Sunday, June 14, 2009

How are Condo Fees Determined?

How are Condo Fees Determined?

Monthly fees are calculated by creating a budget for the condo association. The amount each unit has to contribute to the budget is determined by multiplying the amount of the budget by the percent interest that the unit has in the association (usually found on the unit deed), then divide the result by 12 to get condo fee due each month.

The budget is made up of all the costs associated with running the association and the property. This could include master insurance, water & sewer charges, common electric, landscaping, snow removal, cleaning of the common areas, payment to a property management company, etc. What is included is really determined by the type of building, numbers of units, and by the trustees of the condo association. Smaller condo buildings such as 2-4 family conversions may not budget any funds for landscaping, cleaning or management, preferring to save money and take care of those items themselves. In larger complexes there may also be costs associated with fire systems, elevators, swimming pool maintenance, etc. There is also a portion of the budget that is given towards the reserves of the association. The reserves cover any high cost, long term maintenance items such as painting, roof replacement, re-pointing a brick exterior, etc., and also to cover any unexpected repairs/costs.

When you place an offer on a condominium there are some things that you should request from the listing agent or condo trustee. These are copies of the Master Deed, Declaration of Trust, Rules & Regulations, Budget, and the minutes from the most recent association meeting. Condo associations are required by Massachusetts law to meet at least once a year, but many smaller associations do not take notes or minutes of their meetings, so this may not be available.

The reason for reviewing the minutes of their meeting is to make sure there are no pending issues with the association, or any upcoming special assessments. Special assessment are fees charged to each unit for items not covered by the budget. This can happen if the association does not budget enough funds towards the reserve each year, or something unexpected needs to be repaired/replaced. A special assessment can be a small amount such as a couple hundred dollars, or can run into thousands of dollars. Payments on large special assessment are typically broken down over a period of months or years, but again depends on the association. If an association is well run, there should never be any large special assessments.

While on this subject, you should also ask a couple other questions.
Is the condo association involved in any pending litigation?
What is the percentage of owner/occupants in the condo complex?

Both of these could affect your chance of getting a mortgage approved for the condo. The bank usually does not want any large lawsuits pending because it could result in the association having to pay for any settlement not covered by insurance. In regard to the owner/occupancy, most mortgage companies will not finance any condo in a complex that has less than a 51% owner occupancy rate. That is, no more than 49% of the unit can be rented out. Many banks have even more strict requirements. It just make for a better condominium environment when a complex has a high number of owners actually living in their units.

Do not let any of the aforementioned issues sway you away from buying a condominium (which includes townhouses and lofts). The majority of condo associations are well run, even when self-managed. Condos are perfect for the home buyer who does not want the responsibility, or have the time to maintain the building, cut the grass, etc. They are also typically priced lower than a single family for the same amount of living area.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Multiple Offer Situations are Everywhere

Multiple offer situations are everywhere.

There are a lot of disappointed buyers out there who think we are in a market where you can offer 10% under asking price on any property. Many properties are selling for over asking price. Each property that a buyer is interested in has to be assessed individually. Of course there are still many homes out there that are still overpriced. You will see seller who think their home is worth more than comparable properties in any market.
Most of the multiple offer situations are bank-owned (REO) properties that have just come on the market. In many cases you have to see the property as soon as it comes on the market and submit an offer right away. There is no waiting until the weekend to see a "hot" property.

When making your offer you need to think about 2 things. The first is how much would this home be worth if it was in perfect condition (take to your REALTOR for help with this), and how much money would it take to do the required work? Take the value of the home and subtract the cost of getting it there and you will have the market value of the home in its current condition. Many bank-owned properties only need paint/paper and minor repairs. You then have to decide how much under (or over) that market value you want to offer.

The second thing you have to think about is how much is the property worth to you? If you like the property but it isn't your ideal home, its not going to be worth as much to you and therefore you may want to submit a lower offer. But when your offer gets beat out by another buyer don't say you wish you made a higher offer. In most cases you only get one chance to make an offer on a bank-owned property, and the highest/best offer will be accepted. Occasionally in a multiple offer situation where all or most of the offers are around the same price the seller (bank) will come back to all buyers and ask for their "final and best offer". This is a form of counter offer where you get a chance to up your offer one last time (or leave it where it is).

Make sure that you have a mortgage pre-approval letter in hand before you make an offer. You will not have time to call up your mortgage person to obtain one, and your offer will not even be considered without it.

You really need to work closely with your REALTOR to successfully get through a multiple offer situation. Even with all these considerations you may still get beat out by another buyer who really, really wants the property. Don't dwell on it...just move on. It happens. Just remember that the price in your offer is the main deciding factor with any seller. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009



Record low mortgage interest rates boosted pending home sales for the third consecutive month, with some benefit now from the first-time buyer tax credit, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in April, rose 6.7 percent to 90.3 from a reading of 84.6 in March, and is 3.2 percent above April 2008 when it was 87.5.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said buyers are responding to very favorable market conditions. “Housing affordability conditions have been at historic highs, but now the $8,000 first-time buyer tax credit is beginning to impact the market,” he said. “Since first-time buyers must finalize their purchase by November 30 to get the credit, we expect greater activity in the months ahead, and that should spark more sales by repeat buyers.”

The Pending Home Sales Index in the Northeast shot up 32.6 percent to 78.9 in April and is 0.8 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest the index rose 9.8 percent to 90.4 and is 11.1 percent above April 2008. The index in the South slipped 0.2 percent to 93.0 in April but is 3.5 percent higher than a year ago. In the West the index rose 1.8 percent to 94.8 but is 2.9 percent below April 2008.

NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said there are numerous buyer assistance programs around the country. “Some states are offering bridge loans that allow first-time buyers to use the tax credit for downpayment and closing costs, but there are many other local government and nonprofit programs available to buyers, depending on location,” he said.

“Just last week, HUD announced that qualifying buyers can use the tax credit for closing costs on FHA loans, to buy down the interest rate or make a larger downpayment. Buyers who are wondering about their options should contact a Realtor®, who can advise consumers on the housing assistance programs and resources available in a given area.”

NAR’s Housing Affordability Index is in record territory. The affordability index rose to 174.8 in April from an upwardly revised 171.9 in March, and was the second highest monthly reading on record after peaking at 176.9 in January of this year. The HAI is a broad measure of housing affordability using consistent values and assumptions over time, which examines the relationship between home prices, mortgage interest rates and family income; tracking began in 1970.

A median-income family, earning $60,900, could afford a home costing $296,800 in April with a 20 percent downpayment, assuming 25 percent of gross income is devoted to mortgage principal and interest. Affordability conditions for first-time buyers with the same income and small downpayments are roughly 80 percent of that amount. The affordable price was well above the median existing single-family home price in April, which was $169,800.

Yun cautions that the reporting sample for pending home sales is smaller than that of existing-home sales, so it is subject to greater variability. “In addition, the relationship between contracts on pending home sales and closings on existing-home sales is taking longer than in the past for several reasons,” he said. “Mortgage processing time has increased, it is taking many months to close on those homes requiring short sales with lender approval, and some sales are falling through at the last moment.”

The total number of existing-home sales is expected to improve but with dramatic local market variation in the timing of recovery. “The market has already bottomed in some areas, but this is an unusual housing cycle with some areas improving rapidly while others languish or decline,” Yun said.

See the Video Interview Below: