Spring House Hunt

Questions to ask when buying a condo

You’re not just buying a property with a condo, you’re buying into an association.

You’re not just buying a property with a condo, you’re buying into an association. David L. Ryan / Globe Staff Photo

Buying a condo in a metropolitan area like Greater Boston can offer homebuyers plenty of amenities, including easy access to a city’s restaurants, shops, entertainment, and more.

But besides the benefits of living in a city, condos can offer homebuyers another perk: the convenience of a property manager.

“There’s usually a management company, an association, or a board of trustees that oversees the property,’’ said Micheal DiMella, managing partner of Charlesgate Realty Group and past president of the Greater Boston Association of Realtors. These associations typically assume responsibility for many property management tasks that single-family homeowners have to take on themselves, such as shoveling snowy driveways, landscaping, and more.


“The benefits vary based on the building or the association,’’ said DiMella. “What condo owners typically get is a common area, snow removal, roof repairs, siding repairs, or maintenance for a leak.’’

In addition to taking care of the property, the association is responsible for maintaining the building’s finances. Because the financial agreement affects every unit that an association oversees, DiMella urges prospective condo buyers to ask questions to make sure they trust the organization.

“The buyers should take some time to explore the financial arrangement of the building, not just the unit,’’ said DiMella. “Remember you’re buying into an association and into an entire building, not just a single [condo].’’

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Check out the safest communities in Massachusetts

The safest towns in Massachusetts

Home security and safety company SafeWise recently compiled a list of the u201c100 Safest Cities in America.u2019u2019 SafeWise reviewed the most recent crime statistics from the FBI and compared the data to each communityu2019s public safety, public health, and educational information. Check out the Massachusetts communities that received top marks for safety. BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters

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Holliston (83/100): Population: 14,199. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.99. Property Crimes per 1,000: 5.28. SafeWise credits Holliston with expanding its social services, including Holliston Youth and Family Services, to address its growing population. cmh2315fl/Flickr

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Hopkinton (78/100): Population: 15,689. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.19. Property Crimes per 1,000: 5.92. Every year, runners flock to Hopkinton as the Boston Marathon gets started. SafeWise also praised Hopkinton for its efforts to protect residentsu2019 health and wellness, including anonymous mental health screenings. The Boston Globe

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Holden (67/100): Population: 17,775. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.45. Property Crimes per 1,000: 5.40. SafeWise highlighted Holdenu2019s conservation and public safety awareness efforts, including the u201cHolden Fire Explorer Programu2019u2019 that educates future firefighters. Doug Kerr/Flickr

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Westford (64/100): Population: 23,196. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.60. Property Crimes per 1,000: 5.47. This Lowell suburb has instituted community safety initiatives that include a drop box for prescription drugs and bicycle and pedestrian safety programs. Doug Kerr/Flickr

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Bedford (57/100). Population: 13,947. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.43. Property Crimes per 1,000: 5.31. Bedford is located near Concord and Lexington. SafeWise praised the town for its community offerings, including the Bedford Center for the Arts. John Blanding/The Boston Globe

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Weston (56/100). Population: 11,893. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.25. Property Crimes per 1,000: 5.47. Weston, the Commonwealthu2019s wealthiest community, was praised by SafeWise for its commitment to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent over five years. Justin Saglio for The Boston Globe

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Medfield (55/100). Population: 12,309. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.97. Property Crimes per 1,000: 4.71. Medfield won accolades from SafeWise for the u201cMedfield Youth Outreach Program,u2019u2019 an initiative that provides free counseling and crisis intervention to families in need. The Boston Globe

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Franklin (51/100). Population: 32,633. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.21. Property Crimes per 1,000: 5.24. Franklinu2019s library still has books donated by founding father Benjamin Franklin, the townu2019s namesake. SafeWise highlighted the town councilu2019s initiatives to educate and support senior citizens. cmh2315fl/Flickr

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Sudbury (45/100). Population: 18,315. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.00. Property Crimes per 1,000: 5.13. SafeWise highlighted Sudburyu2019s Teen Center as a place where young people can enjoy supervised recreational activities. Doug Kerr/Flickr

