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Good morning from north of San Francisco!

As some of you know I grew up living in houses in the San Francisco Bay Area. My dream has always been to own a house with hardwood floors, bay windows, a front yard filled with English garden flowers, and land which contains a running stream, willow trees, and woods. *POP* That's the sound of my popping my fantasy bubble with a Victorian hatpin.

Here's my reality: I am still a single moderate wage earner living in a very expense area of California. While I had dreams of moving to New Zealand or England, those are merely dreams. I am staying here to be close to my family.

Here's the good news: I have an open escrow (he owner has accepted my bid and is looking for a new home for herself) on a one story (my knees will be very happy!) condo. It is a wee bit bigger (it is 920 Square Feet) than the two bedroom, one bathroom apartment I have been living in for the past 17 years.

No backyard, but it has a fenced front patio. I can put vegetable plants in planter boxes. The fence is tall, which means I have privacy, and more importantly, when I get a dog (after I retire) we can both enjoy the patio without my worrying about him or her running into the street.

My apartment complex was built over 50 years ago and the ugly pinkish-beige bathtub is too shallow for an adult to fully enjoy a bath. The condo has a normal depth, white bathtub (and the bathroom has a high window on the back wall!). Fools, the condo is utterly charming! I call it the Hobbit Cottage Condo. The outside of the building is brown with dark green trim. The owner painted the living room and dining area a light caramel, the kitchen and guest room a light green, and the master bedroom lavender. And I am happy with all these colors! The condo kitchen (it has white cabinets) is huge compared to my current galley kitchen. And the kitchen and dining area have faux hardwood floors.

Oh, and the complex has a small pool and a clubhouse.

Water, garbage, the roof and the grounds are covered under the monthly HOA fees.

For those of you who own homes, what has been the unexpected expenses for you? What do you wish someone had told you before you put the key
in the front door of your new home for the first time? (I am getting a pest inspection done before I sign the final papers).

Cheers,

Shire
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No. of Recommendations: 15
<<For those of you who own homes, what has been the unexpected expenses for you? What do you wish someone had told you before you put the key
in the front door of your new home for the first time? (I am getting a pest inspection done before I sign the final papers). >>



Those are VERY good questions.


I'd attend whatever HOA board meetings might be held before and after you close --- and read the minutes of Board meetings going back at least six months.

Check with the HOA to see if the dues have been paid, and whether any assessments are dues or are scheduled to be collected.

In a 50 year old condo, the Condo Association ought to have substantial reserves on deposit to replace plumbing, wiring roofs, windows and such. There should be a report by an engineering company which details the useful life of such parts of the complex, their remaining useful life, the cost of replacement and how much should be charged in reserves so that these upcoming expenses can be met without charging current owners for services previous owners received for decades but didn't pay for.

RESERVES! MINUTES! CONDO ASSOCIATION! These are vital things to check.


Seattle Pioneer
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>> read the minutes of Board meetings going back at least six months.

I've been reading the minutes of the Board meetings

I cannot attend the meetings until I own the condo.

>> Check with the HOA to see if the dues have been paid, and whether any assessments are dues or are scheduled to be collected.

In a 50 year old condo, the Condo Association ought to have substantial reserves on deposit to replace plumbing, wiring roofs, windows and such. There should be a report by an engineering company which details the useful life of such parts of the complex, their remaining useful life, the cost of replacement and how much should be charged in reserves so that these upcoming expenses can be met without charging current owners for services previous owners received for decades but didn't pay for.

I've been reading a report of what they fixed in 2013 - to the present and how much the Association has in reserves for each type of expense category (which there were repairs or not).

It is my present apt complex that is over 50 years old, the condo complex is 41 years old (but the same things to look for still apply).

Thanks for you post, SP.

Shire
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No. of Recommendations: 6
Congratulations!

For those of you who own homes, what has been the unexpected expenses for you? What do you wish someone had told you before you put the key in the front door of your new home for the first time? (I am getting a pest inspection done before I sign the final papers).

As SP points out, reserves are critical for condos/townhomes. Your HOA dues and/or special assessments can become very large expenses. You also need to find out who is responsible for things like exterior paint. Since it's a condo, the condo association probably is, but in townhomes, you can be responsible. You are probably responsible if your water heater floods, but if a pipe in the wall breaks and floods - who is responsible - you or the condo association?

