Will I be happy in a condo?

Happy in a condo

If you've been house shopping, especially in an urban area, you've likely wondered if you should opt for a condo.

And why not? Condos offer homebuyers affordability and convenience. That's especially so now that mortgage rates are back down near record lows. You can get more for your hard-earned money.

Condos are essentially the medium between an apartment and a house.

But living in one can drive you insane if you're not cut out for communal living. You've got to weigh the pros and cons before you take the plunge and purchase one.

Wondering if you'd be happy in a condo?
Answering these 9 questions will tell you.


Question 1. How much free time and extra cash did you have last week?

Owning a home leads to chores ranging from lawn care to roof repair. In a condo, the association pays someone to handle those chores. That's why it collects a monthly condo fee.

"If you realize you have no business spending your nonexistent free time mowing your lawn, shoveling snow out of your driveway and scooping disgusting muck out of your gutters, you might be happy in a condo," says Matt Difanis, broker owner of RE/MAX Realty Associates in Champaign, Illinois.


Question 2. Do you have at least three months' expenses saved in an emergency fund?

Home maintenance isn't cheap, and having to replace a big-ticket item like a furnace can lead to financial shock for homeowners who don't have enough savings to pay for the unexpected.

Monthly condo fees are supposed to cover the expense of big-ticket repairs and replacements, so they force nonsavers to set aside money for expensive home projects — as long as the homeowners association is financially sound.

A badly run condo association will hit owners with a large special assessment each time it pays for an expensive replacement or repair.

Before buying, check the association budget to see how much is in the "replacement reserves" account. Ask if they've done a replacement reserve study or audit, which tells the association how much to set aside.



How much house can you afford?

This is the first thing you need to decide before you even begin to hunt for a new place to live. No one wants to be house-poor, saddled with mortgage payments that gobble up too much of their paycheck. Follow these 5 smart moves, and you'll find the price range that fits your budget.


Question 3. You drive by a house painted hot pink. What's your reaction?

If you think: "I would have to sell my house and move if my neighbor did that," you'll take comfort in knowing condo association rules will keep design-challenged neighbors from painting their home an unapproved color.

If you think: "How creative. I wonder how that paint would look on my house?" a condo probably isn't a good choice. At best, condo owners get to pick an exterior home color from a list of approved hues. Hot pink will not be on the list.


Question 4. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you need to control your world?

When having everything exactly as you want it at home and work brings you joy, living in a condo can be frustrating because you're at the mercy of others.

When the neighbors in your luxury high-rise blast music at midnight, you'll have to call the front desk and have them ask the neighbors to turn it down, says Elizabeth Perez, broker associate at Keyes Realtors in Coral Gables, Florida.

Want to use the community grill? Here's hoping no one's steaks are already sizzling on it.


Question 5. Back in college, how long did it take you to adjust to the noise level in your dorm?

Light sleepers play neighbor roulette when they buy a condo. People who never got used to the noise level in the dorm and moved out the nanosecond the school allowed them to escape probably won't be any happier sharing walls with adult neighbors.


Question 6. Do you have kids that live with you or furry pets?

Some condominiums restrict pets, children or renters. While you might enjoy living where all three are banned, each of those restrictions can limit a home's resale value by reducing the pool of potential buyers, Perez says.

Restricting rentals can be a positive because some lenders won't give out mortgages on condos with too many renters, she adds.



The 7 biggest mortgage mistakes

Dodging these pitfalls will make you a happier homebuyer now and more satisfied homeowner down the road. You'll know that you got the best possible mortgage and won't be overwhelmed by unexpected costs.


Question 7. Were you home much last month?

The lock-it-and-leave-it convenience of a condo fits well with a job that involves constant travel. Buy a house in a neighborhood, and you'll have to find someone to pull the pizza delivery flyers off the front door when you're out of town.

A condo with shared amenities where neighbors gather can also bring much-needed human contact to folks who are home all the time, like telecommuters, retirees and people who live alone.


Question 8. How happy are you right now?

Research indicates buying either type of home won't improve your outlook. Or at least that's the conclusion Ohio State University professor Donald Haurin came to after studying happiness and homeownership.

"[W]e tend to imagine, while we tour open houses, that living in more square footage, or having a pool in our own backyard, or using a dual Sub-Zero fridge will make our lives permanently and noticeably better," Haurin found. "But once we move into that new home, all those fancy features quickly become part of the background of our daily lives, and our well-being tends to migrate back toward whatever it was before the home purchase."


Question 9. How close is the condo to your family and friends?

The one factor related to homebuying that researchers say is conducive to happiness is social relationships. Buying a home where family and friends can gather is more likely to lead to happiness than buying a beautiful home just to impress your peers.

"Seeking to live in an area near one's social or familial network is more likely to enhance well-being than scouting for a place in a socially prestigious or aesthetically pleasing neighborhood," Haurin concluded.

Tell us your thoughts on condo living! Would you suggest it?