If you are a prospective buyer of a condo, co-op, or townhouse, first read “Condos, Co-ops, and Townhomes” by Mark B. Weiss. Written by a long-time real estate broker and a converter of condominiums, this book reveals the pros and cons of this specialized type of housing.

Although the author explains some of the negatives of condos and cooperative apartments, as well as townhouses, his bias toward these homes shows clearly. Occasionally, he lapses into sharing the downside of living in a “mini-democracy” where the homeowner’s association board of directors decides policy. But his emphasis is on the attributes for this lifestyle of living very close to your neighbors.

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Throughout the book, Weiss extols the positive side of condos while minimizing the possible pitfalls of bad condos. However, his explanation of cooperative apartment pros and cons is very limited, perhaps because there aren’t many co-ops left because of the difficulties financing their sales.

The author suggests careful investigation when the prospective buyer focuses on purchasing a specific condo. “Special assessments aren’t called special because they’re considered treats of the homeowner,” Weiss warns. Then he suggests investigating the homeowner association reserves, although he doesn’t say how to determine what is an adequate reserve amount.

Occasionally, the author lapses into humor to lighten up an otherwise dull book. “Disclosures about pet restrictions are exceptionally important because so much emotion is tied to people’s cats, dogs, parakeets, and boa constrictors,” he notes.

Based on the author’s more than 25 years as a Realtor, the book could have been made much more interesting with real-life examples to illustrate the topics. Instead, there are many generalities and not enough specific details.

For example, although Weiss highly recommends every condo and co-op buyer make their purchase offer contingent on a professional inspection, he neglects explaining how to find a competent inspector other than to “Look for someone your Realtor has worked with successfully.”

In other words, he seems to say don’t hire a tough inspector, such as a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), generally considered the toughest inspectors. Neither does he state the importance of the buyer accompanying the inspector to discuss any discovered defects.

Another area in which Weiss glosses over is mortgage financing. Never does he emphasize why the buyer should be pre-approved in writing before starting the purchase quest to (1) know their maximum mortgage amount and (2) be certain they can qualify for a mortgage. The author weakly suggests “You should already be prequalified to obtain financing.” Prequalification means nothing. What counts is a lender’s written loan pre-approval commitment.

As a long-time Realtor who specializes in condominium sales, Weiss could have placed heavier emphasis on what to look for in a superb condo. How to find a well-run condo association where the owners are satisfied would also have been invaluable. He also failed to emphasize the major drawbacks of buying a condo where there are many renters.

The author’s bias for new construction, rather than a resale condo, is obvious. But he warns of the pitfalls of buying from an unreliable developer. Then he explains some developers stay in business only because they operate on the greater fool theory, knowing someone who doesn’t know of their bad reputation will purchase in their next condo project.

Chapter topics include “Why a Condominium, Co-op, or Townhome?” “New or Preowned Property?” “Condominiums”; “Co-ops”; “Townhomes”; “Financing”; “Finding the Right Location”; “I’ve Found What I Like”, “Now what?” “How to Deal with Presold, Unbuilt New Construction”; “I’ve Closed, Now What?” “Assessments and Special Assessments”; “Selling Your Townhome, Condo, or Co-op”; and “Converting Your Unit to an Investment Property.”

Based on the author’s many years of experience selling and converting condos, this should have been a great book. Instead it is uneven, with many generalities and too few specifics. It appears Weiss was walking on eggshells and didn’t want to offend anyone, which might discourage his future condo sales. On my scale of one to 10, this disappointing book rates an eight.

“Condos, Co-Ops, and Townhomes,” by Mark B. Weiss (Dearborn Trade Publishing Co., Chicago), 2003, $18.95, 181 pages; available in stock or 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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