Also - pools are often a big money suck for condo associations. Has the pool been replastered recently? Have things like filters/heaters been replaced recently, or will they be due for replacement soon? Are there reserves for the pool? Insurance (that you pay for through your HOA dues) for condo complexes with pools is usually more expensive than for those without pools.

Also - check for restrictions on making changes - do you have to have window coverings with white backs, for instance? Can you put decorations in the windows, or on patios/steps without getting approvals?

As far as potential costs - a complete home inspection (not just a pest inspection) is critical, and you need to go with the home inspector. The home inspector probably won't give you cost estimates, but they should be able to tell you what systems look like they will be due for replacement in the near future, and what maintenance can/should be done to ensure that things will last as long as possible.

Are the window coverings staying? If not, that can be quite expensive.

Do you have a basic set of hand tools? You should spring for that if you don't.

It doesn't sound like you are wanting to make a lot of changes immediately, so that's good. If you do, make sure you have more than you estimate the project will really cost saved up before you start.

Things like property taxes and HOA dues will continue to increase in the future, even if your mortgage P&I payment will be fixed, so you need to ensure that you will have the capability to pay for those things going forward, even after you stop working, so you will be sure that you can afford that dog.

AJ
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Thanks, AJ! You have great questions for me to ask.

The seller upgraded to duel pane windows and the blinds are staying so I don't need to get curtains right away. The immediate needs will be a fridge and a stackable washer and dryer (she might sell the latter to me).
 
I did read that the front door can only be painted white or a color that matches the trim, or be a natural wood. I'll leave it white.

In the spring I'd like to take out the oleander and replace it with a lemon tree, but I will have to get approval from the board.

Yes, owning a dog will be a big ongoing expense and I want to make sure I can afford it.

Shire
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No. of Recommendations: 8
Welcome back!

As aj said, ask about reserves, and ask where they are kept, who has control, what procedures are necessary to withdraw funds, etc.

Two sad stories:

1) At my mother's condo association, the guy who had been in charge of the reserves has cancer, and gave up the position while going through chemotherapy. The guy who took it on withdrew it all and went to Mohegan Sun, which is a gambling place in Connecticut. None of it came back.

2) In a case I read about, (in a legal column asking for advice) the woman in charge of the reserves had what she thought was a great idea. When the lottery had one of those umpteen tens of millions on the line moments, she withdrew all the funds to buy lottery tickets, because she thought she was bound to win a big prize and she could restore the funds and add all those extra millions to it so no one would have to pay condo fees any more.

She didn't win.

So make sure you ask about that. There should be double signatures required for withdrawal of funds over a certain amount. Mom wasn't thrilled about an extra assessment (on top of various other special assessments), but at least she could afford it, which is more than some of her neighbors could.

You already seem to know that you need permission to make outside changes. Did you also check about pets? Some places put a limit on pets, or restrict dogs to under a certain size, or prohibit certain breeds.

Do you have a copy of the rules to read before you sign?

Sounds very exciting!

Nancy
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My suggestions:

1. Find out about past special assessments. As others have said, these can be substantial.

2. Ask the owner if she still has the manuals for the various appliances that are staying (including heat/cooling as applicable). When I bought my house those were all collected in a big binder, I added to it and passed it on when I sold.

3. What type of insurance policy are you required to buy? If your neighbor has a flood that affects your unit, who pays?

4. What is the policy on renters? Pets? Visitor parking? Noise?*
* a relative recently moved into a condo and it turns out they have a rule about not running the washer/dryer after 10pm due to noise -- it surprised me!

5. I agree with getting a set of hand tools, but if you haven't owned a place before it would be good to check out a couple basic home maintenance books (I had one from Home Despot). The book covered such various topics as how to snake a drain, install a light fixture, and reseat a toilet -- all things that I did for the first time after buying my house.

6. Does the condo assoc or the sellers have a list of service people that they have used? If there may be a company most familiar with your heating/cooling/plumbing systems, then knowing it ahead of time would be good. (rather than flipping thru the Yellow Pages in the middle of the night while the sewer is backing up)

7. Have you had a home inspection yet? Try to be there in person and go thru everything with the inspector -- it is a great learning experience. Even if you may be buying without an inspection clause, it is a good idea to have an inspection anyway (to find big problems).

8. Often times the seller may throw things in @ the last minute to sweeten the deal. Like appliances they don't want to move.

