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Association Living: Is it for You?
By Jordan Shifrin | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 5/21/2010 12:00 AM

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There are so many negative things in the media about condominium and townhome association living, one would wonder, why anyone would ever buy one. Yet, millions of dwelling units are in associations, so someone must be doing something right. "If you build them, they will come"?

There are obviously many myths, such as maintenance-free living, and a communal utopia awaits you, etc. Builders started making affordable housing over 40 years ago, so they could put vertical housing on smaller parcels of land, in order to maximize profits. But, before you give up a single family home or opt to buy something after renting, if you become knowledgeable about what you are buying and the do's and don'ts, you will enjoy your new lifestyle, a lot more. Several years ago, my office conducted a wide survey of condominium owners inquiring about the lifestyle, and surprisingly most of the feed back was very positive. This would tell one that except for a few horror stories, "life is good."

Here are a few thoughts about the positives of living in a dwelling administered by a board of directors in an association:

•The elected board of directors cares as much or even more about the quality of life, property values, controlling costs, and providing high-quality services than a landlord. In most instances, a landlord will only worry about turning a profit and cash flow, whereas most board members are very conscientious and care as much, if not more, about the property than the average owner. So, the owner's best interests are always at the forefront.

•It may not be truly maintenance-free living since there are some costs that must be paid for by owners (limited common area maintenance, for example), but the services are provided that a single-family homeowner would have to do, such as landscaping and snow removal. Considering it is done on a volume basis, the costs are a lot less, and you do not have the burden of actually doing the work. For busy young working people or retirees, the time necessary to do this work, let alone the back-breaking element involved, is worth the expense and the costs savings are tremendous as opposed to having to separately hire your own service people. Insurance is a lot cheaper also, because if it is a master policy for the property, you are spending hundreds instead of thousands on dwelling replacement insurance.

•Speaking of maintenance, the costs of big projects, insurance premiums, even real estate taxes are far more affordable than if you had to bear this burden on your own.

•There is always someone around to look after the property, whether a neighbor or a paid employee. If you are gone for hours on end, you do not have to worry about the security of your property, or if there is a disaster, that someone has already called the appropriate parties to fix or abate the damages.

•If the property comes with parking, you do not have to worry about driving around for hours looking for a space, or having to shovel out after a snow storm.

•Properties that have party rooms and clubhouses offer a nice alternative to having social gatherings in your home. For what is usually a nominal fee, you can have the use of a larger room and accommodate more people than you may be able to do in your home, and not have to worry about someone knocking over the vase with grandma's ashes.

•If the property has recreational facilities such as a pool or tennis court, it is included in your monthly fees and you do not have to go join a private club. This could also include golf courses and exercise rooms.

•For empty nesters that travel to a warmer climate for the winter, or even for someone just going on vacation, you never have to worry about someone being around to look after the premises, pick up mail and packages, and generally keeping the building running in your absence. It is not a major inconvenience to even have a neighbor look in on your home, since it is up- or downstairs or down the hall, and not 10 miles out of the way.

There are numerous reasons that make a property appealing; it could be the layout of the unit, the location on the property, the view, available amenities, proximity to work or the highway system, etc. These are qualities that may not be available in a single-family home anywhere near the same price range. That is why many people over the years have opted for this lifestyle and but for a few bad apples, or some construction issues, for most people it was the right decision. Whether you are thinking of buying something after living in an apartment, or giving up a home to live in an apartment style dwelling, if you make a list of the amenities you want, and do your homework, the entire experience can be positive.

• Jordan Shifrin is an attorney with Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit in Buffalo Grove. Send questions for the column to him at jshifrin@ksnlaw.com. This column is not a substitute for consultation with legal counsel.