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When reviewing the CC&Rs you should look for a couple of items in particular. First, are there any pending lawsuits either on behalf of or against the HOA? Lenders will not issue any sort of mortgage on a condo, co-op, or townhouse if there is current litigation. For a couple of reasons.

One, if the association loses a lawsuit the owners may be asked to pony up some additional funds to help pay for either the lawyers involved or the settlement. If so, find out how much.

Lenders need to know that, because a special assessment for an irregular payment could harm a borrower's ability to repay a debt. If a lender determines that your total monthly outlay for housing expenses should be no greater than $2,100 and suddenly the owners are hit with an additional fee, you might not qualify for a loan. This additional fee may be one big fee or it may be broken down into smaller amounts paid monthly. If the owners are asked to pay another $100 per month, then that limit of $2,100 would be exceeded by $100 and the lender may turn down the loan application.

It doesn't matter about the nature of the lawsuit. It could be as minor as a contractor using the wrong shade of paint on a fence post.

The CC&Rs say you must pay your HOA fees. You have no choice. Nor may you refuse to pay due to nonperformance or because of a dispute with a neighbor. You gotta pay. And if the

CC&Rs state that the HOA board can raise your fees whenever and however much they want, then you have no choice but to pay.

Most HOAs are sensitive to this. They certainly want owners and tenants to be good neighbors, so they won't assess the owners out of existence. If assessments are excessive, no one will buy the units.

What is excessive? Look at similar HOA fees for other projects in the area and start from there. Also, look at the history of the HOA. How many times in the past have HOA fees been raised? Are they raised often? Once per year? Once per five years? If you see a regular pattern of fee increases such as once or twice per year, do some more homework and find out why. It shouldn't be this way.

You also need to see if the association has a history of suing people or being sued. HOAs often include attorneys as board members. Such attorneys are likely to live in the complex. Sometimes you may find an overzealous attorney who is all too happy to file a suit (using her own law firm, of course). This may persuade a lender not to make a mortgage loan.

There are some simple guidelines to steer you away from bad properties. But first, don't assume that all properties are run by control freaks; they're not. And regardless of how you finance and acquire a condo, co-op, or townhouse, getting in with a group of surly neighbors will not make you happy.

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