Condo Buying Guide: Condo Features to Consider
Once broad choices have been made regarding property location, style and age, buyers can further refine the search by determining which condominium features are most important. Look at global questions, such as age restrictions, and smaller details, such as how upscale the finishes of the rooms are.
Certain condominium communities have age restrictions that developments must deal with carefully to ensure they are not discriminatory in an illegal way. Typically, an age-restricted condominium development will cater to the older population, as with condominium retirement communities. Often, these communities are marketed as either "retirement communities" or "active adult communities" and can offer regular social, intellectual and personal enrichment activities. While children and grandchildren are usually permitted to visit, many communities will limit their overnight stays to a certain number of consecutive days per visit or days per year.
The common areas and amenities are often big draws to particular developments. A boat dock or marina, for example, might be a must for boating enthusiasts. Those who enjoy plants and flowers may be drawn to a development that has beautiful gardens or the opportunity to cultivate a garden plot.
Since the common area features make each development unique, special consideration should be given to both the amenities that the buyer considers desirable – and to those that do not interest the buyer. The condominium dues, in part, will be based on the common areas. The dues might be very high compared with the rest of the market because of a 50-slip marina, for example. If the buyer will not take advantage of such features, another development might be a better option.
Convenient parking is an important consideration when looking for a condominium unit. Most developments have on-site parking areas in a parking garage, underneath the structure(s) or adjacent to each building. Frequently, each unit will be assigned a certain number of parking passes, often based on the number of bedrooms in the unit. The passes – which could be hang-tags for rear-view mirrors or stickers for vehicles' windows – must be displayed any time a vehicle is left in the parking area.
Some developments also have gated parking areas or even a gate house staffed by security personnel intended to prevent anyone other than an owner or guest from entering the premises. These added security features are often viewed as very valuable by condominium owners.
In addition to gated parking areas or staffed gate houses, condominium developments can have a variety of other security measures in place to help protect the development and its residents. Twenty-four-hour security guards, cameras and video surveillance; locked exterior doors; locked access to community facilities; well-lit parking areas, hallways and common areas; and community-watch programs are all measures that can be used to help keep the development and its residents safer.
Developments may also use perimeter fencing and safe landscaping (clear views on walkways, bushes trimmed below the level of first-story windows, etc.) as additional security measures. Residents may develop a positive rapport with local emergency services personnel, including fire and police. Each unit should also have its own 911 address so that emergency teams can quickly and easily respond to calls. Individual unit owners may wish to install an alarm system.
The development should have a customized emergency plan for dealing with a fire, flood, power failure or natural disaster. The development's staff, including security personnel and the building supervisor, should have a list of individuals who might need extra help during an evacuation, such as chronically ill or non-ambulatory persons. Large developments will likely have a fire-suppression system (such as a development-wide sprinkler system), and all buildings, including community facilities, must have smoke detectors and carbon-monoxide detectors where appropriate.
If social activities are important, buyers can speak with residents about the opportunities that exist in the development. A variety of regularly scheduled events may be offered, such as potluck suppers, book clubs, golfing or pool parties. The events can be either on-site or involve traveling to take advantage of nearby attractions including museums, sporting events, concerts and seminars. Even if activities are not promoted or sanctioned by the development, certain residents may simply enjoy getting together on a regular basis for certain activities, such as beach volleyball or card games.
Space is a consideration in terms of actual square footage and in the number of rooms offered in a particular unit. If a person will be using the condominium unit as a home office, an additional bedroom or bonus room may be essential. A person who expects frequent visitors may also need an extra bedroom. These considerations must be made regardless of whether the buyer is looking at single-family homes or condominium units. Frequently, since condominium space is at a premium, the floor plans in a condominium unit maximize space with little to no unusable space.
Many newer developments will offer upgraded appliances, such as stainless steel ranges, refrigerators and microwaves. Older developments may have standard appliances – though some may have upgraded to the newer, more desirable stainless steel appliances. Most units will have washer/dryer hookup, though each unit owner typically must furnish these large appliances themselves.
Since condominium unit owners typically will not have access to garages, tool sheds, attics and basements, the unit must contain adequate storage space. If storage is important, buyers should look for sufficient bedroom closets, kitchen cupboards, entry closets, living room and dining room cabinets, and bathroom/linen storage. Many developments provide an extra closet outside of the unit for things like beach chairs, bikes and other sporting equipment. Others may provide covered bike racks, where bicycles can be locked and kept away from the elements, or a pool house, where toys and floating devices can be stored.
Units in the same development may have different packages and floor plans from which to choose. Aside from various bedroom/bathroom combinations, certain units may have upgrades that are desirable and important to some buyers. These upgrades, which generally drive up the price of the unit, can include:
- kitchen upgrades, like stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and tile floors
- flooring upgrades throughout, such as tile floors in the kitchen and baths, and hardwood or bamboo in all other areas
- upgraded window treatments, such as wood blinds or solar shades
- additional parking spaces
- luxury bathrooms including separate shower, a Jacuzzi tub and dual sinks
- stylish light fixtures
- wainscoting, crown molding and other interior finish elements
- additional storage space