Young Families Face Steeper Slope in Finding Apartments

Young Families Face Steeper Slope in Finding Apartments
Kara Olivere said she faced discrimination because she had a young child when she was looking to rent an apartment. Olivere, shown here with her 22-month-old son, Elliot, found one in East Arlington. Pat Greenhouse/Globe staff

It’s hard enough raising a child as it is. Throw in the stress of finding a new home and things get a whole lot dicier. Especially when landlords and real estate agents are reluctant to show apartments to applicants with young children.

If you’re one of the many individuals using Guaranteed Mass Real Estate License to obtain your credentials, then please don’t be like the agents mentioned in this article.

For Kara Olivere, a special education teacher in Arlington, MA and the single mother of a 1 year-old, finding an apartment has been nothing short of a nightmare.

In a Boston real estate market that’s already been described as ‘broken’, finding an affordable place is hard enough. In the time that Olivere has been a mother, she’s faced more difficulty than she did when she was renting with roommates.

“It’s not that it was easy,’’ she said, “but the realtors were eager to work with you — you’d practically have to beat them off with a stick.’’ Renting with a kid, meanwhile, was a nonstarter. “My profession, income, credit, and savings are all better than they’ve ever been in the past,’’ she said, “but I couldn’t even get called back, much less see a place.’’

Olivere spent more than a year looking for a place. She quickly discovered that any mention of her child was met with radio silence.

When I first started looking, I was very upfront about having a toddler,’’ Olivere said. After a while, she stopped mentioning her son, and voila, she got appointments to tour apartments. The agents would be friendly at the showing, she said, “but once I mentioned I had a child, their attitude would drastically change.’’

At an apartment showing in the beautiful Somerville area, Olivere noted to the agent that apartment was dilapidated and unsafe for her son.

The agent replied angrily by saying, “You never told me you had a son,’’ then doubling on that by saying that no nearby apartments had been deleaded either. When Olivere Olivere asked the agent for tips on finding and renting a place as a parent with a young child, he responded, ‘People with kids just buy.’

Well, if you read my most recent slew of articles then you know full well what it’s like for buyers in the Boston area — a costly hell. For a single mother of a toddler, that hell only worsens.

Currently, Massachusetts Law leaves nothing to the imagination: It’s illegal not to rent to families with children or to offer them different rental terms — such as requiring them to live in a first-floor unit or charging them a security deposit when other tenants don’t pay one, said Jamie Langowski, assistant director of the Housing Discrimination Testing Program at Suffolk University Law School. This program is one of the leading advocates for house hunters facing discrimination in the Greater Boston Area — offering a test to deliberate on cases of housing bias. According to Langowski, Olivere’s experience isn’t unique.

“There is rampant illegal discrimination occurring,’’ she said.

Her organization’s test is simple: compare the experiences of two similarly qualified individuals — one of whom diverges from the other in terms of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or familial status.

“What we’ve found is that discrimination against families with children is common,’’ Langowski said, and prospective tenants are often told right to their faces that an apartment isn’t available to them because of their kids or the presence of lead paint.

While there are other factors that discourage renters and agents from showing apartments to families with young kids, the greatest deterrent by far is the presence of lead-based paint. In the case of apartments that haven’t been deleaded, landlords are forced to pay for costly lead abatements — usually ranging anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 depending on the size of the apartment.

Currently, Massachusetts law stipulates that landlords must make a unit and any common areas lead-safe for a child under the age of 6. They are also required to pay for alternative housing while the work is being done.

And that’s a task many Boston renters just aren’t up to.

The result of their unwillingness is clear: studies have shown that low-income and minority children are at much greater risk of lead poisoning, partly because they’re more likely to be living in older and rundown housing.

Olivere was fortunate enough to stay with her family while continuing her search, but many families aren’t so privileged.

Langowski said renters who experience discrimination should immediately report their experience to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the MA Commission Against Discrimination, local fair-housing organizations, or a testing program like the one she works for.

“Families who have been discriminated against because they have children may be entitled to damages,’’ she said. Last year, the Suffolk program won a settlement of more than $22,000 for renters wrongly evicted after one family member got pregnant.

Al Norton, a realtor for a prominent real estate firm in Boston, urges house hunters to enlist the services of an ethical real estate agent. The key, he says, is finding an agent who knows the law and will advocate for you no matter the situation. Often times, Norton says, a simple email confirming that the renter is refusing someone a showing based on their having kids is often enough to get their foot in the door. It doesn’t ensure they’ll get the apartment but at least they’ll get a call back.

As for Olivere, she was able to find an apartment in East Arlington via a local Facebook group. The landlords, a young couple who live on the floor above her, said they had deleaded the entire property for their own piece of mind. Talk about lucking out.

“I’ve never heard of this in my nine months looking,’’ Olivere said. “I am so grateful.’’

Best Boston Neighborhoods for Young Families

Are you a young family on the prowl for your first home? Well first of all congratulations. That’s a big deal. And if you’re reading this, chances are you’re doing your searching in and around Boston, Massachusetts. For that, I do apologize — seeing as how Boston continues to rank as one of the most expensive cities in America.

But there’s another ranking that might be a bit more appealing to you: Boston consistently ranks as one of the top ten cities in the United States to raise a family. So which neighborhoods stack up in that regard? And what should you be looking for as you weigh your housing options?

When looking for the right neighborhood there are a number of factors to consider.

Public schools

One thing’s for sure. Young families need to think about their children’s futures. A big part of that is the public school system. So when looking for your first house, it’s vital that you consider the state of public schools in the area.

Just outside Boston, in the city of Newton, Massachusetts, lies the West Newton neighborhood — in which reside 13,545 Massachusettans. According to Niche.com, West Newton ranks highest among all Boston-area neighborhoods for public schooling. For the youngins, that includes A.E. Angier Elementary and Cabot Elementary. For the young adults, Newton North High School ranks among the highest public schools in the region.

Downside about West Newton is that it’s not very affordable. The median home value stands at a hefty $701,758. Compare that to the National average of $178,600.

  • Runner-Up Neighborhood for Best Schooling: Oak Hill

Crime rates

What family, young or old, doesn’t want to feel safe in their own home? It may be a luxury of the middle and upper classes, who notoriously reside in areas with less crime than urban populations. Nonetheless, crime rates remain an important factor when considering what neighborhood to settle in.

The Sudbury suburb of Boston boasts one of the best grades for crime rate on Niche.com. Coming in with an A-grade for crime and safety, it’s easy to see why some 18,397 people call Sudbury home. This grade is divided into two categories: violent crime and property crime. For violent crimes, the national averages for assault and robbery are 273 and 133, respectively. In Sudbury, the average for assault is 10; for robbery, 0. For property-related crimes, the national average stands at 2,051 thefts a year. In Sudbury the number is 236.

So if you’re looking for that safe, secure suburban feel you’ll find it in Sudbury. Just make sure you’ve got a household income of around $165,745. The median home value in Sudbury? $640,700. But surprisingly rent is a bit more affordable at $569 — although that number is a little skewed because 94% of the residents in Sudbury are homeowners, not tenants. 

  • Runner-Up Neighborhood for Best Crime and Safety: Lexington

Cost of living

This is probably the biggest factor for most prospective home buyers. Young families, especially, are avoiding home owning more and more as combinations of a tight job market, student debt, and other factors push them toward renting. Nonetheless, homebuyers are out there — even with the National market still in recovery mode from the 2008 bubble collapse.

Well as we’ve already mentioned, Boston consistently ranks as one of the most expensive cities to live in in America. So if you’re looking for actual affordability you might want to move to Iowa. But for those hard-headed homebuyers out there, the top choice in affordability is, again, Sudbury.

Other options include Ayer and Devens. Both of these small suburbs have relatively low median home values compared to other parts of Boston.

Final advice for young families

Rent. Save. Rent. Save. Rent. And save.

 

 

Addressing Boston’s Income Inequality

Boston is in the middle of a huge real estate boom right now. If you haven’t already, check out our main page for information on acquiring a real estate license. It’s about time you took the next step in furthering your career in realty, don’t you think? But even as the market heats up, a major problem continues to plague the city: income inequality. And we need to talk about it.

The hard truth about Boston’s income inequality

As I mentioned in my last article, Boston ranks number 1 in America for city income equality. Just to reiterate:

In 2014, households earning near the top of Boston’s income distribution made made $266,224. Conversely, households at the bottom of that distribution earned just $14,942.

Now, granted, Boston hosts one of the largest student populations of any city in the country. This is bound to impact the numbers. But the fact remains, that in Boston the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer.

