Questions you need to ask when buying a Ballard condo
Conor MacEvilly of Coldwel Banker Danforth (www.mynorthseattlehome.com)
Questions you need to ask when buying a Ballard condo.
Unless you’ve been in coma for the past few years, the ongoing construction of new Ballard condo developments is hard to miss along 24th Ave NW, Market Street, Leary Ave and other locations. Ballard condos are a popular foot in door for many first time home buyers. Those looking to downsize will also consider buying a condo.
Compared to buying a Ballard house, there is an extra layer of investigation that you need to do when buying a condo. Some of these factors will affect your ability to get a loan for the condo. Your credit might be fine but the condo's financial health may not be good enough for your lender. Basically, both you AND the condo development need to qualify for the loan, particularly when it comes to FHA loans (see below).
What are the Home Owner Association (HOA) dues? These are monthly dues that go towards the maintenance of the building and a reserve fund for future repairs. For Ballard, you can expect to pay as low as $150 and all the way up to $650 per month. Note that these dues are in addition to your monthly mortgage, property tax and insurance payments. You need to take the HOA dues into account when calculating how big a monthly payment you can realistically afford. You lender will too.
What do the HOA dues cover? Dues will always cover maintenance, building insurance, garbage and sewer and sometimes earthquake insurance. Some utilities will be covered but varies, so make sure to ask.
What percentage of the units are owner-occupied? The more the better! You want to live in a condo development that has a high percentage of owner-occupied units. Some condo associations do not allow any rentals which will restrict you from renting yours in the event that you wanted to travel the world for a year or move for another job and want to keep the property. But who in their right mind would want to move from Ballard!
What percentage of the condo owners are behind on their monthly HOA dues? Ideally, the vast majority of owners are keeping up with their payments. Otherwise there may not be enough money in the kitty for required repairs (both planned and unexpected ones).
Has the HOA done a recent reserve study? A reserve study looks at the association's current finances and expected demands on those finances over the next 5 to 10 years. In addition, the study looks at the association’s rainy day funds for unexpected issues. If the HOA has not done one in a few years it may be sign of bad management.
Are there any current or upcoming Special Assessments? Special assessments are additional contributions that all home owners have to pay to cover the cost of some unexpected repairs that the HOA had not planned for (new siding and windows are the most common examples, ouch!). In some cases this can be large amount of money. Better to discover this before you move in.
Minutes from monthly HOA meetings: what are owners griping about at these meetings and what are the on-going problems that have not been addressed? Meeting minutes are a great way to find stuff that may have "slipped" the seller's mind and forgot to tell you.
Are pets allowed? When you buy a Ballard house, you can have your pet boa constrictor slithering around your living room floor if you like. However, Ballard condos are like Ballard rentals when it comes to pets. Make sure you check what pet restrictions development has or Fluffy and Rex might not be able to move in with you!
How many parking spaces do I get? Some condos will have none, some will be covered and some will be exposed to the elements. If you have two cars and there's only one parking space, is there room on the street for your other car. Alternatively, are there additional parking spaces that you can rent from one of the other owners?
Many Ballard condo buyers use FHA loans for financing because of the low down payment required (3.5%). However, the development must be FHA-approved and meet strict requirements for the maximum number of units that are rented and for the percentage of owners that are behind on their HOA dues. So don’t fall in love with that Ballard condo until you check whether it’s FHA-approved first.
A Ballard condo can be a great buy but make sure to do your home work!