5 Surprises When Downsizing to a Condo

Yard work fills you with dread. The thought of shoveling your way through another winter is already causing your back to ache. And ever since your children moved on to college, half the rooms in your home sit unused.

You're ready to downsize from a single-family home to a condo. It's a move that makes sense: You don't need the space of a house, you're ready for a smaller monthly mortgage payment, and you're eager to chuck the chores and maintenance that come with a larger home.

But before you make the move into a condo, know that condo living does come with surprises. And many of them aren't pleasant. They don't have to scare you away, but you do need to be prepared for them.

Here are a few surprises that might await you when you become a condo owner.

1. Special assessments

When you become a condo owner, you'll have to pay either a condo fee or a homeowners' association fee to live in the building. That monthly fee goes toward the maintenance of the building's common areas and to pay for services such as landscaping and snow removal.

But what if your condo's roof needs to be replaced or the entire building needs tuckpointing? To pay for a large expense, your condo's board of directors might have to levy a special assessment; an extra monthly fee that unit owners pay until the building has raised enough money to pay for a large-scale project.

If your board decides your building needs a new garage, you might be paying an extra $200, $300, or more a month for as long as it takes to help pay for the construction. This extra money, if you're not prepared for it, could burst your household budget. (See also: What You Need to Know About HOAs)

2. You may end up on the board of directors

If you move into a large condo complex, you probably won't have to serve on the building's board of directors if you don't want to. But if you move into a smaller condo building with few residents, you may find yourself needing to take a turn serving as the board's director, treasurer, or secretary. An association can't function properly without a board, and if other residents are unwilling or unable to serve, ultimately, someone has to do it.

Serving on the board doesn't have to take up a lot of your time. But you will have to make decisions regarding the upkeep of your building. You might have to vote for an unpopular special assessment, or spearhead the ordering of new guard rails, hallway carpeting, or other items. If you have no desire to make any of these decisions, you should move into a larger condo building with more residents and more active boards of directors.

3. It may not be ideal for a pet

Some condo buildings don't allow pets, or only allow pets of a certain size. If your condo does allow dogs, and you happen to have one, you might find taking care of Fido requires a bit more work.

First, there are the stairs. If you live on the second floor or higher, you'll have to drag your pooch down the stairs — or into an elevator — every time your dog needs a bathroom break. Depending on the age of your dog, and yourself, this can quickly turn into a hassle.

Then there are the other dogs in your building. You might be unfortunate enough to live directly underneath the dog that barks all day long while its owners are at work. Or maybe you constantly bump into a dog that doesn't get along with your own. Those regular run-ins could be stressful.

Before moving into a condo, be aware that having a dog won't be quite as simple as having one in a single-family home.

4. The grocery haul

Bringing groceries into a single-family home is easy: You park in your garage or the driveway, and lug them in. Bringing large bags of groceries into a condo can be more work. It's no fun to lug them up three flights of stairs to get to your unit. Even if your building has an elevator, you'll still have to make multiple trips to bring in all your bags.

If you buy heavier items such as soda, beer, and water, that trip back and forth from your car to your condo can develop into a real pain. It's why so many condo owners take several smaller trips to the grocery store instead of one large one. Be careful here, though: Running to the grocery store every two or three days is an easy way to blow your monthly spending budget.

5. Plumbing problems can be a pain

Scheduling a visit from a plumber? Does that plumber need to shut off your water for an hour or more to repair a leaky bathtub faucet? This can be tricky if you live in a condo building with a shared plumbing system.

When you shut off the water in your unit, you might also be shutting down the water in your neighbors' units. Because of this, you'll have to schedule plumbing repairs with the building's board of directors. This could take a few days or a few weeks depending on your association and how many other units will be affected. You might not be able to schedule your plumbing repairs on the exact day of your choice.

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5 Surprises When Downsizing to a Condo

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