Studying the divide

Last year, the Brookings Institution released a study that showed these dramatic findings.

According to the study, Boston’s “95/20’’ ratio was 17.8 in 2014. In other words, an individual at the 95th percentile, bringing in $266,224 a year, earned nearly 18 times more than a person at the 20th percentile — earning $14,925.

One major effect of this inequality is a narrowing of the city’s tax base — which weakens the ability of the Bay State government to address low-income needs. On top of that, the price of goods and services for poor households inevitably rises.

So where does real estate factor in?

Another major impact of income inequality is a lack of affordable housing. As we’ve seen with the Millennium Tower, Boston real estate has a sharp focus on luxury condos, houses, and apartments for the city’s top earners. Meanwhile the city’s impoverished are being left in the dust.

Well, okay, not completely.

Committing to a better future

Thanks in large part to the city’s building boom, Boston permitted more units of affordable housing in 2015 than any other year on record, according to city Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

In 2015, the city issued building permits for 1,022 apartments and condos with rents deemed affordable to middle- and lower-income residents. In 20 years of record-keeping, this is the largest issuance to date. On top of that, the city approved another 1,443 units but have yet to receive issue building permits.

“We are committed to creating a Boston that anyone, at any income level, can afford to live in,” Walsh said in a statement.

More than half of the new apartments arose from a city policy that requires developers of new buildings to either include affordable units in their projects or fund them elsewhere in the city. That program — which the Walsh Administration revamped in December 2015 — has played a huge role in the surge in construction.

On top of that, the city collected $23 million in funds to subsidize lower-income apartments.

Clearly, Mayor Walsh and his team remain committed to tackling the problem of income inequality in the city. According to a statement released in 2016, they want to add 53,000 units citywide by 2030. If they can maintain their current pace of production, Boston will eventually hit its target of 6,500 new affordable units.

Still more work to do

But, even with the Mayor’s efforts, the situation remains far from solved. Some say it’s getting worse.

“While some are doing very well, there are still too many who are not,” said Kim Janey, senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children.

Take a look below at this map created by geographic information systems provider Esri. Each blue dot represents two households with an annual income greater than $200,000, while each yellow dot represents two households with an annual income less than $25,000.

Boston faces a steep climb towards closing the gap in household incomes. Currently the city ranks first in worst income inequality.

Peeling back the layers

Even with seeming improvements in affordable housing, further examination demonstrates some deep-seated problems. For one, unemployment rates are substantially higher for black and Latino workers and for those with disabilities.

“If you look at the people in the bottom half, especially the people in the lowest fifth, you really see that they haven’t recovered much at all,” said Marc Draisen, executive director of the council, a regional planning organization that represents 101 cities and towns in the eastern part of the state.

According to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council report, the median income for black and Latino households is less than half the median income for white and Asian households. And while median incomes remained steady for white, Asian, and Latino households from five years ago, the median income declined for black households, from $45,800 to $43,600.

Moreover, the report showed that minorities, even wealthy ones, have a much harder time getting approved for mortgages than white people. An increasing share of older adults are continuing to work past age 65 and spend more than 30 percent of their income on a place to live.

“This housing cost burden issue is not only a huge social issue, it’s also a big problem for our economy,” said Draisen.

Moving forward, activists continue to try to shrink the gap in income equality. Critical to that, they say, is a 2018 ballot measure that would impose an additional tax on income over $1 million.

Millennium Tower, Boston’s Tallest Residential Building Keeps Getting Taller

With rental season in full swing, Boston finds itself in the midst of one of the city’s largest series of developments. Among these is the Millennium Tower, a sharp, shiny glass-covered monolith rising over Downtown Crossing. Considered one of the most opulent developments in city history, the Tower boasts some of the nicest digs you’ll see in the Bay State real estate market.

Filling Filene’s Hole

In 2006, Filene’s Department Store in Downtown Crossing, Boston, MA closed for good. After the company was consolidated into Macy’s, the flagship building went up for sale. Enter Vornado Realty Trust of New York. Vornado, in partnership with Gale International, bought the building and embarked upon a massive $700 million redevelopment of the Filene’s site. The redeveloped building would consist of a 39-story tower including a 280-room hotel, a 125-seat restaurant, 475,000 square feet of office space, 166 residential condos, 300,000 square feet of retail space, and an adjacent park. But then the money ran out, leaving a huge hole where Filene’s once stood.

