When buying a condo, we are all seduced by the decor, the ambiance, the view, and other visual effects, when we should really be checking something else that is not visual!
The Home Owners Association (HOA) often plays a very nondescript part in the whole process of choosing a condo, - especially for first-time condo buyers. However, the HOA can play a very large part in using up your finances if you hit an unlucky situation after moving in.
In order to avoid a surprise, ask a few pertinent questions about the HOA. One of the important factors would be 'who is running the show?' In a very small condo complex it may be run by residents, but a professional management company is preferable, especially in a condo of any size.
Professional management companies do charge for their services, but they can often save this fee by obtaining lower quotes for repairs, because they will use the same company many times. There is also less chance of the company using their influence on resident votes, so they may be construed as more fair. Finally, it is a business to them, and it the HOA will be run as such, instead of as a part-time rush before each meeting is due!
Always ask to see the rules of the HOA, the financial report, the by-laws and the minutes of the last several meetings. The conditions, covenants and restrictions (CC&Rs) will affect your lifestyle, so make sure they 'fit in' with it.
The financial report will tell you if there are any big increases in the fees coming up, or if there are any 'emergency' fees due soon. This raises the important question, what will happen if there is a big emergency? How is it paid and how much money is in the HOA kitty?
The maintenance reserves will be important; there will hopefully be approximately one third of the gross annual fees charged to all residents in the reserves. A favorable minimum amount would be $4,000 per condo, although is manageable.
Another aspect that the HOA manages is the percentage of rental units allowable. Under 20% is passable, but any more and the re-sale of the condos becomes risky. Renters often do not have the same respect for property or neighbors, so they decrease desireability.Also mortgage companies are aware of this and are reluctant to give out mortgages to high-rental complexes.
Once you have ironed out all these questions, you can consider whether you would like to get a professional inspection done. These inspections include the common areas as well as the condo you are interested in. Once all these precautions are in place, you will feel more secure to go ahead and make an offer.