Condos are the real estate choice of the hip young professional. But when your real estate agent is showing you around to some condos, you may find yourself getting confused. You thought that a buying a condo would be the same as buying a house, except your house would look like an apartment, so what's all the nonsense about condo fees and condo associations? Condo associations are a peculiarity of life in condo developments, so if you're going to buy into one, you need to know all about them.
If you've lived in a planned suburban housing development with a homeowner's association, you won't find living in a building with a condo association all that different. Condo associations and homeowners' associations were created to preserve the quality of life in the housing development, whether it was built by an experienced condominium developer or a detached home developer. If you want to live in the community, you have to agree to abide by the rules set out by the condo or homeowners' association.
So what sort of rules will the condo association come up with? They might make a rule to preserve the homogeneous aesthetic of the condo building by forbidding you to replace or repaint your door (in a high rise style building) or by dictating what colors you may paint your home (in a town home style development). The condo association will also be in charge of coming up with the terms under which residents and visitors can use common amenities, like rooftop gardens, swimming pools, or parking garages.
The important thing when looking at a condo, is to be aware of what rules you will have to follow. Don't fall in love with a unit of a condo building only to find out that you cannot have guests in the building after 8pm or that you won't be able to have a barbecue on the roof. It's important that you believe in their rules rather than just submitting to them, because you will be paying a monthly fee to the condo association to support them and run the common areas.
If you really can't find anything in the MLS that you like better than the building with strict rules you don't agree with, there is an option. After the building is fully sold, the developers usually turn the running of the condo association over to the residents. As a resident, you will have a vote and an opportunity to contribute to the association's plans and rules. You can participate and try to change things from the inside. Though there's no guarantee this will work if the other residents are living there precisely because of the rules, so get to know the neighbors first.