Breaking New Ground on Millennium Tower

In 2012, Millenium Partners took over as head developers, earning city approval for 1.2 million square feet of commercial and residential space. Finally on September 17, 2013, the building officially broke ground. Seven months later, on April 26, 2014, 600 trucks convened at the Downtown Crossing site to pour 6,000 cubic yards of concrete, making it the largest pour in Boston’s history. Under the guidance of Ben Middleton of Handel Architects, construction commenced on what would be the tallest residential building in the city of Boston. As of October 2016, 97% of the building has been accounted for, either sold or under agreement.

Neighborhood in the Clouds

The city's first neighborhood in the clouds.
You might as well call it Cloud City. I hear Lando Calrissian bought a penthouse suite.

As has been noted, Millennium Tower, standing at some 690 feet (give or take) and 60 stories, is the tallest residential building in downtown Boston. Furthermore, this shimmering glass spire is home to 422 luxury condos — now owned by local residents and buyers from Asia and Europe. These condos boast unmatched views unlike any other private residence in Boston. The complex’s website calls it ‘the city’s first neighborhood in the clouds.’

Millennium Tower - One of the many fairytale views from this modern day palace in the sky.

And for good reason. Have a look for yourself. Among the building’s major amenities you’ll find customized kitchen and bathrooms courtesy of luxury designer Christopher Peacock. He will literally be working with individual residents to design the condo of their dreams. Also included in the build is the Tower’s own luxury clubhouse — called The Club. This resident’s paradise spans 23,000 square feet, rises two floors, and includes a screening room, a parlor with pool table and comfy lounge chairs, a library, pool, spa, bar, and salon. It’s a veritable xanadu — complete with everything you might need to survive a nuclear winter in serious style.

Oh. And did I mention the Tower also boasts a residential dining room manned by chef Michael Mina? Or that residents will also have access to the city’s largest residential-only fitness center? Why do you think people keep calling Millennium Tower the most anticipated residential development in Boston city history?

A City Divided

All in all, Millennium Tower will irrevocably transform Downtown Crossing into an epicenter of luxury and commerce. Not to mention, it has already spawned some of the priciest home deals the city has ever seen — such as the Grand Penthouse which sold for a ridiculous $35 Million in February 2016. Meanwhile, Boston ranks number 1 in America for city income equality.

In 2014, households earning near the top of Boston’s income distribution made made $266,224. Conversely, households at the bottom of that distribution earned just $14,942. Granted, Boston hosts one of the largest student populations in America. But nonetheless, as with many other parts of the world, the rich keep getting richer while the poor get poorer in Boston. Hence the beautiful monstrosity that is Millennium Tower.

 

 

Exploring Beacon Hill: Boston, Massachusetts’ Historic Neighborhood

So you’ve just acquired your real estate license in the state of Massachusetts and now you’re looking to brush up on your knowledge of Boston’s famous neighborhoods and suburbs? Well look no further. Today we’re going to take a look at the historic Boston subdivision, Beacon Hill.

Exploring Cozy Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill is a 19th-century residential neighborhood located to the north of the Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden. It is by all means the exception to the apparent rule of city life: that it’s isolating and anonymous by nature. This charming enclave, home to nearly 10,000 people, is more a village than an urban environment. Here, neighbors know neighbors, residents take walks down cozy cobblestone streets, and not to mention the Hill’s commercial streets play host to a wide array of merchants and communal events and activities.

Here are just a few things that make Beacon Hill one of the most appealing areas in downtown Boston:

  1. Charles Street and Cambridge Street
    These two streets make up Beacon Hill’s main commercial thoroughfares. Charles, specifically, is the neighborhood’s main street. It is known for its 40 unique antique shops, home decorating shops, delicious artisanal food shops and several good restaurants. Cambridge Street offers more in the way of delicious restaurants, plus two gas stations and a supermarket. Both Charles and Cambridge offer a number of unique service shops, including one of the last independent pharmacies – Gary Drug – left in America. You’ll also find Massachusetts General Hospital on Cambridge Street. And for residents the best part is, everything is within walking distance.
  2. The Bustling Nightlife
    Though Beacon Hill has some of the highest rents in the city of Boston, its nightlife might just be one of the most accessible, not to mention of high repute. Home to some of the city’s best dive bars, Beacon Hill draws a lively crowd on the weekends. The Beacon Hill Pub, for example, consistently pulls in loads of millennials looking to party the night away. With cheap beer on tap and a good selection of domestic beers, it’s a popular locale for those who prefer a casual atmosphere to the club scene.
  3. Acorn Street
    This street just so happens to be one of America’s most beautiful city streets. Reminiscent of an old European city, its gas-lit cobblestone streets will make you wish you lived there. Known for its beautiful doors and shutters, brass door knockers, decorative iron work, brick sidewalks, perpetually-burning gas lights, flowering pear trees, window boxes, and hidden gardens, it’s no wonder Acorn Street is one of the most photographed locales in the country. And if somehow you’ve got a small fortune tucked away, you could easily afford one of its mid-19th century homes worth up to $13,000 a month in rent. There’s a reason Acorn Street is such prime real estate.

    Exploring Beacon Hill: Boston, Massachusetts' Historic Neighborhood
    Acorn Street is one of the most photographed streets in North America, and for good reason. The contrast of old cobblestone streets and lush flora makes it an ideal spot for Instagrammers.
  4. A Rich History
    They don’t call it Beacon Hill for nothing. Seriously, it’s an actual hill. The South Slope was developed in the 1790’s by the Mt. Vernon Proprietors for Boston’s richest families. Development began when architect Charles Bulfinch laid out the plan for the neighborhood. In 1799 the hills were leveled, Mount Vernon Street was paved, and mansions were built along it. One of the first homes was the Harrison Gray Otis House on Cambridge Street.

    Unlike the South Slope, the North Slope developed in a more organic fashion. It stretched up and down alleyways and into all sorts of nooks and crannies. Among its residents were former slaves, sailors, poets, and more. Notably, the African Meeting House on Joy Street became a community center for black abolitionists.

    Frederick Douglas spoke there, giving impassioned speeches on emancipation. William Lloyd Garrison also founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society there. As a result, it became known as a hotbed and important depot on the Underground Railroad. In the late 19th century, immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe moved into the neighborhood and city planners remade many of the homes into tenements.

    Many homes built of wood were dilapidated by the end of the Civil War and were razed for new housing. During this time the black community migrated to Boston’s south end and the north slope was overtaken by an influx of Irish, Jewish, and other immigrants. Eventually, the African Meeting House was turned into a synagogue.

Whether you’re looking for some good eats, some good old fashioned antiquing, one of Boston’s many famous bars–including the Bull & Finch Pub now called Cheers after it inspired the making of the TV show of the same name–or just itching to take a walk down some of the city’s most bustling, eccentric, charming thoroughfares, Beacon Hill is the place for you.

Important Tips for Real Estate Agents

So you just passed your real estate licensing exam? Congratulations. You did it. You got through real estate continuing education, and now you find yourself saying, “what’s next?” Too often, nascent real estate agents focus so much on obtaining their real estate license that they forget there’s a whole world of obstacles and complexity they’ll face once they have it. Maybe they failed to take the time to understand the nuances of the business. Maybe they never learned how to develop a budget plan, or learn the ropes from a seasoned pro. If you don’t plan ahead, you may just find yourselves among the ranks of so many failed realtors.

This little list will help you on your way to becoming a successful real estate agent. But don’t forget; there’s always work to be done on your own.

Biggest tips for newly licensed real estate agents:

1. Have a backup income source

This might be the most crucial tip of all. When you’re just starting out as a realtor, you can’t expect to start selling mansions right away. You have to build contacts, a clientele base, references, etc. In the early goings of your real estate career, it is vital that you have a backup plan to pay your bills. This might mean working nights as a bar tender, or saving enough money from your day job to last you for a good six months. Don’t just dive in without a life jacket.

2. Start building your sphere of influence early

In case you didn’t know, there is more to real estate than buyers and sellers. Along the way you’ll have to constantly work with buyers, other sellers, investors, appraisers, loan officers, mortgage brokers, inspectors, and title companies. A good idea here is to find yourself a solid contact management system. This will help you make good use of your time, stay organized and focused on the day-to-day tasks, and stay regularly connected to professionals and clients in your web of activity. You might look into FullContact or Sync.Me or PowerMate’s Agent Business Builder. Whatever the case be sure to consider your specific organizational needs before committing to a specific system. This will help you maintain your sphere of influence and keep you on the cutting edge of sellers in your network.

