Should You Buy a Condo or a House?

(We're here to help you decide)

A man shrugs.

Making a significant purchase such as a house or condominium is a major decision. While no one but you can tell you which is best for your situation, it does help to learn the attractive features -- as well as the setbacks -- of owning a home versus condo living before you start looking for realtors. But you should always make sure that you're covered with a home insurance policy.

For Amelia Starr, a 30-year-old career woman with an active social life, living in her L.A. condo overlooking downtown was a no-brainer.

"I love the convenient location and not having to worry about lawn care or any of the other hassles of traditional home ownership," Starr said.

Starr walks to school and work. She doesn't own a car and she doesn't need (or, more importantly, want) all the space that a single family home would offer. However, if you put a 40-year-old, married couple with two children in that same condo, they may have entirely different feelings about it.

To determine which camp you fall into, real estate agent Daryl Bronniche suggests asking yourself the following questions:

1. What is My Ideal Location?

Condos often offer downtown locations, especially in larger urban areas. If being close to the cultural centers and night life is important to you, a condo can offer a much more affordable alternative than trying to find a single family home in the heart of cities like Los Angeles.

If your ideal location is 10 miles from the nearest densely populated area, you may be hard pressed to find a condominium. Although "townhomes" do exist in most rural areas, and share common walls with neighbors, these homes operate much more like single family dwellings and may not come with the association fees and other aspects typically found with condos.

2. Is Privacy Important to Me?

Unless you plan on living in the countryside, you can't escape neighbors  altogether. However, condos -- especially those in downtown areas -- are much more like apartments than single family homes. If you can't stand to hear the footsteps of an upstairs tenant or you enjoy cranking the music up while you clean the dishes, the more private setting that a single family home offers may be more appropriate for you.

Alternatively, if having a neighbor close at hand lends you comfort, a condo may be a better choice. Some folks enjoy chatting with the couple next door and don't mind if they occasionally hear the guy down the hall practicing his trumpet skills.

3. Do I Like Control, or Do I Like to Share?

"Some people can't get past the fact that they'd have to live by the condo association's rules," Bronniche says.

Deciding to buy a condo relinquishes some of the control that single family home owners enjoy. Some condo associations do not allow pets or operating a business out of the unit. It's important to review any condo association's guidelines to determine if you could gladly live by those stipulations.

Also, most condo associations make decisions by asking input from those who live within the community. If the thought of joint decision making comforts you, a condo could be a good fit. If you want total and complete control over the decision-making process, you may want to look for a single family home.

4. Do I Enjoy Being a "Fix-it" Person?

Some people love nothing more than a weekend of yard work and home maintenance. Getting their hands dirty in the garden or mowing neat stripes into their lawn to impress the neigbhors is their idea of a good time.

Others would prefer to spend their weekends doing anything but cutting grass and pulling weeds. Condo living takes the responsibility of outdoor work out of the home owning process. If you'd rather leave the exterior maintenance up to the professionals, you may want to buy a condo.

5. What Are My Budget and the Local Market Like?

The final, and perhaps most important, aspect to consider when deciding if a house or condo is best for you is the financial piece. While the previous considerations may fall into the "Not ideal, but I can live with it" category, this factor is a deal-breaker for many.

Condos can offer a less expensive alternative to home ownership than single family homes in some areas. In others, however, condos can be quite expensive. On the other hand, as condo prices have been hit harder than single family home prices, according to the National Association of Realtors, many may find the current asking price for a condo in the location where they are looking is too good to pass up.

"Buyers should also calculate any association and maintenance fees into their monthly budget to determine if a condo is truly a better financial deal," Bronniche says.

Of course, home owners pay for their own maintenance expenses so be sure to accurately compare the two. Another expense that should be factored into the budget is condo or homeowners insurance. Condo insurance can be less expensive than a homeowners policy, simply because some of the building's features are covered by the association's "master policy." In areas where condos have high market values, however, that's not always the case. 

It's important to speak with a qualified agent who can help you shop around for the lowest rates. Independent insurance agents in our network are able to locate multiple homeowners or condo insurance quotes from a variety of companies, ensuring you will have the best coverage at the most affordable rates.

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