You’re out looking at condos, perhaps for the first time. Once you’ve evaluated the neighborhood and the building of a place, it’s time to step inside the actual unit you’re interested in.
When you walk into the unit, how do you feel? While you don’t need to immediately have a “Wow, this is great!” sensation, if there’s something you really don’t like, that should be a warning sign. Only you know what you need in terms of shape, layout, and light — but if something doesn’t have it, it doesn’t have it.
That said, don’t be fooled by the current owner’s decorating job. You may not like the color of the paint or the style of the furniture. But try to look past that — remember that if you buy the place, you’ll re-paint and you’ll decorate to your own taste. Just be sure that all the major features, such as the layout, fixtures, windows, appliances and countertops are what you need.
Check the appliances. Even if you don’t mind old appliances, remember that the older they are, the more likely they’ll need replacing when you’re living in the unit. This is not a deal-breaker one way or the other, but a 15-year-old dishwasher is likely to break in the next few years. So keep that in mind.
Check the counters, floors, carpets and fixtures. Again, they don’t need to be brand new or pristine, but a 10-year-old laminate kitchen countertop will need to be replaced sooner rather than later. And if you like plush carpets and the current owners have thin, office-type carpeting, are you willing to compromise on this? Or, do you have the budget to put in new carpet? And if you like wood floors, is there is a corner of the carpeting that could be lifted up to see the condition of the floor underneath?Remember that a lot of things can be redone, but redoing everything is a budget-buster. For example, if you don’t love the layout of a place, but moving a wall would make it perfect, you might be able to handle it. But if you also want to turn a walk-in closet into a half-bath, totally re-tile the kitchen and buy all new appliances… that’ s probably stretching it.
Listen. Can you hear traffic or trains from the unit? Can you hear the neighbors through the walls or ceiling? Is it on a busy or boisterous street? Is it close to a hospital, meaning there will be ambulances screaming by at all hours? Does that bother you? And remember that the way a place sounds will vary by time of day: a place near the freeway will be much noisier on Monday during rush hour than on Sunday during brunch.
Don’t forget to look at everything that comes with the place. If the unit comes with a parking spot, or has a communal garage or includes a shared roof deck or a storage unit, look at each of these things. You’ll want to be sure that what you’re getting is what you want — after all, a three-by-three-foot storage locker is far different than an eight-by-eight-foot storage room.
If you’re still interested, go back to the unit and start looking at the ceilings and walls. Do you see any blotches on the ceiling that could indicate past or current water damage? If so, make sure to learn more. Also, do you see cracks in the walls? This could just be aging paint, or the natural result of settling — or it could be an indication that the unit is structurally unsound. While something like this won’t be resolved during the first visit, file it away in case you decide you’re interested. You’ll eventually need to have these potential issues professionally inspected.
Talk to the listing agent. Ask about the Association. Ask how much money the Association has in reserves, and if there are any anticipated special assessments. Ask how long the unit has been on the market to get a sense of how interested others are in the place — and if it’s been on the market a while, consider why. Also, now is the time to ask any other questions you have about the unit and building.
After you leave, talk with your real estate agent. Once you’ve been searching for a while you’ll have a good sense of whether what you just saw was valued at a fair price. If it seemed far more or less expensive than you would have expected, figure out why. Your agent will have some insights on this. And, if the place was listed far too high, your agent may be able to inquire discretely with the listings agent about whether the sellers are flexible.
Regardless of how interested you are, if you’re searching with a spouse or significant other, spend some time alone talking before you decide to make an offer. Often, it’s best to take a day to think on it, and to go back and visit a second time. Ask yourself not just if you could see yourself living in the condo, but if you’d be thrilled to live there. If you’re going to buy a place, you deserve no less.