in a particular zone but are close may later find themselves within that area.
  • Is it an FHA approved condo complex? If so, it may be easier to sell later!
  • Condition – if it’s an older community, are the pipes still galvanized steel or are they copper? If steel, is there a plan to replace them?  How about garage doors and single pane windows – are owners on their own to fix and upgrade these items or by any chance will the HOA cover them (and if so, is there enough money to do so?).
  • How often are the exteriors of the buildings checked for termites and water damage?

These are a few questions to include in your investigation of any condo you may want to purchase. When you investigate your future home, be sure to include the common grounds and the general ownership of the complex and grounds and know that if you buy in, you’ll want to be comfortable knowing that there are no surprises just around the bend: no special assessments, no lawsuits, no imbalance of owner-renter ratio that can put the community into a downward spiral in terms of “resale value”.

Ask lots of questions, take lots of notes and be as informed as you can!