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Basic Tips for Condo Shopping in FL

Posted 02-02-2024 at 10:17 AM by Sunshine Rules

There's a whole lot you need to know regarding buying a condo in Florida, but I will try to keep it to some very basic points for now.

Before buying a condo in any community, you will want to see the condo docs -- the Rules & Regulations, Bylaws and voting rights, BUDGETS, Budget Reserves. You'll also want to ask the Board or management company whether there are any current or pending special assessments and/ or lawsuits against the condo association. Knowing how healthy (or not) the condo association is financially is very important. Be sure to ask if there are any pending special assessments as those often get "missed" by sellers.

Under Florida law a buyer can cancel a transaction within three days from the time the buyer executes the purchase contract and receives a current copy of the condominium documents (the declaration of condominium, articles of incorporation, bylaws, rules of the association, most recent year-end financial information and the frequently asked questions and answers document). You should request the condo docs from the seller in writing. This is normally done thru a condo addendum attached to your purchase offer. The three-day period is calculated in business days. You will want to use that time to carefully read over the condo docs so you understand what you are buying into.

The condo docs will tell you what you as unit owner are responsible for maintaining, what the condo association maintains. Generally, the unit owner is responsible for anything from the exterior wall studs inward -- so all drywall, electrical, plumbing, appliances, etc. Some condo associations make unit owners responsible for windows and doors as well, read the documents carefully. Roofs are often the responsibility of the condo association, but not always - you'll want to know up front who is responsible for roof maintenance and replacement for your building.

The condo docs also explain what you can and cannot do to your unit, including rental restrictions. If this is going to be an investment purchase, you'll definitely want to know the terms allowed for rentals and if the condo association has restrictions such as new owners cannot rent out their units for a specific time period, generally 1 or 2 years from date of purchase.

You'll want to ask if the condo community is located within a designated flood zone. That is also applicable to single family homes as well. If you do get a mortgage and the property is located within a designated FEMA flood zone, your lender will require you to carry flood insurance in addition to the hazard insurance on the property.

For any resale condo you need to know that what the seller is currently paying in the way of property taxes can and probably will change once you purchase it as a sale always triggers a new assessment as of January 1. Property taxes will typically go up the most if the property has had a Homestead Exemption for a number of years under the current homeowner.

If the property is older, the insurance company will most likely want to see a 4 Point Inspection Report from your home inspector to make sure key components (roof, electrical, plumbing & HVAC) are working properly. Therefore you will want to make sure any contract you write to purchase a property allows you the buyer to have a specific number of days as an Inspection Period in which to get any and all inspections completed that you desire.

Should you have your own attorney? It's always a good idea to have a local real estate attorney representing you in a transaction, especially if you are a newbie to home buying. Depending on how the terms of the contract are written, your real estate attorney may also act as your escrow agent for the contract. Your attorney can advise you on terms of the contract, review title work on your behalf (including the survey), review closing documents, etc.

Let's discuss the ways an agent may represent buyers here in FL. Real estate agents here in FL are assumed to be Transaction Brokers unless you opt for and sign a Single Agency agreement with your real estate agent. Under single agency, your agent becomes your exclusive buyer's agent and owes you fiduciary duties and loyalty. A transaction broker is defined as a broker/agent who provides limited representation to a buyer, a seller or both, in a real estate transaction, but does not represent either in a fiduciary capacity or as a single agent. Keep in mind though that if you opt for your agent to be your exclusive buyer's agent, that agent cannot show you listings of their own real estate office unless you agree to change the agency status to Transaction Broker for those particular properties. The 3rd form of representation is actually NO REPRESENTATION - the buyer(s) sign a document acknowledging the agent assisting them is not providing any form of representation of the buyer(s) for this transaction.

One last comment has to do with the significant changes to condo reserves based on legislation passed in FL that goes into effect in 2024. Certain condo buildings 3 stories and taller will now have to go thru periodic structural inspections and be required to fully escrow reserves for repairs/maintenance as a result of that structural inspection. This could increase the financial burden significantly for some condo associations.

More on that in another blog post.
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