Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Condo, house, or apartment?

I wrote this post for my Corrupt.org Family blog, but I think it's too long and strays from most of the other material, such that I'm posting it here instead.

As a reminder, the Family Blog is at:


When my wife and I lived in a condo, it was a pretty good deal: you have a mortgage and have all of that interest you can write off your taxes, condos generally are updated much more often than apartment buildings because people buying the space will be more picky about features and flooring, and you have a sense of pride in ownership.

In our particular experience, let's ignore the fact that we didn't like the town so much and the building itself was stuffed to the brim with what were likely illegal immigrants (this was during the sub-prime boom, a time in which anyone with body hair was able to obtain a mortgage). Looking back, would I change anything after we sold our condo and decided to rent on the cheap, if I had known that less than two years later we'd be having a family?

Even if we were going to stay in our current 900 sq. ft. apartment long-term, the answer is "no", and the major reason I recommend renting or owning a stand-alone house on your own land, is property managers (and condo associations).

Our experience with condo management was an awful one. There's one individual who can normally never be bothered with very valid complaints or requests, and always gives you a hard time over the silliest things. We ended up being charged $75 for his "time" to fill out a bank insurance form with about five check-boxes on it. That nearly held up the sale of our condo. I was happy to pay it to get out of the place, and have never looked back. And believe it or not, that was the least of our problems – you can't be dealing with this nonsense from passive-aggressive bullies looking for a handout when you have an infant.

Now compare this to a landlord, particularly in a state like Massachusetts where tenant protection laws are nothing if not unreasonable (in favor of the tenant). If you're a good tenant and pay your rent on time, the landlord will be more responsive because you're a guaranteed stream of income every month. In a condo, if you pay your condo fee, the manager doesn't care about you because they can penalize you for not paying it (again, with passive-aggressive bully behavior, the stuff of elementary school playgrounds).

The bottom line is this: do your research before you rent and make sure the landlord doesn't have a bad reputation for treating tenants like garbage or being unresponsive (use Yahoo!, LocalSearch, Yelp, etc.). You hold the cards more as a renter – believe it or not – than as an owner of space in a condo complex. The best option, of course, is to work something out with family if there's a reasonable amount of space – if they'll be a good influence on your child – or buy a standalone house if you can afford to do so. It puts you in the driver's seat more and will give you more time with your family to worry about important things.

No comments: