Buying a condo- lessons learnedMay 27, 2001 Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line Find an agent who will help you get what you want. Listen to his advice but remember, you're the one who has to live in the home that you buy.
26 May 2001- I just realized that this is my first anniversary of being a homeowner. Or a condo owner. I recently started looking at how I am going to sell this place and buy a house, and when I can do it. Don't get me wrong, I really do love my condo. It was the greatest bachelor pad, but I have greatly outgrown it. The buying process was mostly painless, and I had more trouble cleaning up my old apartment than I did moving in here.
So why am I looking to move so soon? I'll get into all of that, and hopefully in the process I can help a potential first time homebuyer with the patience for my rambling.
I moved to New Jersey two years ago. I had an apartment set up to move in, so all I had to do is get off the turnpike, stop by the rental office, and move right in. It was a nice apartment only two miles from work. I was all excited about having my own one bedroom apartment. The floor plan looked really neat. I did like living there, but it was real tiny. I didn't own anything and I had no room to add. My computer was in the dining room, so when a dining room table was donated to me I had no where to put it. My cats could barely move in there. I decided that since I was going to be here for a while why not take the plunge and make a good solid investment?
My credit union has a program called "Member Move". I contacted them and they assigned a counselor to monitor my home buying process. Then they sent my info to one of their member realtors, who was with Coldwell Banker Elite. He called, we talked about what I wanted, and we set up a Saturday for him to show me houses. I met him at his office, he pulled up five listings, and we went to see them.
Lesson 1: Watch out for the time of year and the market. I pre qualified with my credit union, so I had a rough figure of what I could get. I started looking at houses around Christmas of '99. There really wasn't much of a market here. Out five properties he showed me, two were condos, one was a "pre manufactured" in an area with a ridiculous association fee, and the two houses were at the top of what I could afford and needed more work than I would be able to do after a closing.
We took a break for the holidays, and he called me back about a month later. He watched the market some, I think, but there wasn't much. I had to close by the end of May when my lease expired, or sign on for another year, so my options were limited. He told me that one condo had been dropped in price, and I asked to look at it again. I wanted a house, but I put the condo on my "maybe" list. It was there by itself. I ended up buying the condo at the end.
Something to look for in a real estate deal is how easy it will be. Looking back, I think my realtor could have shown me more properties, but I didn't know the area that well. Now I know that the county I live in has higher home values, but car insurance and property taxes are relatively low. The two neighboring counties seem to have better value for homes, but car insurance and taxes are higher. Go figure.
Lesson 2: Know your area. I hadn't lived here long enough to know good and bad neighborhoods.
My condo purchase went so easily, it wasn't funny. There were a few people at work trying to buy homes about the same time as me, and they were pulling their hair out and running around in circles. It seems like all I had to do is say "yes, I could live here", and sign some papers, and the process took care of itself. There wasn't much of a market for condos, so the seller was willing to take it off the market for me and wait until the end of May when my lease ended. I didn't have much money for closing costs, so they raised the price a little and paid all the closing costs. I got most of my escrow money back.
Lesson 3: As much as I love my condo, it's important to make sure that your property will fit you for a while. I figured I'd be single for a long time. This condo made an awesome bachelor pad. But a few months after I moved in I met a girl. Not too much longer after that we were married and had outgrown the place. After her bridal shower I was afraid I'd have to keep appliances in the bedroom or something because there wasn't enough room in the kitchen. I had planned to live here three to five years until I was making more money and then buy a house, but now I have to move that up a little.
Lesson 4: location and neighborhood. My condo is in the back of the property, close to the pool, but the complex is right off an extremely busy two lane road that runs between several state highways, the New Jersey Turnpike, and an interstate. Sometime you can't make a left on to the road at all. But most of the places we want to go are left (you know, work, restaurants, her parents...). This is a pain sometimes. Also, while the neighborhood is quiet and my neighbors are all nice, older ladies, the condo association can be a pain. The have a rule that pickup trucks cannot be parked here at any time. When I met my wife she had a small pickup, about a year old. I have two letter for it, and the next time it was here I was going to get fined. I have never gotten a straight answer about why pickup trucks can't park here. I can't even bring it up for a vote at the association meeting. I can't think of a better work, but you'd think they were racist against pickup trucks. My wife ended up "voluntarily surrendering" her truck to GMAC right before we got married. It was just too much of a pain to park it up the street and we couldn't sell it. Her mom let her use an old Escort that was parked at their house.
Make sure you check into mortgage companies. I was lazy and just wanted one that would work with me. My own credit union wouldn't talk to me at all because I hadn't been in my job for two years. Never mind my solid credit and employment history. My realtor referred me to a mortgage company that would work with me. The representative came to my apartment in the evening to do all the paperwork. It was so relaxed I felt like having a beer while we did it. It came through quick and painlessly. They were more than accommodating, but since I had no money to put down I had to pay a higher interest rate.
Home inspector: I went with one my realtor referred me to. I think he did a great job, but I do have one complaint after I moved in. The air conditioner is on the roof. He didn't have a ladder, and for some reason never checked it. Actually, I wasn't even sure where the air was when I moved in. Turns out that it is on the roof, and it was
original. Now a 28 year old air conditioner gives me a lot of faith in the Lennox brand name, in fact I got another one, but right after closing you don't want to find out that your A/C is older than you are and needs to be replaced. I ended up recharging it, and I saved up to replace it this spring. But make sure that you know the status of EVERYTHING before you sign the contract. I also didn't know that the fan/heater unit was in the bathroom ceiling until the air conditioner guys showed me. I think my home inspector should have let me know about this too. I don't think he even pushed the ceiling tiles up to check what was up there.
In short, I'm glad I bought the place. Everything worked out real easy for me, and the place almost bought itself. But I've learned a few lessons in the process and the aftermath. If you're a first time homebuyer, make sure that you do the research. Some realtors could be unscrupulous. I probably should have told my realtor that I wanted a house and if I had to stay in the apartment another year while we looked for one, I would. I should have asked to see more. But I am mostly happy with my purchase. Just make sure that you know what you want. Don't settle. Make a list of what you have to have in a property. My next property I will insist on central air (which I have), three or more bedrooms, and two bathrooms. I won't budge unless it has all that. I'll be flexible on lot size and such, and I don't care what shape the roof is. But it WILL have three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Good luck and happy house hunting.
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