If you want to avoid costly mistakes when buying a condo, co-op or townhouse, “Tips and Traps When Buying a Condo, Co-op, or Townhouse, Second Edition” by Robert Irwin explains virtually all the potential pitfalls and how to avoid them. This easy-reading book is filled with many examples from the author’s experiences with these unique types of housing, which require more than just casual investigation.

Irwin explains both the advantages and disadvantages of what he calls “shared ownership properties.” But don’t be misled. He does not even mention the popular “tenant in common” (TIC) residences that have become popular in several cities to avoid the legal aspects of condominiums.

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Although the book’s emphasis is on the negatives of condos and co-ops, as it should be, the author occasionally discusses the benefits of this special type of housing. But he spends much of the book warning what to look for and avoid in apartment buildings that have been converted to condos or co-ops.

This ultra-complete book uses many pages warning about the negatives of cooperative apartment buildings, found mostly in New York, Chicago, Florida and a few California cities. The huge negative of the board of directors’ inquisition approval or disapproval of prospective co-op buyers and renters, Irwin warns, holds down the market value of co-ops compared to equivalent condominiums that do not require approval of prospective buyers.

As the current and previous owner of several condominiums, Irwin shamelessly shows his battle scars from dealing with boards of directors and architectural committees. He warns condo buyers to read the CC&Rs (covenants, conditions and restrictions), by-laws and rules before purchase, but don’t think you can change these limitations after you buy.

If the book has a drawback it would be it is too positive about buying a condominium. Irwin fails to emphasize the possible drawbacks prospective buyers should consider, such as poor soundproofing, living close to your neighbors, restrictions on pets, limitations or prohibitions against renting to tenants, and other rules that were enacted to benefit the condo owners.

For example, Irwin omits the reasons why condo boards of directors struggle to limit or prohibit rentals because when rentals pass 20 percent to 30 percent of the units, mortgage lenders either stop lending in the complex or charge buyers abnormally high interest rates due to the increased risk of foreclosures.

Although Irwin obviously has considerable personal experience with condominiums, as a critical reader I wondered why he made some statements.

To illustrate, he says: “You owe it to yourself to attend at least one board meeting before buying a unit in any development. After all, these are the people who will be setting and enforcing the rules under which you’ll be expected to live.” First, the author makes it sound like the condo (or co-op) board of directors is the enemy, although they act on behalf of the owners. Second, I doubt whether prospective buyers would even be allowed to attend most monthly board meetings.

Chapter topics include “Is It a Good Investment?” “How to Decide if a Condo, Co-op, or Townhouse is Right for You”; “Nine ‘Red Flag’ Questions You Must Ask Before You Buy”; “Buy Old, Buy New or Buy a Conversion?” “How to Evaluate What You are Buying”; “Checking the Inspection and Disclosure Reports”; “Living by the Rules”; “Beware the Architectural Committee”; “Fighting the Board”; “Can I Rent Out My Condo, Co-op or Townhouse?” “Tips on Financing a Condo or Co-op”; “Just for Condo Buyers”; “Just for Co-op Buyers”; “Just for Townhouse Buyers”; and “Tips for Selling Your Condo, Co-op or Townhouse.”

This is an excellent book for anyone considering the purchase of a condo or co-op. It raises virtually all the unique issues that confront owners of these specialized types of housing. On my scale of one to 10, this ultra-complete book rates a solid 10.

“Tips and Traps When Buying a Condo, Co-Op, or Townhouse, Second Edition,” by Robert Irwin (McGraw-Hill, New York), 2007, $16.95, 202 pages; available in stock or by special order at local bookstores, public libraries and www.Amazon.com.

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center

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