Condominium is a form of ownership of real estate. In this type of ownership the owner has individual title to the air space inside the unit, plus an undivided interest in the buildings and land.
Condominium ownership is guided by a set of declarations that are written at the time of creation of the development. This document outlines how the condo will be governed and maintained. The Texas Real Estate Commission contract allows the buyer to receive a copy of the condo documents, and have a certain period of time to review them. The buyer may decline the contract without penalty if he is not satisfied, after reading the documents.
If you are considering a duplex condo, here are seven questions to ask during your document review period:
1. Condominiums usually have an elected board of directors who take charge of scheduling maintenance, paying common bills, and handling any disputes that arise. Of course, in a duplex condo there are only two owners. This creates some special questions on how the governing board will be structured. Will there be a representative from each unit on the board? Check to be sure this is written in the condo documents.
2. Usually, duplex condo owners do not want to incur the expense of a management company. They often handle any common area repairs, insurance and landscaping between themselves. It is important to check whether the declaration requires a third party manager, or allows management be handled by the two owners.
3. How will the two parties resolve a disagreement? In a large condo project, the board may be able to look at how a particular issue has been handled in the past. Or, it may take a vote on a rule interpretation. However, in a two party association, previous decisions may have been made according to the preferences of the two owners. This may not give you as much guidance as you need to handle a difficult issue. Do the condo declarations say how a voting deadlock will be handled?
4. Will there be dues collected for a common budget? In small, two-unit condos, it is possible that there will not be a common budget for the project. Each owner may be required to handle all maintenance of the portion of the building and land that he occupies or uses. If this is the case, how will major structural repairs be handled, should they arise?
5. If dues are collected for a common budget, are you clear on how repairs and maintenance will be divided between the individual owners and the common budget? It may be that the common budget covers all exterior parts of the building, decks, pools, sidewalks, and driveways of both units. Or, the individual owners may be responsible for certain kinds of exterior maintenance of their units. Find out how these responsibilities are divided!
6. Have you considered the possibility that you and the other owner may have very different views on maintenance of the building and grounds? What about differences in temperament and lifestyle? One may be fastidious about painting and upkeep, and the other may let his unit get into bad shape.
7. Does the condo declaration provide for a way, such as mediation or arbitration, to resolve difficult issues that cannot be settled between the two owners?
If you do not feel comfortable analyzing the condo documents yourself, hire a real estate attorney to review them with you before proceeding with your purchase. Do not look to the seller, Realtors, home inspector, lender, or well meaning friends to interpret condo documents. This is not their field of expertise! Ask a lot of questions before proceeding with your purchase. A clear understanding of your obligations and potential problems in the ownership of a two-unit condo will lead to a more satisfying purchase.