Some basics on buying a condo

Andrew Monroe (above) is the doorman at Symphony House on South Broad Street. Buyers pick condos because of the convenience of one-level living, and the security of a doorman.

Once you decide on a location, the next step in your search for housing is determining whether to rent or buy.

If you decide to buy, the next question is what.

A growing number of Americans are choosing condominiums, especially in urban areas. Nationally, annual purchases of condos accounted for 12 percent of total home sales over the last three years, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.

In the city of Philadelphia, condos accounted for 5.6 percent of total sales, according to data provided by Kevin Gillen, chief economist for Meyers Research and senior research fellow at Drexel University's Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation.

The basics of buying a place to live are very much alike for both single-family detached homes and condos, the experts say. Location is, of course, the primary consideration in all home purchases.

Allan Domb, president of Allan Domb Real Estate in Center City, who has been selling condos since the early 1980s, recommends that after you determine the physical and financial health of the building you hope to buy into, consider location again.

"The interior [of your unit] matters, but it can be changed," said Domb; other items on your list can't.

Mark Wade, of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors in Center City, said there are three main reasons buyers give when opting to buy a condominium: "one-level living - absence of stairs; a lack of maintenance requirements; and the security of a 24-hour front doorman."

"Many younger buyers are attracted to condos because they are so consumed with their careers that they simply don't have the time or energy for the needs of a single-family home," he said.

Many empty-nesters are looking to rid themselves of the upkeep that a larger single-family home may require, Wade said.

"The trade-off between a single-family home and a condo is usually location and size," he said.

Condo living affords buyers the opportunity "to lose up to a few thousand square feet of unused, unwanted space, or perhaps three unused bedrooms - quite a weight lifted for those looking to simplify their lives."

Dranoff Properties sales and marketing director Marianne Harris has sold and lived in condos in the city and the suburbs for most of her adult life.

Where condo living deviates from owning a single-family home is in "rules and regulations that protect the values of every condominium owner in the building," whether the property is in a luxury high-rise or a four-unit low-rise carved out of commercial building or sprawling old residential structure.

"That can mean no mat in front of your door or wreaths on it," Harris said. "You are limited on what you can do."

"The ease of condo living is pitted against the limited time the typical homeowner has to spend on maintenance," she said. "The property-management firm takes care of it all, in return for the condo fees."

Fees are determined by an annual budget that is "based on experience," Harris said. Owners are assessed on the percentage of interest in the building - meaning the size of the unit.

"An owner of a four-bedroom condo would pay higher fees than someone who owns a one-bedroom," she said.

The level of service provided determines the size of the budget, with the luxury high-rise providing more than the four-unit building.

"I own a condo/townhouse in Chesterbrook that I bought when I was single, and pay $250 in fees a month - mostly for exterior maintenance and making sure no one parks in someone else's space," Harris said.

Center City condos have higher fees typically, and a buyer needs to check the level of service covered by them, she said.

Ask to see the budget before you buy, Harris said, and for a copy of how fees have increased over time.

If the building is older, "check to see what part of the budget is devoted to reserves for things such as roof replacement or new elevators down the road," she said.

aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472@alheavens

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