Condo Living - The Good and the Bad
By Steve Gillman - March 8, 2013
When my wife and I moved from our home in Colorado to Naples,
Florida, we chose to buy a condo. The primary reason was price.
There were no houses in our $65,000 to $95,000 price, range,
or at least none where we wanted to live. But there were plenty
of nice condominiums that were selling inexpensively. In fact,
as we looked at previous sales we found numerous examples of
units that had sold for close to $300,000 at the top of the market
in 2005 to 2006, and now were selling for under $100,000.
Although we liked the prices most of all, there were other
things about condos that appealed to us. I loved the fact that
I would never have to mow a lawn or pull weeds again, since all
the landscaping and exterior care was included in the association
dues. We both liked the fact that we could have a swimming pool
that was also cared for by someone else. We would never take
on the expense and trouble of a pool if we had a house.
Those are a couple of the good things about condo living.
The biggest negative about owning a condominium, in general,
is the loss of control. Most people have heard a few stories
about the rules and the association board members who choose
to enforce them. Yes, it is true that if the weight limit for
a dog is 25 pounds and your 25-pound puppy gains a few ounces
you could be asked to either get rid of your beloved pet or move.
But if you take the rules into account when you look for a place
(find a complex that allows 50-pound dogs and you can let Spot
get fat), there shouldn't be too many issues.
Our big issue was our two cats. It is amazing how many places
wrote their rules to allow just one pet, without regard for the
fact that a noisy dog leaving messes on the grass is far more
of a potential problem than two indoor cats that will only be
seen occasionally by other residents, and then only through a
window. Our cats are our babies, so we had to rule out 90% of
the places in town. But we did eventually buy a unit in a great
location--one which allows only cats as pets.
We do love the pool, which we use several times weekly (it's
almost directly in front of our place). I watch the lawn care
crew come on Tuesdays and do their thing, and I like not having
to do the work myself. We walk to stores and restaurants, and
have even walked to the beach.
But we know now that we would prefer a house. What we have
learned is that the lack of control which comes with condo living
shows up in unexpected ways. For example, the dues increased
from $320 per month to $340 recently. We voted for the increase,
but we did not know it would be necessary when we purchased our
Part of the reason for the increase, and the $600 special
assessment we also had to pay, is because a bureaucrat somewhere
drew a new line on the flood maps, and our 80-unit complex was
designated as being at higher risk of flooding the next time
a hurricane hits. That caused our insurance rates to go up by
about $45,000 per year. Now, if we owned a house and our insurance
was going to double due to something like this, we would simply
drop the flood coverage (you can do that if you do not have a
mortgage), or we would raise the deductible. An association has
very limited options though. They cannot choose to drop coverage,
or they would immediately put every owner with a mortgage in
technical default, and at risk of losing their homes. I believe
the law specifies that they maintain coverage in any case.
Then there are all the little things that can add up to a
lot of money. The process of voting is the fairest way to make
decisions in an association perhaps, but democracy is never too
satisfying when the vote doesn't go your way. Should we keep
the fountain and so have the associated expenses of operating
and repairing it, or should we get rid of it in favor of some
easier to maintain landscaping? Should we gamble a few thousand
dollars on legal fees in an attempt to get the flood map ruling
reversed? If we win we save $45,000 per year--almost $600 per
owner. If we lose we just spent the money for nothing.
Pickup trucks are not allowed here, by the way. If relatives
or friends want to visit with their trucks they will have to
park elsewhere. I have no idea where, or why an old van is okay
but a shiny new truck is not. I think the residents here would
not complain in any case. They are very reasonable. But if just
one wants to enforce the rule, he or she has the right to do
We really do love it here. The grounds are kept beautiful,
the pool is wonderful, and there are more than a dozen restaurants
within walking distance. But the ongoing costs are more than
we would like, and less in our control than we would like. The
future is less certain when it is going to be decided by 79 other
owners. That's the nature of condo life. Now if we can just find
a nice house for under $100,000 in one of the richest towns in
We might be here a while.
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