• Buyers often think of a condominium as a multistory building. But a condominium is not limited to tall buildings.
  • In order to identify a condo, you have to check the legal description.
  • The unit is the part of the property that is owned individually.

Recently, we showed a new condominium, and my clients were told by the agent that they would own the land under their freestanding unit. This is not possible in condo ownership, but the agent insisted on it and became rather incensed. This got me thinking about the basics of condos.

What is a condo?

Buyers often think of a condominium as a multistory building. But a condominium is not limited to tall buildings. A condominium here in Austin has units with close to an acre of land around each. A condominium is not a type of building. It is a type of ownership. It should never be described in terms of any construction style.

How can you identify a condo?

In order to identify a condo, you have to check the legal description. In a non-condo (fee simple), you individually own the land and all improvements. The legal description might read: “Lot 5, Blk A, Green View Addition.” A townhome would also have this description if the building sits on a separate lot.

In a condo (fee simple), you individually own a defined part of the improvements, plus an undivided interest in all remaining improvements and land. A condo description might read: “Unit 40, Green View Condominiums, plus 1.45 percent interest in common area.”

What makes a condo a condo?

Direct ownership of common elements is key to a condominium. The common elements usually include the structure of the buildings, driveways, amenities and land. To be a condominium, the ownership interests in the common elements must be vested in the unit owners.

In a non-condo development, (a lot subdivision) the owners may own a separate entity, such as a a homeowner’s association (HOA). The HOA may own common areas. The lot owners do not have direct ownership of the common areas, as they do in a condominium.

What are the unit’s boundaries?

The unit is the part of the property that is owned individually. I’ve heard it said that the unit begins with the interior paint. If interior paint is the boundary, then individual ownership would include cabinets, appliances, and all built-in items.

But wall paint is not always the boundary of a unit. To know the unit boundaries, you have to read the condo documents. Unit boundaries are often the dividing line between what the unit owner maintains, and what is covered by the general budget. Buyers should know their unit boundary before buying.

A client recently purchased a free standing condo in which the unit boundaries were “the exterior walls, roof and foundation.”  So, in this condo, individual ownership and maintenance includes the roof, exterior walls and foundation.

Is there limited common area?

Limited common areas are often shown in the condo documents. These are common areas for the exclusive use of a certain owner (or owners) and may include decks, yards or other features.  Limited common elements are owned by all unit owners.

The maintenance of limited common elements is borne by all unit owners, unless the condo docs say that maintenance belongs to the units benefited.

Is there a common budget?

In many condos, the unit owners pay dues into a common fund for maintenance of the common elements. However, some small condos have no dues at all. The owners of a two-unit condo may maintain their own units and limited common areas.

There are no standard maintenance rules that apply to all condos.

Who should explain condo documents?

Our contracts give buyers time to read the condo documents and re-sale certificate. We should make our buyers aware of the condo docs as soon as they become available. There is some interesting stuff in the condo docs — there may be rules pertaining to pets, parking, noise, renting, etc.

For questions, the condo manager is a good source for answers. A person in this position can say how an issue has been handled in the past. A real estate attorney is another good source. Realtors should not try to interpret condo documents.

Roselind Hejl is an associate on the Hejl Team at Coldwell Banker United Realtors in Austin, Texas. You can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Email Roselind Hejl. 

Show Comments Hide Comments
Sign up for Inman’s Morning Headlines
What you need to know to start your day with all the latest industry developments
By submitting your email address, you agree to receive marketing emails from Inman.
Thank you for subscribing to Morning Headlines.
Back to top
Only 3 days left to register for Inman Connect Las Vegas before prices go up! Don't miss the premier event for real estate pros.Register Now ×
Limited Time Offer: Get 1 year of Inman Select for $199SUBSCRIBE×
Log in
If you created your account with Google or Facebook
Don't have an account?
Forgot your password?
No Problem

Simply enter the email address you used to create your account and click "Reset Password". You will receive additional instructions via email.

Forgot your username? If so please contact customer support at (510) 658-9252

Password Reset Confirmation

Password Reset Instructions have been sent to

Subscribe to The Weekender
Get the week's leading headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Top headlines from around the real estate industry. Breaking news as it happens.
15 stories covering tech, special reports, video and opinion.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
It looks like you’re already a Select Member!
To subscribe to exclusive newsletters, visit your email preferences in the account settings.
Up-to-the-minute news and interviews in your inbox, ticket discounts for Inman events and more
1-Step CheckoutPay with a credit card
By continuing, you agree to Inman’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

You will be charged . Your subscription will automatically renew for on . For more details on our payment terms and how to cancel, click here.

Interested in a group subscription?
Finish setting up your subscription