Condo Living: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

My husband and I were at dinner a few weeks ago and we ran into a past client of mine. As their Realtor I had helped Dan and his wife, Bridgette, sell their single-family home and buy a condominium. Prior to meeting with me they had not seriously considered condo living and were unaware of what amenities were offered in the newer condominium homes.  Dan looked me in the eye and said, “I want you to know that you changed our lives.”  Quite a statement coming from a simple real estate transaction.  Dan went on to tell me that he and Bridgette loved their condo and the communal lifestyle.  They had made new friends, had joined a Bourbon tasting club, took walks with their neighbors in the evening and were generally loving the retirement lifestyle in a harmonious community of like-minded neighbors.


That’s the good side of condo living.


At this moment I have for sale a very similar condo in a very similar community.  The owners purchased the condominium four years ago and today it sits vacant.  Why?  They didn’t like condo living and have moved back to a single-family home neighborhood.  Craig says he didn’t like the lack of privacy and the seeming arbitrary rules of a power-hungry condo board.  His wife Leslie said they felt the finances of the Association were not being handled responsibly and they wanted out before there were major increases in the monthly dues.


Both of these opinions are legitimate and grounded in reality. This dichotomy is why education and preparation are essential steps to purchasing a condominium.  Anita Smith is the Principal Broker for EPCON condominiums, Central Ohio’s #1 condo builder.   Anita has spent the last 20 years selling condominiums and, more importantly, she lives in one.  “Education” says Anita is the homework that must be done to make this kind of homework.  “I find that the younger condo buyer, the age thirty to 60, has a harder time with accepting the rules.  The Senior buyer, age 60 and up, tends to appreciate the uniformity of expected behavior.”


What should you consider before buying a condo?


  • Read the rules. The “by-laws” of a community are the strictly held “do’s and don’ts.” They are not suggestions.  They are legally binding.  Read them, ask questions, make sure you can abide by them. Have the grandkids weeks in the summer?  Want the option to rent the condo out if you ever move?  Read the fine print.  It’s easier to not buy than to regret the purchase.
  • Weigh the benefit of less maintenance with the monthly cost and loss of autonomy. Are you a DIY-er?  It may frustrate you that the gutter on your unit is leaking but you aren’t allowed to repair it.  You are paying a monthly fee for that repair to be done for you.  It just might not be on your timetable. On the other hand, if you are not accustomed, willing or able to do repairs you may love the quasi-landlord that comes along with the condo fee.
  • Review the financials of the association. Condo Associations are required to open their books to potential Buyers: a line item list of income, outgo, and reserves.
  • Read the minutes of the last three Association meetings. Noisy parties a constant problem? Dogs running loose? Poor management response? The dirt will be in the minutes. Read before you buy.
  • Condo Associations are run by humans. You may not like them. Condo Boards can be highly politicized and run by jerks.  Remember that neighbor who left a note on your mailbox that your grass had gotten 1” too high?  That guy is now President of the Condo Board and has by-laws to back his pettiness.   To be fair, the Accountant who kept the books in line for Cardinal Health is now your association treasurer and tracking every dime. You take the good with the bad — but it’s all a part of condo ownership.
  • Are you ready for less privacy? Shared wall condos can feel like glorified apartments.  You can’t choose your neighbors and you can’t keep them from noise or smells that come into your living space.  Walk the community which you are considering and “feel” yourself living there.  Knock on doors or ask residents who are outside about the quality of life.


In the final analysis, the happiest condo buyer (and there are many, many of them in Central Ohio) is the prepared condo Buyer.  You have earned a life of low maintenance, just make sure that you are not paying for the low maintenance with encroachments on your lifestyle that are untenable.


This blog is written by Kathy Chiero.  The Kathy Chiero Group, Keller Williams Greater Columbus is the proud sponsor of DownSize Columbus and Central Ohio’s top real estate team for the over-55 homeowner.  Find us at