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Norton (43/100). Population: 19,414. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.41. Property Crimes per 1,000: 4.64. As host of the Deutsche Bank Championship Golf Tournament, Norton has experience in addressing public safety. The community has a program to teach residents about disaster response preparedness, including basic search and rescue techniques. Doug Kerr/Flickr

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Sharon (18/100). Population: 17,935. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.06. Property Crimes per 1,000: 4.24. Home to scenic trails and settings including Lake Massapoag, SafeWise praised Sharonu2019s conservation efforts, which pair with the townu2019s safety and community planning efforts. John Tlumacki /The Boston Globe

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Duxbury (16/100). Population: 15,244. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.13. Property Crimes per 1,000: 3.87. Duxbury is a coastal community within commuting distance to Boston. According to SafeWise, Duxbury also saw a decrease in violent crime and property crime last year. Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

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Clinton (9/100). Population: 13,721. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.73. Property Crimes per 1,000: 2.91. In addition to hosting the oldest, still-actively used baseball field in the world, Clinton also offers early childhood education, adult education courses, and English language courses for its residents. Doug Kerr/Flickr

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Norfolk (7/100). Population: 11,663. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.00. Property Crimes per 1,000: 3.52. Norfolk, which once housed figures from the Revolutionary War including George Washington, reported no violent crimes in 2013. Doug Kerr/Flickr

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Wayland (6/100). Population: 13,411. Violent Crimes per 1,000: 0.37. Property Crimes per 1,000: 3.13. Wayland, home to the Commonwealthu2019s first public library, earned its way onto SafeWiseu2019s rankings with its free fire education programs, including a preschool program and a babysitting course. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

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Here are the questions DiMella recommends condo-buyers ask before making an offer:

What is the association’s budget?

DiMella encourages prospective buyers to look at the condo association’s financial records to make sure it is operating in the black.

“Look at the amount in the association’s reserves,’’ said DiMella. “Is money being saved up over time for capital projects like a new boiler or a roof?…It’s important to understand the financial situation of the association.’’


What are the most recent repairs?

What about upcoming ones? DiMella encourages prospective condo buyers to gain insight into what improvement projects need to happen to the property and which ones have already taken place.

“Understand what is happening with the physical property,’’ he said. “How well has the building been maintained? And find out if there are upcoming expenses to be expected.’’

What’s the owner-occupancy rate?

Will you be neighbors with fellow property owners or tenants who are renting? If there are tenants, what are the terms of their lease? Getting a sense of how much of the property is owner occupied is not only important for homeowners to understand who their neighbors will be; it can also impact buyers’ ability to get a loan.

“Banks view that as higher risk if there are more tenants who live in the building than owners,’’ he said. “For lenders, the thought process is owner-occupied majority buildings are more stable ownership groups, versus higher percentage of owners who don’t live in the building.’’

What does the condo fee cover?

Viewing an association’s budget is a helpful way to understand what exactly is covered in the monthly condo fee. DiMella points out that fees can vary widely across associations because each one can offer a different set of benefits.


“Maybe one has an elevator, and that has a lot of expenses,’’ said DiMella. “Another may have other services included [in the fee] like a gym, parking, snow removal, or landscaping.’’

This is another reason to review an association’s budget, because it can help a prospective buyer understand if it is operating in the black or if fees may need to be adjusted for inflation.

Are there any restrictions in the bylaws?

DiMella cautions that some associations may have specific rules written into their bylaws that could impact buyers’ plans for the desired units.

“Some buildings have rental restrictions that impact whether the owner can rent the unit if they moved out,’’ he said. “There could also be home improvement restrictions.’’

Sometimes the number or types of pets can also be restricted by an association’s bylaws. DiMella encourages buyers with animal companions to understand what is and is not allowed by the condo’s rules.

After the condo is purchased, DiMella says the homeowners should stay invested in the condo’s business decisions.

“I recommend buyers get involved in the association, especially if it’s a larger building,’’ said DiMella. This includes attending condo meetings or joining the board of trustees.

“Don’t just move in and think everything is going to happen for you,’’ he said. “Being involved with an association is important to making it a well-managed building.’’


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