The most popular inventory type in Chicago is condominiums. Condominiums (condos for short!) are individual units owned in a community of other units. Condos can range from big (a luxury high-rise in River North) to small (a 3-flat in Lakeview).
When you buy a condo, you also become part of the Homeowner’s Association (HOA). The HOA governs the community on everything from rental restrictions to budgets for new floormats in the lobby.
For this reason, you will want to make sure you are joining a well-functioning HOA. Once you are under contract, you will have an opportunity to review the HOA’s condo docs & understand how they operate. You can read more about that process here.
Here are a few things to know about HOAs:
Owners pay HOA dues each month to cover operating costs and amenities. These costs range from utility bills for hallway lights to door staff.
As you can imagine, HOA dues vary greatly by building type. They tend to be more expensive for larger buildings – high rises typically have the most shared amenities and the highest HOA dues.
Part of your HOA dues will go into reserves (like a savings account) to cover unexpected maintenance and special projects.
If you’re wondering how much your building should have for reserves — there is no set calculation for this. For walk-up/courtyard buildings, you generally want to see ~1-2k per unit in reserves. For example, in a 12-unit building, you are probably looking at 12-24k in reserves. This is a very general rule of thumb – you will want to factor in things like the building condition, past projects & number of units.
Some smaller buildings operate with a smaller reserve account. In this case, you can anticipate that they will do special assessments as needed to cover any projects. Some owners prefer this lifestyle, while others want a larger reserve account for peace of mind.
A special assessment occurs when there is a building project that the HOA does not have enough money in reserves to pay for. In this case, the owners will split the cost according to their percentage of ownership.
For example, if a 3-unit building needs $10,000 in roof work but does not have enough money in the reserve to cover the costs, the owners will split the cost of this amongst themselves.
A variation on a special assessment is a chargeback. A chargeback is when the association does a project, then charges each owner accordingly after the fact. In this case, instead of splitting the cost according to percentage of ownership, you will pay for the actual cost of the work for your unit.
Common Areas & Amenities
When you are touring the property, you will also want to look at the common areas. These are a reflection of the HOA! Common areas may include:
- Shared outdoor space
- Building exterior
- & anything else the building offers!
Some buildings have an on-site engineer or maintenance person. This person can help with small items like a leaky toilet or a stopped-up drain. Usually, the owner will still get charged for the work, but it’s convenient to have someone on-site who knows the ins & outs of your building.
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