Buying a condominium instead of a whole house presents a tempting alternative to anyone hoping to spend part of the year in the United States. There are many advantages to buying a US condo: you don't have to worry about maintenance issues for example, such as who will be cleaning the pool of your Florida holiday home, or mend fencing around your Californian garden. Most US condos come with security too, as such housing developments are typically "gated communities", where 24-hour guards watch over your property.
Another perk is that many condominium complexes have their own gym, and community swimming pools as well as other great amenities. Some gated communities are part of a golf course and come with a club house open to members only. Prices of condos also lie below that of single-family dwellings, so buying a condo is a good way to get a foot on the US housing ladder.
But before you start looking for your first Florida condo, you should consider the following points:
- Do you really want to live cheek by jowl with other condo owners? Lack of privacy can spoil a holiday and your retirement, if you are planning to relocate to the US.
- Costs: cutting the lawns, gym, pool and 24-hour security come at a price. The Homeowners Association Fees cover maintenance and repairs of all communal spaces. You should allow for at least US$350 a month to pay for such services on top of your mortgage payments.
- Restrictions on what you are permitted to do: for example, you may not be allowed to hang washing up on your balcony/sun terrace or enjoy a BBQ. Pet ownership will either not be allowed at all or be severely restricted. Your pooch will not be permitted on the manicured lawns...
- It can take longer to sell a condo than a single-family home, as potential buyers are put off for all of the above reasons. In addition, buyers are reluctant to choose condos because you don't own the land on which the condo complex stands, which restricts appreciation of the property. And housing association rules forbid alterations, such as putting up satellite dishes or green technology such as solar cells to bring down at tenant's energy costs.
If you don't plan to live in the condo yourself but want to invest in buy-to-let property, you will need to read the housing association fine print before making a decision to buy - you may not be allowed to sublet your condo in some of the "fiercer" condo complexes. On the whole, buying a US condo is not a bad way to start US property ownership. Prices for condos in Florida are still very affordable; prices have been slow to rise, following the 2008 crash of the world-wide housing market, which affected Florida's real estate market too.