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Buying a Condo in Florida

By - 2012

A few days ago we were in the process of buying a condo in Florida. We had already written checks for the contract deposit and the application fees for both the condo association and the master association for the neighborhood. Then we saw the rules...

Lesson number one if you are buying a condo in Florida; Get as much information as you can before you make an offer. As it turns out in our case, two cats would not be allowed (and we would move before giving away our babies), and my brother could not even visit unless he bought a new car (no pickup trucks allowed). In the end we got our money back, but getting it all back was just a bit of luck, as I will explain.

It is common for buyers to make an offer and at the same time apply for approval to the condo association. In this case there was also a master association for the neighborhood in which the development was located. They each collect dues ($800 quarterly in the case of the first, and $240 annually for the other). That was reasonable for the area, and meant we had a couple swimming pools we could use, as well as a lake stocked with fish (although I don't fish). The applications cost $100 and $115, and are non-refundable for any reason.

So after we made the offer and wrote three checks (the two applications and the contract deposit), we started to look over the documents which were provided. Upon seeing some rules we didn't want to live with, we were ready to get out of the deal. Fortunately in Florida you have three days after receiving the condo documents to cancel the contract if you do not like what you see. Of course, by then the application fees could be lost. We decided to void the contract on day three, so I figured we were out $215.

As it turned out, the real estate agent we were working with had not yet given the applications to the associations because of a change in her schedule. Pure luck, but it saved us some cash. She returned our checks.

Now, for some specific tips, in case you are considering buying a condo in Florida;

1. Resolve the big issues before signing anything. After that deal we started calling associations directly to see if our cats would be allowed--before we even went to look at a property. If having a truck is important to you, call and ask if it is allowed. It is tough to get the phone numbers at times, but you can look at the listing for the development name and search online for that plus "association." If you have to, call the listing agent (or the one you are working with) to get a phone number of someone who can answer your questions. You can waste a lot of time looking at places and getting excited, just to discover that it won't work for you, so check before you look.

2. Unless there is some reason you can't do it, wait until you have an inspection to turn in your condo association or other applications. There is no point in spending the money to get approved if the inspection finds massive mold and squelches the deal.

3. Look at the condo financial statements carefully. There should be healthy reserves for replacing roofs, pools and such. The association for the condo we made the offer on had more than $3,400 in reserve for each unit in the complex, and had a schedule showing the expected lifespan for each item along with the reserves already banked for that item.

4. Verify the amount you will be paying in dues with the association. The number in the listing information is often a guess. One condo complex we like has listings showing dues ranging from $800 per quarter to $990 per quarter. I called and discovered that they are $840, a figure which only one of five listings got right.

5. Ask about special assessments. Ask if there are any special assessments at the moment and whether there are any coming soon. They may not be able to answer the latter, but it can't hurt to ask. Be aware too that if reserves are low or if dues are delinquent for more than 10% of the units, there may be a need soon for either higher dues or an assessment.

6. Consider what is included in the dues. We have thus far seen condo dues that range from $200 per month to as high as $850 per month. The latter are common if there is use of a golf course included, or other high-end amenities. But in the range we want (below $350) there are differences in what's included as well. Some places include water, sewer and even cable, which makes $350 per month more reasonable than a place which charges only $300 but doesn't have these inclusions.

7. Ask about rental rules. If you are buying a condo in Florida for seasonal use, you might want to rent it out when you are not there. Be sure that is allowed, and what the rules are. Some developments only allow owners to rent their places out after they have owned them for a year, and others limit how many renters you can have each year.

Watch the home page of this site for more about buying a condo in Florida. As we continue our search I will be adding pages and advice.

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Houses Under Fifty Thousand | Buying a Condo in Florida