Whether you’re just starting out, upgrading or downsizing to your ultimate retirement pad, choosing a home is both a financial and a practical consideration.
For millennials just starting out, saving up for the down payment and getting qualified for a loan can be financially stressful. For many baby boomers, the considerations are more practical than financial. Downsizing from a large home is appealing because the responsibilities that come with homeownership can be burdensome as we age.
There is a great option worth considering by both millennials and boomers: condominium ownership. Owning a condo has many of the same benefits of owning a single-family home. You can build equity and benefit from the tax incentive that comes with homeownership as well as the stability that homeownership provides.
But there are potential downsides. Some condo homeowners association rules may be an unpleasant surprise for many millennials. For boomers, living in a building or being a part of a community and abiding by the restrictions could be a challenge, particularly after owning a single-family home for many years.
Here are some rules and restrictions boomers and millennials alike often face when going the condo route.
Your hardwood floors will need to be (partially) covered
Living on top or below others can be a drag. For millennials, they likely have a recent experience with communal living, either in a dorm room, a rental building or even back in their parents’ home. For boomers who have lived under their own roof for many years, this could be a shock to the system. But imagine what it would be like to live in a building full of hardwood floors and little-to-no carpet to absorb the noise.
Add to that high heels, dogs and little kids running around, and the sound transmission amplifies. Nearly every multi-story condo building will require every owner to cover at least 80 percent of the floors. Of course, the floor inspector doesn’t do monthly rounds to check if your floors are carpeted. But if you live above or below someone who is sensitive to noise, you can be certain they will complain, and the rule will be enforced.
You can’t use your parking space for storage
Many condo units come with at least one dedicated parking space, often in a garage (especially for urban condo buildings). As a condo owner, you own that dedicated parking space, even if you don’t have a car.
However, many millennials forgo cars for bike shares, public transportation, Zipcars and the occasional Uber ride. To them, a deeded parking space with their condo might seem like wasted space. So why not use it for storage, especially when closet space is at a premium? Similarly, boomers who are used to turning a garage into a storage locker, garden center or workspace might wonder if they could do the same with their condo parking space.
In most cases, however, the condo’s rules and regulations won’t allow it. Imagine a garage full of beach chairs, bikes, storage containers, gas grills and garbage. It’s neither pretty nor orderly. For this reason, the rule exists.
There will be noise restrictions
Most condo rules specify that between certain hours (generally 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.), occupants must not interfere with other owners’ quiet enjoyment. This rule is frequently enforced and is likely music to the ears of a boomer concerned with leaving their private, quiet, single-family home for community living. For a millennial who is still within striking distance of their party years and the noise that comes with it, this is a big consideration.
It’s important, particularly if you’re sensitive to noise, to understand how the building was constructed. Is there concrete between the floors, or is it all wood? How well does noise transfer? This is one important rule both noisy and noise-sensitive folks fail to consider before embarking on condo ownership.
You may have to kiss Fido goodbye
Until they’re well into the real estate search, few people realize that many condo buildings have pet restrictions. In some places, it’s not legal to completely outlaw pets. Even so, restrictions regarding the type and number of pets will exist in any condo development.
Do you have a Great Dane that weighs more than 50 pounds? She may not be welcome in the condo community of your dreams. Year after year, buyers have had to forego great apartments simply because of a pet. Knowing this before you get too involved in the real estate process will help soften the blow when you discover that Fido isn’t welcome — a potential shot to the heart of both the boomer and the millennial.
You may not be able to rent your condo
Many condo boards have restrictions on the number of rentals allowed in the building. Having too high a percentage of renters makes it harder for new buyers to get a loan. In addition, homeowners believe that owners who are present have more of a vested interest in caring for the building than a tenant, who has much less at stake. Finally, if you’ve been dreaming of making some extra cash with short-term rentals, you better check the condo’s rules and restrictions first, as some will forbid such rentals.
Bottom line: Find out the rule on renting, as well as the current percentage of renters, before you buy.
Know before you go
If you’re not ready to give in to some of the restrictions that come with condo ownership, you might want to reconsider. While some homeowners associations are more lenient than others, you should go into a condo purchase with eyes wide open. Rules are made for a reason, and you should expect them to be enforced.
Before signing on the dotted line, you’ll have the opportunity to pore through the house rules, covenants, conditions and restrictions and the past year’s meeting minutes. This helps you learn as much as possible about the condo, the rules and the board.
BRENDON DESIMONE for Zillow.com