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March 25, 2015

My Top 5 Condo Deal Breakers

You’ve spent three hours looking at various real estate Web sites and have narrowed down your favorites for this weekend’s open house touring.

In the end, three of those units have HOA dues that are well above what you can afford, and another two have serious pet restrictions that won’t work for your two yellow Labs.

Knowing the fundamentals about a condo and its HOA can save you time when it comes to targeting your search. Here are my top five deal breakers to help you narrow down your prospects. Because let’s face it, you can only see so many homes between 2:00 and 4:00 on a Sunday:

1. HOA dues. This is a set amount of money paid monthly to the homeowners association. Dues typically help to cover costs such as building insurance, grounds maintenance, water, trash and property management. (They also sometimes cover earthquake insurance, but that’s another story.) The more amenities a building provides, the higher your dues will be. A South Beach high-rise with a fitness center, pool, and 24-hour doorman, for example, will have far higher HOA dues than that four-unit NOPA Edwardian. Read the fine print, and if the dues exceed your budget, move on to the next property.

2. Pet restrictions. I’ve lately come across some interesting pet limitations while searching for properties for my clients. One Pacific Heights condo building I checked out has a no-pets policy, another building in which I had a listing recently had a no-dogs policy. The most common pet policy in the San Francisco condo world is a two-dog or two-cat maximum. But you will often find weight restrictions, and in some cases, breed restrictions. So if you’re looking for a condo where you can live with your two Labs, make sure you don’t hit the buildings that prohibit them.

3. Rental restrictions. You may be intending to live in your condo for several years, but you might also eventually need a bigger space. And you may want to rent out that smaller home for additional income down the line. If that option is a must, it’s good to know up front whether there are any restrictions on renting your unit. One Nob Hill property that I visited for an investor client imposed a limit on the number of units that could be rented at one time; my client ended up passing because the ability to rent wasn’t a guarantee.

4. Outdoor space. If you absolutely need a garden or at least a deck, make sure the listing photos include a yard and specify that it’s shared. Outdoor space of any kind in a condo is a real selling point, and listing agents usually don’t miss the opportunity to show it if their condo has it.

5. Parking. Yes, the listing details note that parking is included. But is it deeded—or leased a block away for $300/month? Or is the parking tandem, meaning you’ll have to move your neighbor’s car out of the garage on a regular basis? Know your limitations, and if independent parking isn’t negotiable, skip the condos that specify anything less than that.

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