Buying a Condo in Florida
By Steve Gillman - 2012
A few days ago we were in the process of buying a condo in
Florida. We had already written checks for the contract deposit
and the application fees for both the condo association and the
master association for the neighborhood. Then we saw the rules...
Lesson number one if you are buying a condo in Florida; Get
as much information as you can before you make an offer. As it
turns out in our case, two cats would not be allowed (and we
would move before giving away our babies), and my brother could
not even visit unless he bought a new car (no pickup trucks allowed).
In the end we got our money back, but getting it all back
was just a bit of luck, as I will explain.
It is common for buyers to make an offer and at the same time
apply for approval to the condo association. In this case there
was also a master association for the neighborhood in which the
development was located. They each collect dues ($800 quarterly
in the case of the first, and $240 annually for the other). That
was reasonable for the area, and meant we had a couple swimming
pools we could use, as well as a lake stocked with fish (although
I don't fish). The applications cost $100 and $115, and are non-refundable
for any reason.
So after we made the offer and wrote three checks (the two
applications and the contract deposit), we started to look over
the documents which were provided. Upon seeing some rules we
didn't want to live with, we were ready to get out of the deal.
Fortunately in Florida you have three days after receiving the
condo documents to cancel the contract if you do not like what
you see. Of course, by then the application fees could be lost.
We decided to void the contract on day three, so I figured we
were out $215.
As it turned out, the real estate agent we were working with
had not yet given the applications to the associations because
of a change in her schedule. Pure luck, but it saved us some
cash. She returned our checks.
Now, for some specific tips, in case you are considering buying
a condo in Florida;
1. Resolve the big issues before signing anything. After that
deal we started calling associations directly to see if our cats
would be allowed--before we even went to look at a property.
If having a truck is important to you, call and ask if it is
allowed. It is tough to get the phone numbers at times, but you
can look at the listing for the development name and search online
for that plus "association." If you have to, call the
listing agent (or the one you are working with) to get a phone
number of someone who can answer your questions. You can waste
a lot of time looking at places and getting excited, just to
discover that it won't work for you, so check before you look.
2. Unless there is some reason you can't do it, wait until
you have an inspection to turn in your condo association or other
applications. There is no point in spending the money to get
approved if the inspection finds massive mold and squelches the
3. Look at the condo financial statements carefully. There
should be healthy reserves for replacing roofs, pools and such.
The association for the condo we made the offer on had more than
$3,400 in reserve for each unit in the complex, and had a schedule
showing the expected lifespan for each item along with the reserves
already banked for that item.
4. Verify the amount you will be paying in dues with the association.
The number in the listing information is often a guess. One condo
complex we like has listings showing dues ranging from $800 per
quarter to $990 per quarter. I called and discovered that they
are $840, a figure which only one of five listings got right.
5. Ask about special assessments. Ask if there are any special
assessments at the moment and whether there are any coming soon.
They may not be able to answer the latter, but it can't hurt
to ask. Be aware too that if reserves are low or if dues are
delinquent for more than 10% of the units, there may be a need
soon for either higher dues or an assessment.
6. Consider what is included in the dues. We have thus far
seen condo dues that range from $200 per month to as high as
$850 per month. The latter are common if there is use of a golf
course included, or other high-end amenities. But in the range
we want (below $350) there are differences in what's included
as well. Some places include water, sewer and even cable, which
makes $350 per month more reasonable than a place which charges
only $300 but doesn't have these inclusions.
7. Ask about rental rules. If you are buying a condo in Florida
for seasonal use, you might want to rent it out when you are
not there. Be sure that is allowed, and what the rules are. Some
developments only allow owners to rent their places out after
they have owned them for a year, and others limit how many renters
you can have each year.
Watch the home page of this site for more about buying a condo
in Florida. As we continue our search I will be adding pages