Image of the front porches on a row of condominiums in historic downtown Durango, Colorado.  Behind the homes, the cliff of Smelter mountain can be seem.  The many repeating identical homes are typical row homes.

Living in a condo community has many benefits, but you should also consider that there are rules about what you can do with your residence. (Getty Images)

If you're a first-time homebuyer, you may be wondering whether owning a condominium is more advantageous than buying a town house or a conventional home with a driveway and a big backyard. Maybe you've heard condo living offers added convenience and flexibility, since the upkeep of common areas is accounted for with quarterly or monthly condo association fees. Or perhaps you're attracted to a condo rather than a town home thanks to added affordability, upscale facilities and high-tech security systems.

While there are plenty of pros and cons of condo living, before you decide whether an apartment, house or condo is the best residence choice for you, first consider these rules, restrictions and key differences.

[See: 10 Ways Millennials Are Changing Homebuying.]

What Is a condo?

A condominium is a private residence within a group of housing units owned by a family, an individual or a community. Typically, condo dwellings are adjacent to one another, or situated above or below other units, similar to apartment complexes.

How to Compare Condos, Apartments and Town Homes

The main difference between living in a condo versus an apartment is that condominiums are owned properties, while apartments are rented spaces. A condo may also be part of a smaller structure with multiple living spaces, such as a duplex or triplex. Condos can often resemble town homes and offer similar aspects of town house living, but with distinct ownership structures. For instance, many town home dwellers own the inside and exterior of their residences, while condo owners generally own only the inside of their units.

Should You Buy a Condo?

"For many people, perks like underground parking and no yardwork combined with building amenities like on-site gyms and social gatherings can be very appealing," says Kris Lindahl, a broker and owner of Kris Lindahl Real Estate in Blaine, Minnesota.

While living in a community comes with a variety of benefits, keep in mind that there are rules about what you can do with your residence. For example, while you can paint the walls inside your condo unit, the exterior is another story altogether. The condo association's rules may prevent you from painting the outside of your home, among other restrictions. On the plus side, the condo association will pay for exterior maintenance tasks, including painting, mowing the lawn and replacing broken windows or roofing.

[See: 8 Potential Headaches to Be Aware of Before Becoming a Homeowner.]

"But those conveniences do come with a cost," Lindahl says. "Association dues often run hundreds of dollars a month, or more, on top of your mortgage and taxes. You also need to be aware that associations can and do levy assessments for building upgrades and other expenses, which can run thousands of dollars."

That said, if you prioritize perks and amenities, including having all routine maintenance tasks (think: trash collection) accounted for in your association dues, you may not view the fees as a major drawback. Lindahl suggests carefully reviewing association documents, which may disclose budget reserves and upcoming assessments, prior to closing the deal on a condo.



Common Misconceptions and Limitations of Condos

Before you commit to a condo, you'll also want to factor in common rules and restrictions into the decision-making process. Keep these limitations and disadvantages in mind:

There are strict pet rules. If you're thinking of getting a dog, remember there may be limitations set by your residential community. "Many associations have size, weight and number limits for pets, or even breed restrictions," Lindahl says. He also recommends taking note of the condo's soundproofing in place before you commit. "You may love dogs, but hearing your neighbor's bark at night can be very frustrating. And if it's your dog that gets anxious when you're away and barks, you can end up with fines or even be forced to find him a new home if the neighbors complain too often."

Multiple pets could be problematic occasionally. "I had a client who had to get a special letter permitting an extra cat to live in the apartment as the house rules stated that only one four-legged animal may reside in the apartment," says Alex Lavrenov, an agent with Warburg Realty in New York City. He adds that sometimes a condo association will even ask for updated vet records and registrations.

You'll need to pay for homeowners insurance. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you won't need homeowners insurance as a condo owner. "The (condo) building maintains its own insurance, but it doesn't cover what's in the unit. You have to maintain insurance for damage to your unit's contents and certain fixtures. You are also responsible if your unit is the cause of damage to another unit," says Michael Xylas, a co-partner in charge of the residential and banking real estate departments at Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson, LLP, a law firm in New York City.

