Making wise decisions about buying into a condo or townhouse development requires more due diligence than purchasing a traditional single family home. Once the needed info has been gathered, assigning relative weights to the pros and cons of different places becomes the next challenge. It’s enough to make you wish there was an “Angie’s List” or a “Consumer Reports Buying Guide” for HOA communities.
Deciding which home is the best choice is a highly individual matter. But there are a few universal principles to keep in mind:
Principle No. 1: The 3 most important things about real estate are locati0n, location, location. Heeding this advice gives you the best chance of not regretting your purchase. Everything else about a new home can be changed. The first step in your home search should be identifying your desired neighborhood. But be careful to select only neighborhoods that will actually fit your budget.
Principle No. 2: “Price cures all defects.” You can compensate for a home’s negative aspects by adjusting the price downward. How much the price should fall might be hotly debated between sellers and buyers, but that’s a normal part of the negotiations. Review the recent comparable sales and then listen to your gut. If the seller’s “lowest- price-possible” still doesn’t seem like a fair price to you, walk away.
Principle No. 3: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” There are no perfect homes or perfect communities. If you have evaluated a potential home using this series, I bet it has not passed all of the tests with high marks. That’s OK. Don’t let relatively small things stop your purchase of an otherwise desirable place. The tough part is that you must define “small” yourself.
To recap, under Minnesota law the seller must provide you with a Resale Disclosure Certificate and the HOA’s Governing Documents. . (See my post “Decoding HOA Documents” for background.) If the unit is in another state, find out what disclosures are mandatory. Consider comparing the other state’s requirements to Minnesota’s and asking for the maximum amount of information.
Having said that, the info-gathering suggested in this series goes much deeper than the seller is legally obligated to provide. Even in a buyer’s market, it’s wise to be sensitive to the seller’s situation. The HOA management company may provide the additional data only at a hefty fee. Travelling to the management company’s office to review the “extra” documents may be a free way for you to get more facts.
If you want to obtain only the most important non-mandatory documents, here are my recommendations (in no particular order):
- HOA meeting minutes for the past 1-2 years
- Latest Reserve Study
- Five year history of annual and special assessment amounts
- HOA dues delinquency rate and accounts receivable balance
- Facts behind pending lawsuits and unpaid judgments
Finally, remember to use a knowledgeable Realtor® for real estate advice, an accountant or financial advisor for the monetary aspects, and an attorney for legal advice. I hope the “How to X-ray an HOA” posts help you find your best choice. And I invite you to share your stories and comment on how this HOA series can be made even better