Buyer: I would like to buy this condo but the dues are too high.
Buyer: What does the column titled ‘dues’ mean?
Buyer: Those dues are MONTHLY?!?!?
Each and every day, I get asked about dues when showing condominiums. While some of the questions are quite astute and on point, many indicate a complete lack of understanding of what ‘dues’ really are. It is frustrating in that it is not a question that can be answered in a sentence or two. It is also a question that needs support from both agents in a transaction to help a buyer unfamiliar with the condominium ownership structure become comfortable with the concept of ‘dues.’
The emergence and acceptance of the condominium as a living option is a relatively new development in Richmond. The condominium market, as we now know it, did not really exist as little as 7 years ago in Downtown Richmond. The rapid rise and growth of condos in the City created a steep learning curve for both the Realtor community as well as the buyers. Some agents sought the knowledge (or at least engaged in learning the basics) and kudos to them, however, many did not. This lack of knowledge has manifested itself in an inability for many buyer’s agents to adequately explain ‘dues’ on either an actual or conceptual level.
So…..in my never ending quest to defend my beloved condo market, I thought I would take to task “the dues question” and why they are so misunderstood.
I cannot tell you how many times I hear that “single family homes don’t have dues” or some derivative of that statement. If you are a buyer and your agent tells you single family house do not have dues, fire them on the spot. You should not take their advice.
Single family houses have dues….you just aren’t made aware of them in the same way as you are in a condo.
Before we get started, let’s apply some numbers so that we know what we are talking about.
The majority of the condos in Richmond have a dues structure of roughly $2.50 -3.25 per square foot per year of dues expense. In other words, a 1000 SF condo with a parking garage and an elevator will typically generate $200-300 per month in dues or somewhere in the neighborhood of $3000 a year.
Do you get a water or sewer bill at your home? Well, in a condo, water and sewer is typically a part of your dues ($200-300 per year is about right)
Do you pay hazard insurance? In a condo, since the structure is owned collectively, then it must be insured by the association. Therefore, the large majority of your insurance bill is paid for as part of your dues. (about $500-700 per year)
So to truly look at the difference between single family and condos, you first must adjust for the insurance and the utilities.
The second (and most misunderstood component) is the maintenance and reserve budget.
Do you have a roof on your single family home? I’ll bet you do. What does that cost to replace? When will it happen? Are you putting any money away for that replacement? The condo people are.
Do you have exterior walls on your home? What does it cost to keep them painted or cleaned? What does it cost to replace the rotten siding or wood trim? Are you putting money away for this repair? The condo people are.
Each month, some portion of the dues go into an account for future repairs and maintenance items. In lieu of waiting for the repair to be needed and then asking for each person to put up their pro-rata share, the money is available. If the repair is not needed, then the money is not spent. It is sitting in an account, waiting to be used.
Who cuts your grass? Who maintains your pool? Who cleans your cutters? You get the point.
Is putting $2000 a year towards both current AND future repairs that much different than a single family home? Take a look back at your checkbook last year and then answer that question. If the answer surprises you, look back five years and you will understand even more. My bet is that living in a condo is actually cheaper than living in a single family home when the entire cost of ownership it truly examined.
Take this point with you – all improved properties (single family, commercial, apartment, condominiums) have ‘dues,’ the question is whether or not they are paid collectively in advance (as they are in condos) or in a lump sum in arrears (as they are in single family). To say that one property type has dues and one does not is naïve basing your purchase decision based on dues/no dues is not going to lead to the correct outcome.
If you are struggling with ‘the dues question’ then lay it all out on a spreadsheet and review the budget (which by law you have the right to do) and then make your decision. Living in a condo may or may not be the right decision for you, but strive to understand the true differences before blindly dismissing condominiums because they have dues.
What do you think?
For more information, see Richmond VA Condos.