3. Learn how to use internet and social media

In today’s fast paced real estate world, it’s basically impossible to succeed without building an online presence. This means learning the ins and outs of social networking with sites such as LinkedIn and Zillow. You’ll also want to budget enough money to build your own website and maintain a good web presence. This will help you down the line as you get into the groove.

Whatever your needs as a realtor are, it is important to be as prepared and organized as possible for the big time. The more you have your bases covered and are willing to put in the leg work, the better your outcome of success will be. While these are just a few important tips in building your real estate career, there are so many resources available to better yourself as a real estate professional. Use your mentors. Network, network, network. And before you know it, you’ll be using your real estate license with success and dedication.

What Makes the Real Estate Industry Alluring?

The real estate industry is a firmly rooted industry that has an overabundance of employment opportunities. The market is not only a good place to earn and make good money, but can also be a worthwhile investment that can be penetrated with ample connections and a lot of know-how.

There are a lot of great opportunities when going for a real estate career. Not only will it be gratifying, but can also be highly rewarding for those who want to make it their full time jobs. Unlike any other business where you are expected to do things on your own, being in the real estate industry means that you have to build a solid network of connections because you are expected to create strong relationships. You need to get businesses, sell properties from residential to commercial, and many other jobs that are related to the industry.

You Take Charge of Your Growth

One important aspect why the real estate industry is alluring is because you take charge of your business growth. You take full responsibility for the success of your enterprise and there are no particular limits as to where you can go. It all has to do with your attitude and effective marketing skills. Hard work and much needed skill all come to play which in turn can be rewarding.

Also, as you try to build relationships, your involvement before the prospective home buyer makes the decision can spell the difference between having a successful deal or not. This in turn makes it worthwhile to involve yourself with the activities surrounding that decision.

You Take Charge of Your Own Time

Another key element why a lot of people are enticed into the real estate industry is because you do not have to work around other people’s time. You take charge of your own time and you are the boss. You also take charge for most part of the job such as building connections within your business circle which can make the job easier.

Real Estate Pros

3 Things Every Real Estate Pro Knows

The real estate market has made and broken people the world over. Those who have been successful in the market have learned critical lessons that have helped them to stay afloat and be immensely successful. They know both the history and location. Throughout your career in the real estate business, some fundamentals are timeless and have helped the heavyweights in the business to anticipate trends and get ahead of them rather than chasing them.

Know the local pricings

Being knowledgeable about the market trends in pricing can be an invaluable asset to someone in the real estate business. For example, a potential investor should analyze the markets and find out about areas with accelerated growth in pricing. Next, one should know about the differences in average home prices between towns. This can be used as an indicator to find out which area has the biggest demand and consequently, potential.

Look for catalysts

One of the biggest tells that a zone is going to be desirable in the future is the development of new infrastructure. Over time, the construction of schools, roads, malls, and others have been tells that the area will see a sharp growth spurt. By knowing these signs, one can be able to invest in a growing community which can be a very lucrative opportunity long-term. Visiting the town hall will help you get information about which projects are oncoming and as such help you to plan ahead.

Check school rankings

When you are looking to invest in residential real estate, school rankings are a good tell for which areas are more lucrative and hold the most potential. Schools are one of the best tells for the potential for a zone. A keen-eyed investor will look for schools with the potential to grow and climb the state’s school’s rankings as parents will always need their children to access quality education. Access to quality education is a huge selling point for new home buyers.

These are some of the trends that have shaped the real estate industry for a while and helped the wise investors to get ahead even in terrible markets. Always having these ideas in mind helps you identify opportunities better.

Buying A Condo?

BUYING A CONDO?

FOCUES ON THE NUMBERS, NOT JUST THE AMENITIES!