9. Get a list of the current utility providers and the contact info. Sometimes a seller/realtor will help transfer the service but usually you have to set up your own account. If you don't do this before the deal closes, it is likely that the utilities will be shut off when the seller closes their account; you will then have to pay to turn them back on and there may be a delay in getting that all done.

10. Also ask if the unit is wired for cable/internet/dish/phone and what service they used last. I moved into a rental that advertised as "cable installed" but it turned out the last tenant had a dish, the dish folks had cut all the cable wires & installed their own, and the cable company wouldn't use the existing wires. Annoying & another delay and cost before it was set up. (Yes, a third set of wires was installed, sigh.)

11. Is there a way to find out if the HOA or the unit has any liens on them? How about any outstanding fines from the city?

12. What type of fire/CO alerts are installed in the unit and in the public areas? For example, if there's a fire in a hallway will you hear an alarm?

13. Ask the current owner to tell you about the neighbors. Take this briefing with a grain of salt. :)

14. Find out whether there is a loading zone or other place that you can park a moving van or truck for when you move.

Good luck & have fun with your new place!
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Great to see your name again!.(Maybe I haven't been on the same boards..)

Congrats on the possibility of your new home!

Having just sold and bought again in the Bay Area I am well aware of the costs in this area.

We have just moved to an Old People's Home ( a fab one) but have to note that we have signed an agreement acknowledging that monthly fees can be raised. What are the rules on your HOA?

Our biggest cost has been getting another car. With more freeway driving I got nervous about the old lights in our 16-year-old car. How is your transportation from the new condo versus the old? Same neighborhood?

I hope you'll get this condo and be very happy...

Maryanne
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Thanks, Nancy!

Those are some horror stories! From reading the HOA minutes it appears that the board members here have common sense.

After I fell in love with the place I asked my sister to find out about pets (it is very handy to have a top notch real estate agent in the family). They limit each unit to owning two, four legged animals. I said jokingly to a colleague, "So this means I can keep a miniature horse in the patio, correct?"

Petaluma has a miniature horse farm. One day I saw a man in downtown Petaluma with a miniature horse in the back of his convertible Mustang. He had taken out the back seats and he had the top down. I wish I had a camera on me that day!

Yes, I have a copy of the rules.

Shire
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I will print your excellent suggestions.

>> 2. What type of fire/CO alerts are installed in the unit and in the public areas? For example, if there's a fire in a hallway will you hear an alarm?

Interesting question. There are no hallways. Each buildings contains four units.
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Thanks, Maryanne!

I haven't been on the boards in a long time.


Yes, our HOA fees can be raised.

I hope the owner buya a new home soon. Then the possibility will change
change to reality.

Shire
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As aj said, ask about reserves, and ask where they are kept, who has control, what procedures are necessary to withdraw funds, etc.

Two sad stories:


I am amazed that significant withdrawals could be done with a single signature.

Is it possible or common to have association officers bonded?
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Wonderful! Hope you will be very happy in your new place.

A friend of mine lives in a stand alone home in a housing association, and they have been dealing with an abutting neighbor who sues them at the very smallest provocation. (She was extremely upset that the 12 houses in the association were built next door to her property.) Check to be sure that the condo association gets along well with the neighbors!

Fifi
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I am amazed that significant withdrawals could be done with a single signature.

I was, too. It's such a basic requirement at most companies, but apparently not everyone thinks in terms of protecting the reserves. Most of the places where I've worked or know something about demand two signatures for amounts over a certain amount.

But that's why I mentioned it. Just in case.

Is it possible or common to have association officers bonded?

It probably is. I haven't checked.

Nancy
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Your condo sounds very appealing, especially for a hobbit.

I would make sure that traffic/human noise isn't bothersome on the first floor. I lived in San Francisco in a 3rd flr walkup on a fairly busy street, and the traffic noise could be bothersome during morning rush hour. I had to wake up anyway, but it might be less pleasant for sleeping in after retirement. My BR & LR had bay windows facing the street/west, which made for a very sunny--but sometimes noisy--unit. I still miss it, though (but not the stairs ;-)
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<<Is it possible or common to have association officers bonded?
>>



A lot of states require it, but that doesn't mean it's done.

Something else to check out.

NOT HAVING a big pot of money in a reserve account is a likely formula for big upcoming assessments.

HAVING a big pot of money in a reserve account makes the comndo association a target for those who would steal it or abuse it. There are many, many ways to do that.



Seattle Pioneer
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