Do homework before investing

Keep an eye on the details, not just the beauty of a building.

Article Courtesy of the Miami Herald

Posted April 17, 2005

The spires on the new high-rise tower look sleek and chic -- but how will the future condominium association maintain them?

Buyers should be thinking of such mundane details now.

So says veteran real estate analyst Michael Y. Cannon, who has seen condo owners hit with $25,000 special assessments to pay for repairs.

''The design features look nice when new,'' he says -- with an important ''but'': "I wonder how it is going to look in 10 years?''

That's why buyers must do their homework early: Is the building practical for upkeep? Can the materials be found easily if repairs need to be made? Some buildings may have great architectural details but are expensive to maintain, he says.

New developments ''are tricky -- no history,'' adds Jan Bergemann, head of the nonprofit statewide homeowners consumers group, Cyber Citizens for Justice (

He recommends looking into the reputation of the builder as well as the management company that will oversee the condominium's maintenance.

''Buying at the beach comes with a hefty price tag,'' he adds. "Maintenance will be expensive.''

So will insurance.

Regardless of where you buy, check on the building's security devices -- in particular the storm shutters, Bergemann says.

Also check whether your neighbors will be owners or renters. Some buildings ''have time-shares, some have hotels -- or rental agencies who own many units. They will later run the show on the board and leave single owners with little representation,'' he says.

If there is a ''name'' architect involved with the condominium, make sure you know what work he or she actually did, advises well-known architect Michael Graves.

Sometimes, developers will pay architects to design the exterior, but hire others to design the interiors, he says. Other times, the developers may not take the advice of their architects and will use cheaper materials, he adds.

Other matters to consider when buying a condo:

 Does the condominium have enough parking for you, your family or friends who might visit?

 What are the projected condominium maintenance fees? Realize that they will probably go up after the builder, who has been subsidizing the project, leaves.

 What kind of insurance does the condominium have? What expenses will you, as an individual unit owner, be responsible for in the event of a hurricane or other emergency?

 What amenities come with the complex -- such as a pool and clubhouse -- and how much will they cost the association to run?