You can expect taxes to rise. "Another thing that must be considered is the real estate tax status of the condo unit," Xylas says. "Some have enjoyed the benefits of tax exemptions and abatements that artificially lowered the unit owner's tax bill."

If that happens, the taxes are kept low for 10 or 15 years, and then they escalate over time, Xylas says. Stay prepared by reading the fine print and factoring in higher future taxes into your purchasing decision.

[See: 7 Things First-Time Homebuyers Wish They'd Known.]

You'll need to deal with neighbors. A lack of privacy can be an issue as a condo dweller, Lavrenov says. With many condos, "all that really separates the individual owners are walls and doors."

As Lindahl puts it, "Some condo owners love the social aspect of living close to your neighbors, but sharing common spaces like hallways, elevators and community rooms can be challenging if you don't get along."


The Best Apps for House Hunting

Browse for homes – and maybe even close a deal.

Woman on smartphone

(Getty Images)

Luckily for homebuyers, house hunting apps are growing in number and sophistication. As the online real estate marketing industry becomes more competitive, mobile apps are getting better at helping consumers find accurate housing information while offering features to help users narrow down their search. Read on for some of the most popular and helpful apps to use when searching for your next house. All apps are available on both iOS and Android.

Updated on Nov. 6, 2019: This slideshow was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Zillow

Zillow

(Courtesy of Zillow)

This is the most downloaded real estate app for both Apple and Android phones, and it includes Zillow's signature map and home value estimate tools. With more than 100 million homes in its database, Zillow's app is the most popular method for users to explore the platform. In fact, Zillow reports that more than two-thirds of its usage takes place on a mobile device, jumping to more than three-quarters on the weekends.

Best feature: The app’s dashboard includes a Your Home tab that allows you to store your property’s information and see how its value estimate changes over time.

Pro: You have the option to filter your saved searches by property listings that have recently changed, so you don’t have to scroll far to see if a house's asking price dropped.

Con: As much as you may want it to be, the Zillow Zestimate isn’t a guarantee of what your home will sell for.

Realtor.com Real Estate Search

Realtor.com Real Estate Search

(Courtesy of Realtor.com)

Filters on this app's search function allow you to include specific details on your must-have list, such as multiple floors, a fireplace, central air and even community swimming pools or security features.

Best feature: With the Sign Snap feature, you can take a photo of a real estate sign you see in a neighborhood and get details about the property right away.

Pro: You have the option to connect with a real estate agent who can represent you as the buyer in a deal, but you can also see the contact information of the listing agent if you want to talk to him or her directly.

Con: The more specific filters rely on listing agents using the right keywords, so if you’re struggling to find everything you want in a house, you may have to widen your search and keep an eye out for details in listing photos.

Trulia

Trulia

Fascia and Ridge of Gable Roof

(Getty Images)

Trulia’s app gives users a desktop-like experience in a mobile platform, with a focus on design that makes it easy to use.

Best feature: Trulia polls its online users who live in specific neighborhoods and includes the results on the app. For example, you might find that 93% of one neighborhood's respondents feel comfortable walking alone at night or that 76% say kids play outside regularly.

Pros: On each property profile, Trulia lists local legal protections, noting whether there is legislation in the area to protect against discrimination for gender identity or sexual orientation in employment, housing or public accommodations.

Cons: On any property profile, you’re prompted to call or email an agent about the property. While this is convenient if you’re serious about buying but don’t have an agent, it can get in the way if you’re just browsing.

Redfin Real Estate

Redfin Real Estate

Stock image of someone holding a smart phone.

(Getty Images)

Since Redfin utilizes an out-of-the-box business model with agents and professionals specializing in different steps of the homebuying and selling process, the company’s app serves as a way for users and Redfin agents to communicate. A map indicates which properties are listed by Redfin or another broker and also notes homes that are likely to sell fast through its Hot Homes feature.

Best feature: You can schedule a tour with a Redfin agent directly through the app. The app even lists the next available tour time.

Pro: You can click the heart symbol to keep a property you like on your radar, and you can also nix properties so they don’t keep popping up in searches.

