Home Buyer's Guide - closer look at...
Multi-Family Housing Checklist
Multi-family communities can be quite different from single family neighborhoods. It's important to consider these differences to determine if a multi-family unit is the right home for your family.
It's important to consider all of the issues that pertain to multi-family housing before deciding to purchase this type of unit. Review the items on this checklist so you don't miss anything.
Take a close look at the community.
Is the housing density too high? Are the buildings attractive? Will you have enough privacy? Check out the parking situation - are there garages? Is parking reserved or otherwise restricted?
Review the project amenities.
Most multi-family projects offer community amenities, including open space, playgrounds, tennis courts, swimming pools, gyms, and golf courses. Find out whether you will be able to use the facilities as a resident or if you will need to join a separate organization (and pay an additional fee).
Check out the maintenance arrangements.
Because multi-family homes are interconnected, maintenance is generally handled by the homeowner's association. Find out which items are your responsibility and which are handled by the association. Are the landscaping and building exteriors well maintained or do they appear to be neglected?
Check out the maintenance reserves.
The homeowners' association should maintain cash reserves to replace and repair building systems (painting, roof replacement, etc.) on a reasonable schedule. Inquire about these reserves. Do the amounts seem adequate? Is the work schedule reasonable or is it overly optimistic?
Review the rules and regulations.
Multi-family communities generally have rules and regulations to protect the interests of all residents. There are often rules covering parking, pets, rentals, and renovations or improvements to units. Make sure that the rules do not interfere with your use and enjoyment of the property.
Check the monthly maintenance fee.
The costs of maintaining public spaces and amenities is paid by a monthly fee assessed to each property owner. These fees are mandatory and non-payment can result in the establishment of a lien against the property for the amount due, plus interest. Check to make sure the fee is reasonable. If the community has been complete for several years, check to see if the fee has been increasing unreasonably.
Watch out for runaway boards.
The homeowners' association is run by a board consisting of community residents. While it stands to reason that they would act in the best interests of the community, the sad truth is that many of these board members begin to act as petty dictators, imposing their will on their hapless neighbors. If a community seems to have a runaway association board you may want to consider looking elsewhere.
Is the homeowners' association protected?
Check to make sure that the homeowner's association is not subject to any pending litigation. Legal troubles can result from a number of sources - contractors injured while working on the site, disgruntled residents, etc. Make sure that the association carries sufficient insurance - at least $2-5 million.
What are you allowed to do to your unit?
Check to see what changes you are allowed to make to your unit. Typically, owners are allowed to make non-structural internal changes, but must obtain approval for any other work. This is not universal, however, so it makes sense to find out exactly where you stand.
The co-op is a unique type of multi-family project. When you purchase a unit in a co-op you are actually buying shares in an entity that owns the building - along with the right to live in "your" unit.
Because of this unique set up, there are a number of additional things you should check before buying.
- Is the co-op financially sound?
- Are the rules acceptable?
- Are you allowed to finance your purchase?
- Does the board have subjective control over who may buy?
- Are you allowed to rent your unit?
Co-ops are fairly uncommon outside of the northeast. They are very common in New York City, where many apartment buildings have been converted over the years.
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