Chicago Condos Infomation - Condos 101
Everything You Need to Know about Owning a Condo in Chicago
Chances are, if you’re searching for a home in Chicago you’re looking at buying a condominium or loft. Multi-unit buildings are the most common type of residential real estate in the city, so it can help to fully understand the deal behind owning a condo before starting your house hunt.
It goes without saying that not all condo units are the same; they come in every shape, style, size and price you could imagine. Not only is there a vast wilderness of choice regarding the actual condos, but the selection of condo buildings themselves is just as wide-ranging – there are huge 700-unit high-rises, midsize courtyard structures, and small three-flat walkups, just to name a few.
The difference between a 30-story loft and second-floor flat is quite apparent to the naked eye, but the underlying costs can be something to look for. Here’s a little outline of some of the questions that you should be sure to ask.
What expenses are tied to owning a condo?
The main fee associated with condo living is the assessments or association dues, which is, very basically, the dollar amount paid each month by a condo owner to pay for common property expenses shared by all condo owners in a particular Chicago building.
Assessment fees vary widely from one property to the next, but they are typically collected on a monthly basis and can increase over time. The money is used for general repairs and regular maintenance for the building, grounds, and other common areas. Make sure to find out what your monthly condo fee is and how often you can expect it to go up, and by how much.
Also, be sure to find out how much is in your condo building’s existing association reserve and whether they anticipate any large expenses in the future. Any unused money from the association fees is typically pooled together and put in the reserve for emergency use.
Occasionally, special assessments are requested for special building repairs or structural replacements that cannot be covered by the reserve funds.
Your condo association may require you to pay additional assessments for unexpected expenses that exceed the amount in the association reserve. These fees are quite sporadic because they are generally requested on a per need basis.
Inquire about the association management and the history of their business practices. Not all homeowners associations are professionally managed, so it’s wise to check into who handles the funds, find out if the association is involved in any litigation, and talk to other residents about their past experience with the management.
[Note: On top of the condo assessments, you will be required to pay city property taxes as well]
In addition to knowing how much it costs to live in your condo, it’s also essential to fully understand the regulations of the building’s homeowners association. The condo owners elect a board of members to run the association, allocate funds, govern the policies, and generally make sure everything is up to snuff in your building. Be sure to go over the specific parameters and regulations of the condo association before signing on the dotted line – that way, you won’t find yourself unintentionally breaking the rules.
Building Policies and Restrictions
Find out about the pet policy.
Some associations do not allow residents to own pets or have size limitations. If you’re allergic to animals, this can be a big bonus because you know the entire building is pet-free. On the other hand, if Fido or Fluffy is part of the family, that condo may not be the right choice for you.
Can you rent your unit out?
If ever a situation comes up where you wanted to rent your condo, you’ll need to know in advance whether it’s permitted by the condo association.
One benefit of living in a condo is the extra building features. Living in a condo building often gives you access to a handful additional features like rooftop pools, gardens and exercise rooms that you might not otherwise be able to afford in a single-family home. The communal areas and facilities in Chicago condo developments are open to all residents and their upkeep is included in the association dues.
Building Features and Perks
All condo buildings are different, but many of the newer construction condos are designed with all the amenities in mind. They’re often equipped with fitness centers on par with any Chicago sports club, and swimming pools or sun decks on the roof. And, if there is not in-unit laundry, the building will usually have a separate laundry room for building residents to use.
Many condo buildings have covered garages, while others have surface lots –but some offer no parking at all. Parking is highly variable from building to building, depending on what is available, so if you own a vehicle, be sure to find out how many parking spots are allotted for each unit and whether they are included in the purchase price. And keep in mind that even if parking is available, it often costs extra to buy a space.
In buying a condo you forgot the benefit of having a basement or shed to store your extra belongings and things you don’t use all the time. Fortunately, condominium buildings often have an area that is divided into individual lockers or storage rooms where residents can put bikes, boxes, strollers, sporting equipment, luggage, etc. These spaces may be included in the purchase price, although many associations charge for the added luxury.
When Buying your ideal Chicago condo, there are many factors to consider. To help narrow down the choices to make that final selection, we have made a buyer's checklist with important questions to keep in mind!
Now that you have the assesments, policies, and features down, try searching our engine for a condo!
Townhouses or Townhomes
Townhouses and townhomes are attached, multi-story homes. Townhouse residents typically share the walls on either side with their neighbors, but there aren’t usually neighbors above or beneath. One major difference between townhouses and condos is that residents of townhouses do own the lot surrounding the unit, while the land surrounding a condo building is usually owned by the condo association. “Brownstones” and “greystones” (which are more common in Chicago) refer to a style of townhouse in which the façade is constructed of brown or gray sandstone.
Row Houses or Terraced Houses
Technically, the only real difference between a row house and a townhouse is that the style of the adjoining row houses in a particular development is identical. Row houses are individual, multi-story condominiums that are situated side-by-side. Residents usually share the walls on either side with neighbors, and sometimes above and beneath as well.
The single most important factor that differentiates lofts from standard condominiums of townhouses is that lofts do not have separated rooms. The only room that is separate from the rest of the unit in most lofts is the bathroom. Lofts are usually living spaces that have been converted from industrial facilities, and they often feature exposed brick, ducts, large windows, and high ceilings. Other than the layout, though, lofts are technically no different from any other type of condo; the property is owned by a condo association to which assessments are paid, etc.
“Loft Style” Condos
Similar to lofts, the defining characteristic of a “loft style” condo is the number of rooms; if the unit consists of more than one room (besides the bathroom, of course), but features some of the common qualities of a loft (high ceilings, exposed brick walls), it is generally listed as a loft style condo. Buildings that feature loft style condos are usually constructed for residential use, but it’s not uncommon for them to be converted from industrial or other buildings.
Co-ops are not condos at all, but they are similar in some regards, so we’ll clear up the differences here. Cooperative living actually has some similarities with both rental apartments and owning a condo. In a coop, the building and each of the individual units are owned by the cooperative, so tenets don’t own their own units in the same way that condo owners do; instead, they’re shareholders in the building, and as such, they own a part of the entire building. And like condo owners, co-op owners pay monthly fees that are similar to assessment fees. Cooperatives were more popular before condos laws were fully established, and they are still pretty common in the northeast. There are some cooperatives in Chicago, but not nearly as many as there are condos.