Con: If you don’t live in one of the 80 markets where Redfin has agents, the app offers local listing information pulled from the MLS, but you won't be able to utilize the features that connect you with Redfin agents.

Homesnap Real Estate & Rentals

Homesnap Real Estate & Rentals

(Courtesy of Homesnap)

Homesnap gives house hunters the reins with this app. A signature feature allows users to take a photo of a home, and the app will identify the property and provide details about it from the local multiple listing service or public records.

Best feature: The beginning of each property profile details the property history, including previous sale prices and when it last went on market.

Pro: Each home has a section that allows you to determine your commute route and time and see both map and street views of the property.

Con: The property details are in list form, which you can expand to see everything from the home's architectural style to number of bathrooms and homeowners association fees. The depth of information is helpful, but long lists can make it easy to lose focus and miss key criteria.

Homes.com

Homes.com

Woman on her phone

(Getty Images)

On this app, you can search based on your needs and desires, including buying versus renting, home value information for properties on the market and what neighborhoods are ideal based on your preferred commute time.

Best feature: An exclamation point in the corner of a property profile lets you know that it’s a new listing, which can help you move quickly to avoid competition with other buyers.

Pro: If you'd like to get in touch with a local agent, the bottom of a property's profile often lists more than one option, making it easier for you to shop around for the right agent.

Con: While Homes.com has much of the same property information as other house hunting platforms, the app doesn't offer much in the way of neighborhood information.

Estately Real Estate

Estately Real Estate

Mature businesswoman at cafe

(Getty Images)

Estately aims to connect consumers with the right local real estate agent, and its app offers multiple ways to get in touch with agents.

Best feature: Users can click on icons on property profiles for quick information on taxes, utilities, appliances, schools and more. Profiles also include scores on things like area noise pollution and internet speed – details that aren’t always considered but could be deal-breakers.

Pro: The app encourages you to see houses in person, with multiple opportunities on a property profile to schedule a day and time to visit.

Con: Estately only covers markets in 40 states, so those looking for homes in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky and several others are out of luck.

Century 21 Local

Century 21 Local

(Courtesy of Century 21)

A longstanding national brokerage, Century 21 provides consumers with access to home listing information pulled from the local multiple listing services. The app can particularly come in handy if you plan to use a Century 21 agent, as that’s who you'll be in touch with if you would like to inquire more about a property.

Best feature: The app provides a notes section for every property, so you can keep track of your impressions as you compare homes.

Pro: If you start searching for homes in a different city, information about the local Century 21 brokerage you should contact changes accordingly, although you can still see listings from brokerages outside Century 21.

Con: This app pulls from Zillow to provide home value estimates, but occasionally lists "unavailable" even if the property has a Zestimate available on Zillow.

The best apps for house hunting include:

The best apps for house hunting include:

A row of detached homes in an idyllic community in Fredericksburg, Virginia

(Getty Images)

  • Zillow.
  • Realtor.com Real Estate Search.
  • Trulia.
  • Redfin Real Estate.
  • Homesnap Real Estate & Rentals.
  • Homes.com.
  • Estately Real Estate.
  • Century 21 Local.

Read More

Tags: real estate, housing market, new home sales, pending home sales, existing home sales, home prices


Geoff Williams has been a contributor to U.S. News and World Report since 2013, writing about a variety of personal finance topics, from insurance and spending strategies to small business and tax-filing tips.

Williams got his start working in entertainment reporting in 1993, as an associate editor at "BOP," a teen entertainment magazine, and freelancing for publications, including Entertainment Weekly. He later moved to Ohio and worked for several years as a part-time features reporter at The Cincinnati Post and continued freelancing. His articles have been featured in outlets such as Life magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, Cincinnati Magazine and Ohio Magazine.

For the past 15 years, Williams has specialized in personal finance and small business issues. His articles on personal finance and business have appeared in CNNMoney.com, The Washington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes.com and American Express OPEN Forum. Williams is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America's Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed It Forever" and "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America"

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Williams lives in Loveland, Ohio, with his two teenage daughters and is a graduate of Indiana University. To learn more about Geoff Williams, you can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow his Twitter page.

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