Top ten things to ask when buying a townhome

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Townhome living has its advantages. You don’t have to weed the garden, shovel snow, or worry over exterior maintenance issues. But townhome living isn’t for everyone. Some people find living in close proximity to others and abiding by community rules can be a challenge. Be sure before you buy a townhome to learn as much as you can about the community so you know not only if it’s a good financial investment but also if it will be a good lifestyle fit for you and your family. Here’s a quick list of questions to ask before buying a townhome.

1. What are the townhome association rules?

Many townhome communities include restrictions on the type and size of pets residents may have, for example. In addition, to maintain the aesthetic integrity of the community, many townhome associations have rules about what can and cannot be planted outside. Other townhome communities have guidelines regarding changes to the units. For example, you might need to obtain permission from the condo association if you’re planning certain upgrades if these impact exterior spaces (for ex: adding a deck or patio.)

Be sure to understand all rules up front to ensure the community is a good match for you.

2. How much are monthly association fees and are the following items included?

* Grounds maintenance

* Exterior maintenance

* Water

* Sewer services

* Master insurance

* Road maintenance

* Snow plowing

* Trash pick-up

* Pool/fitness center

Find out what is included in the above line items, including master insurance, exterior maintenance, etc. Also, inquire whether there are major repairs or renovations planned and what major repairs have been completed recently.

3. Is there any additional work planned within the community (for example: additional townhomes, new amenities, changes to the common areas)

Find out if all phases of the community have been completed and if not what other work is planned.

4. How much money does the association have in reserve?

It’s a good idea to find out how much money the association has in its capital reserve fund to cover additional expenses that arise. In general, the fund should contain at least 10 percent of the annual revenue budget. Otherwise there’s a higher risk of a special assessment (i.e., additional fees charged to unit owners for capital improvements).

5. Who fixes what?

Find out which repairs and maintenance issues you are responsible for and which items the association is responsible for.

6. Who manages the complex?

Find out if there is a professional management company responsible for the complex. This can cost more up front but may save money in the long run. Those who manage many complexes many have greater negotiating power for services such as lawn care.

7. How many units are currently for sale in the complex and are there any in foreclosure?

8. Is the association involved in any legal disputes?

This can be a sign of troubles within the association—and of future costs such as attorney’s fees required by the association.

9. Which are the common areas of the community and what are the rules and hours of operation for their use?

10. Where are my parking spaces and what accommodations are there for guest parking?

Additional information:

Ask to review a copy of the association's covenants, conditions & restrictions; bylaws; as well as meeting minutes for the past year. This will not only tell you about any planned special assessments and capital improvements planned but what issues have arisen in the community. It’s a good idea to have your attorney review these documents.

Talk with your lender to see which loan would be the best for a purchase within this townhome community. They’ll want to know specific information about the complex, such as how many units are owner occupied, what percentage of association fees are delinquent, etc.

Lastly, talk with people who live in the complex. Ask them what they like best and least about living there. Find out their opinion about the quality of maintenance in the association. See whether there are community activities they participate in that they’d recommend. These can be enlightening conversations!

Learning this information up front will help avoid unexpected surprises, and hopefully ensure a happy transition to townhome living.

Have a real estate question? Contact Kyle Mann to learn more about buying or selling your home in the Boston suburbs. Mann is a Realtor with Gibson Sotheby's International Realty.