Condo inspections are very similar to an inspection of a single-family home, but with a few differences. To be clear, a condominium is a legal definition of a property, and not an actual building type. A condo can look like an apartment, look like a house, or be somewhere in between.
The great part about buying a typical condo is that it usually requires less maintenance. When repairs to common areas are necessary, the cost responsibility is usually divided up among individual owners. The HOA is usually responsible for handling maintenance outside your unit’s walls. Of course, these costs still get passed on to owners via special assessments.
However, there are many potential problems that can occur within the walls of your unit. The responsibility for the electrical, plumbing, heating, cooling, and appliances within your unit is often on the individual unit owner.
This makes the question of whether you need a condo inspection or not a no-brainer. While condos can be more affordable than houses, they still can have costly problems if you don’t pay attention.
Every HOA has what is known as the CC&Rs, which stands for the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions. These documents explain the rules of the HOA. They also explain what items are covered by the HOA and what items are not.
Every HOA acts differently and there are no two alike. We have compiled a list of questions we recommend bringing up with your agent when looking at buying a condo.
This list is not all-inclusive due to the variances of different HOAs, but it’s a good list to get a conversation started:
Is water and/or hot water provided by the HOA?
Who is responsible for the maintenance, painting, and replacement of the exterior siding material (Stucco, wood, vinyl, brick, block, tile, etc.) and the roof?
Who is responsible for the maintenance and replacement of the doors – exterior doors, windows, and shutters?
Is any aspect of the heating or cooling system controlled by the HOA?
Who is responsible for the plumbing running through the unit? (Both fresh water in and sewage out)
If a pipe breaks who is responsible for the water damage to the unit?
Who is responsible for repairs and maintenance in Common Areas only shared by two units, such as porches and patios?
Exterior Condo Items
It is important for condo buyers to understand who is responsible for the maintenance, painting, and replacement of the exterior cladding materials. This includes any Stucco, wood, vinyl, brick, block, tile, etc on the building. Who is responsible for the maintenance and replacement of the roof? Who is responsible for the maintenance and replacement of the doors and windows?
In most HOAs, exterior cladding materials and the roof are covered by the HOA, though sometimes exceptions can apply. If a condo is completely detached from any other unit, the owner is generally responsible for the exterior. When it comes to doors and windows, we have found it can be either way. In some buildings, they are the responsibility of the individual unit owners while in other buildings they are the responsibility of the HOA. It is important to ask the HOA before buying a condo to know who is ultimately responsible. For example, some older builders have single-pane windows, and you will want to know if you are allowed to upgrade to dual-pane windows.
Plumbing and Condos
It is important to understand who is responsible for the plumbing running through the building and individual units. Ask about both incoming water and the sewerage going out. Usually, the HOA is responsible for pipes in the walls while the owner is responsible for any pipes outside of the walls. This responsibility includes valves, water fixtures, and faucets. Though if an individual homeowner has previously remodeled the kitchen or bathroom, pipes may have been moved, bringing who is responsible into question.
Condo Water Heaters
In about half of the condos we inspect, each unit has its own water heater. These water heaters are the responsibility of each individual unit owner. This includes any damage caused by a water heater malfunction. In the other half of the condos we inspect, the HOA owns water boilers systems that heat the water for the individual units. Many times if the individual unit owners the water heater, the heater is near the unit. However, we have found individual water heaters in the garages of buildings and occasionally on the roof of the building. It is of the utmost importance the inspector is granted access to any garage or roof areas where the unit’s individual water heater is located. If the HOA owns the water heater, it is important to understand that the individual unit owners have no control over the functionality of the water heating system.
Condo Heating and Cooling Systems
The biggest variable between different condo buildings is how the heating and cooling system works. Most of the single-family homes we inspect have a gas furnace with an electric air conditioner. With a condo, we see a wide variety of systems, from gas furnaces, to heat pumps, small electric heaters, and radiant heating systems to systems heated and cooled by water. Many times these components are owned and controlled by the individual unit owner, but sometimes we find a system that is controlled and owned by the HOA. It is important to understand how your unit is heated and cooled. Many systems may not heat or cool as quickly as a system in a single-family home.
If the individual unit owner owns the system, usually only a small part of the system is in the unit itself. Often there is a condenser (also called a compressor) located somewhere in the building. Many times we find the unit on the roof. It is of the utmost importance the inspector is granted access to any roof areas where the unit’s individual heating/cooling units may be located.
Condo Balconies, Porches, and Patios
In most buildings, balconies and porches are considered part of the HOA. However, this is not the case in every building. Additionally, balconies and porches may be owned by the HOA, but in poor condition, because the previous owner never made the HOA aware.
Why A Condo Inspection is Important
With so many items in a condo potentially being covered by the HOA, it is still imperative a buyer get a condo inspection. Electric sub panels, electric outlets, and lights are almost always owned by the individual unit. The unit owner is still responsible for the kitchen and bathroom appliances and fixtures. And as mentioned, any plumbing, hot water systems, heating, and cooling systems not owned by the HOA are the responsibility of the condo owner.
The buyer of a condo should go beyond the inspection and do additional research to fully understand the building’s condition and the HOA’s rules and regulations. It is crucial to read the condo’s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CCRs). As well as ask the HOA questions about any outstanding assessments, maintenance plans, or upcoming repairs. Condo owners need to understand their responsibility as part of the HOA and their share of common expenses. Ask about building maintenance, landscaping, and insurance. It is essential to do additional research to fully understand the property and the HOA’s rules and regulations beyond the scope of a home inspection
To book your condo inspection, call 818-298-3405 or book online here.