Although it may seem there are not many differences between buying a condominium and buying a house, there are some fundamental differences of which every purchaser should be aware. These differences may factor into an individual’s decision on which type of resident to purchase.

The differences between purchasing a condominium and purchasing a home fall into three main categories:

  • Ownership;
  • Defects and repairs; and
  • Modification of the property.

There are several differences in ownership between a condominium, or condo for short, and a home. When an individual owns a condo, they only have exclusive rights to the property contained within the walls of the condo unit. The condo owner only has a shared ownership interest in the common areas outside of their condo unit. These may include areas such as a hall or a courtyard. The condo owner must share this space along with every other condo owner in the complex.

In contrast, when an individual owns a home, they have the right to exclusive ownership of all of the property they have purchased. This includes areas inside and outside the home. When an individual owns a home, any other individual who enters their property without permission is considered a trespasser.

When it comes to defects and repairs, there are differences in ownership between condos and homes. The owner of a condo is generally not solely responsible for repairs or upkeep of the property. Typically, a condo owner pays dues to a homeowner’s association, or HOA. It is generally a requirement to be a member of the homeowner’s association at the complex where the condo is purchased. This association is responsible for maintenance of common areas as well as property hazard insurance for the complex. 

A homeowner, on the other hand, is responsible for all maintenance and repairs of their home and property. A homeowner is also responsible for their own homeowner’s insurance, known as property insurance. In some cases, if an individual buys a home in a neighborhood, they will also be required to join a homeowner’s association and pay dues. These often apply in a neighborhood that has a common pool area. There may also be rules regarding upkeep of yards and appearance of homes as well as security or gating, if applicable. 

There are also differences in the modifications owners of condos and homes may apply to their properties. Typically, a condo owner is restricted in the types of modifications they can make to the exterior of their unit. In some cases, there are also restrictions on interior modifications. The appearance of the condo is usually governed by covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) that are outlined in the homeowners’ association documents they receive when purchasing the condo. 

It is important to request a copy of these regulations prior to purchasing a condo so that the individual can be sure they will be able to follow the rules. This is especially important for individuals who may have to park large vehicles, boats, or RVs at their residence. Some HOAs restrict the owner’s ability to park large vehicles in driveways or on the road.

In contrast, a homeowner is free to modify or repair their home as necessary. There may be local zoning ordinances that apply, so it is essential to check on those prior to a modification. This will usually apply in cases where an individual wants to modify the structure, such as adding a garage, deck, or room onto the existing structure. 

It is important to note, however, that homes purchased in neighborhoods with HOAs will be required to follow rules just like the condo owners. Some HOAs include rules that prohibit working on vehicles in the driveway, parking marked work trucks in a driveway, and some  prohibit using garages as storage units. Some HOAs must approve additions such as fencing, decking, or storage sheds. 

Prior to any type of purchase, especially one including a HOA, an individual should obtain a copy of the budget and notice of current dues assessment from the HOA. It is also important to be aware that an HOA has the ability to charge all residents an assessment when maintenance or repairs are needed for the complex. It is essential to examine and understand the rules and requirements prior to purchasing in order to ensure there will be no surprises. It may also be helpful to hire an attorney to review the documents as well prior to purchase as they may be aware of issues a non-lawyer would not recognize.

What Should I Know About a Property Before Agreeing to Purchase It?

There are several things an individual should know about a property before agreeing to purchase it. The purchaser should inquire about any disclosures on the property. These are any issues the property has. 

Although the requirements vary by state, sellers are required to reveal disclosures to a potential buyer. Usually, a seller completes a checklist of major or common disclosures. It is illegal to actively and intentionally conceal a known defect. Common disclosures may include:

  • Flood damage;
  • Cracks in the foundation;
  • Termites; 
  • Property line disputes; or
  • Any other major issues.

In addition to seller’s disclosures, a potential buyer would be prudent to hire an independent home inspector to survey the property for defects. An inspector may discover issues that the seller was unaware of or did not disclose. A potential buyer may include a clause in the purchase contract that states the purchase of the property is contingent upon the completion of the property inspection and that the inspection must be completed by a qualified engineer or construction expert at the buyer’s expense.

In addition, a potential purchaser should verify there are no encumbrances on the property. An encumbrance may prevent the purchaser from obtaining legal title to the property or possession of the property. The majority of encumbrances are recorded and located at the county recorder’s office. Encumbrances may include:

A property may be sold subject to a mortgage, or some other type of financial lien. A potential purchaser should check whether the property has a lien or mortgage, which can be found by a title search through the county recorder’s office. It can also be checked using a title insurance company. This step is generally done prior to closing in most real estate transactions.

Why Should I Hire My Own Lawyer for a Real Estate Purchase?

While it may be cheaper to use the seller’s agent in a real estate purchase, in some cases, the purchaser may not have the best advocate for their rights. An individual having their own agent will ensure their best interests are protected and the agent will assist them in controlling the buying process. In addition, an individual’s own attorney may be aware of better alternative properties or real estate agents that may better suit their needs.

What are the Advantages of Using a Lawyer over a Real Estate Agent?

There are many advantages of using a lawyer instead of a real estate agent during a residential purchase process. A real estate lawyer’s fee may be cheaper. They will also have more knowledge of the law than a real estate agent. A real estate agent will charge a percentage of the purchase price, which is usually disclosed prior to purchase. An individual can compare what that cost would be versus the cost of an attorney and realize it may be cheaper to hire an attorney, especially if they charge an hourly rate. 

In addition, a real estate lawyer can draft a personalized real estate contract, in contrast to the boilerplate contract used by a real estate agent. A personalized contract will be better suited to meet the buyer’s needs. Even if the real estate lawyer does not draft the purchase contract, it is important that they review the contract to ensure the buyer’s rights are protected.

Should I Contact an Attorney for the Purchase of a Condominium or a Home?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced real estate attorney when purchasing a condominium or a home. There is often a large amount of information, especially when a homeowner’s association is involved. This may be confusing and overwhelming. A lawyer will be able to review the documents and any contracts and ensure your rights are protected.