 

In the last 30 years, condos have become familiar sights on the real estate landscape but they can look and operate very differently from one another.  There is a wide spectrum of what constitutes a condo, including:

  • The 1960’s apartment complexes that have been spruced up and the ownership legally changed to condos
  • The thousands of mills, schools, and churches that have been adapted and reused as condos
  • The turn of the century 3 family homes wherein one unit can now command $500,000 or more in some cities
  • The upscale townhouse communities with every amenity aimed at the successful young suburban buyer
  • The age- restricted development with no children but plenty of senior oriented social programs.
  • The second home community with marinas, ski trails, golf courses, and upscale clubhouses

It is easy to find the right lifestyle fit for your buyer clients-whether they are looking for their first home or they are downsizing from the large home in the suburbs to a “maintenance free” home.  The units for sale can be staged, the parking lot filled with cars, and the location is perfect!  Your client chooses a unit, you encourage an offer “subject to the condo docs” and you feel that your job is almost done.  Unfortunately, condos are among the most misunderstood properties by both buyers and real estate agents and having a laissez-faire attitude about the condo documents can get an agent into trouble.    75% of the time, the agents don’t even know if they have all of the condo docs and once the offer has been made, the buyer agent emails whatever the listing agent has sent to him or her- hoping that the buyer’s attorney does not make an issue out of anything.

The condo documents are not the same as the operating instructions for the dish washer and heating system that agents put into a nice notebook to provide at closing.  In fact, before an agent encourages his/her client to view some units in a particular community, that agent should have read through all the documents and financial statements to determine if it is the right community to recommend for the client.

New England has many different types of condominium developments, and Planned Unit Developments (PUDS) are often confused as condos.  The agent needs to know the difference upfront.  In a PUD, the unit owner has a single family detached or townhouse style unit and owns the land under his/her unit.  He or she often may be responsible for the maintenance and replacement of the roof, siding, windows, etc.  No one else can use the area around their unit vs. a “regular” condominium unit that has limited common areas such as patios, decks, storage units, garage spaces, etc.  A limited common area is a part of the complex that is owned by all the unit owners in common; however, the use is restricted to a specific unit owner due to their unit’s proximity to the area.  A balcony off a living room is a great example- all the unit owners own the balcony but only one unit owner can use it.

The most important of the condominium documents are the financial statements= not the budget.  The financial statements show the actual financial history of the property and may have absolutely no relation to the budget (or projected income and expenses).  You and your client need to review the financial statements to see how many unit owners are paying their condo fees late (or are delinquent), what the management fee has been ( it should not be more than 10% of the total budget in a  well- run association, whether or not the onsite people have been keeping up with the maintenance (including changing lightbulbs in outside lights and hallways, cleaning indoor common hall carpets,  filling in potholes in the parking lot, and paying attention to any pools, tennis courts, and clubhouses.  Does the pool have a handicapped lift?  This is now a requirement in MA for all hotel, apartment, and condominium complex pools to enable access to the pool for people who have mobility problems.

You and your client need to review the reserves.  Many agents believe that you can just hand these statements to their clients, but as a buyer agent, you need to be able to analyze and explain them as well.  The capital reserve is the “bank account” that holds the money for the large ticket item replacement such as roofs, septic systems, wells (in NH), parking lot paving, sidewalks, and other capital projects.  Look at the list of the capital projects that have been done in the last few years and what the management team has planned for the current year.  Ask how old the major systems are and when they need to be replaced.  There are many condo projects that are in trouble due to common septic system or well failures, roofs that need replacing, and other expensive issues.  Harbor Towers in Boston had huge HVAC issues and had to special assess each owner over $100,000 because the capital reserves did not have enough money in the budget.

Review the Master Deed and the Unit Deed for the complex.  Who is responsible for maintaining and replacing the windows?  Older condo developments defined a unit as a “cube of air space” with the boundary being the inner surface of the inner most side of the exterior wall. Many unit owners have been surprised to learn that they are responsible for broken glass (especially problematic in a golf course community).  Who is responsible for the duct work and the piping that runs through the unit?  They may be part of one large system, but once they go through a demising wall into your client’s unit, the client may be responsible.  What happens if someone’s tub above your client’s unit overflows and floods your client’s unit?  Does the client seek payment from the master policy or from their unit owner’s policy and are they insured sufficiently?

New England experienced an Arctic winter a couple of years ago with 7 feet of snow.  Practically every complex’s budget ran a deficit due to snow plowing expenses- which is understandable.  You and your client will need to check the Operating Reserves to ensure that enough money has been budgeted for unforeseen expenses.

Become familiar with the Rules and Regulations so that you can discuss smoking, flag flying, yard sales, and other possibly regulated activities with your client before he/she makes an offer.  You will protect yourself legally, and instead of discouraging a sale, you will look like the local condominium expert to your client and he/she will be more loyal to you!