By Courtney Ronan
Condominiums are hot property right now. While you'll find plenty of homeowners who "pooh-pooh" the idea of semi-communal living with strangers in a high-rise, just as many proponents of condo living are flocking to the newest and most exclusive properties to sign up before the construction dust even settles. Take Dallas, for example, where a myriad of new condominium complexes have been built throughout the city's Uptown/Turtle Creek neighborhood, a lush, green district commanding some of Dallas' highest prices. Properties such as The Mansion Residences, the nearly finished Mayfair, the legendary 3525 Turtle Creek, and the new Wyndermere have no problem attracting rosters of the city's most notable families, Dallas' most successful movers and shakers and the names that appear in society columns on a weekly basis.
So why would people with such big bank accounts opt for a condo instead of a large, sprawling home on a piece of beautifully landscaped property? For starters, newly constructed condominium complexes are aggressively advertising themselves, aligning themselves with savvy public relations firms and successfully creating an aura of exclusivity that attracts the curious and the serious to consider the advantages of condominium living.
And for those of us -- OK, most of us -- who will never find our names in a society column the night after we graced a restaurant with our presence, condos are a good choice, too. While a luxury high-rise might be a stretch for many of us, condos of all other sizes and prices are an attractive option for professional singles, couples and even families. The number of families who have attained the American dream of single-family homeownership is higher than ever, but it's still a stretch for some of us. Condominiums are an excellent middle-of-the-road form of housing. A condo represents that you've graduated from the joys of apartment life (often associated with just-graduated twentysomethings, although apartments -- particularly luxury apartments -- are attracting residents of all ages for the convenience and amenities they provide, and they remain probably the best option for professionals who find themselves transferred on a fairly frequent basis). A condo represents, whether erroneously or not, that you've grown up and decided to settle down with your transition from the renters' the buyers' market. But a single-family home is either a bit much for your budget or your time; after all, a house requires maintenance inside and out. In short, a house requires time, and few of us have that these days.
But it's important to remember that buying a condo isn't the same as buying a house. Condo life won't afford you the same liberties as life in a house. If you own a house and feel like building a new room onto the back for your home office, great. Who's stopping you? If you own a condo, well, you're all in this together. You've got other residents' needs to consider. You're not only forbidden to start building on to your unit, but chances are good you're probably sharing walls with your next-door neighbor, and well, he probably wouldn't look too kindly on it. So "owning" a condo means you own your possessions inside of it and to a certain extent, the floor and ceiling. But you don't own the walls. You share them and must make concessions because of that fact.
You're usually entitled to paint those interior walls, but as far as the outside of your condo, you're usually forbidden from planting trees, shrubbery, a garden, etc., or from painting your unit. After all, that's the purpose of joining a condo owners' association.
A condo owners' association is another fact of life when you choose this form of housing. And while you need to research all of the association's terms and dues before you commit to a unit, a well-run association provides considerable convenience for residents. Association fees, which might seem steep at first, go toward outside maintenance of your unit and your neighbors', as well as homeowners' insurance, trash pick-up and outdoor landscaping. You might find yourself wavering from the idea of moving into a condo once you're told the monthly dues, but it's very likely you would have spent that much (and perhaps even more) performing indoor and outdoor maintenance on a house. Condominiums remove the inconvenience of having to flip through the Yellow Pages and flip a coin to find contractors who may or may not correct the maintenance problem on your hands ... and they never happen one at a time.
Considering that a well-run condo owners' association is maintaining your property and keeping it attractive to passers-by, your property value should remain high over time, shouldn't it? In many cases, yes. Condos often appreciate in value, sometimes exceeding single-family home values in some areas of the United States. That could certainly be the case in Dallas, where new construction "deals" in some luxury condominium complexes begin at $225,000. Consider that many of these buildings offer such conveniences as exercise facilities, laundry services, underground garage parking and easy access to the Central Business District, and it's easy to see why values increase quickly and significantly.
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