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Condo ready?
Convenience attracts buyers from all stages of life


November 2014

Downsizing used to be about the only reason anyone considered moving to a condo. It was the option of choice for empty-nesters tired of cutting the grass, raking the leaves and shoveling snow. Today the market is no longer limited to retirees. Young couples, families and people of all shapes and sizes are joining the condo craze. But is it right for you?

According to Mary Beth Gaspar-Waite of Metro Condo Connections, today’s buyer, "represents a buffet of different age ranges and geographic origins. They are young people buying their first property, couples with children who celebrate city life and all the culture that is just a quick stroller walk away. There are corporate executives relocating to Milwaukee and families with kids that have left for college. The beauty of the condo market today is that we have diversity in the buying public."

Before moving into her condo, Heidi Stoltenburg lived in a four-bedroom home in Oconomowoc. Now in the Beerline area of the city, Stoltenburg says location has been the biggest bonus of moving to her two-bedroom condo. "We have so many places within walking distance and just love to get out, walk the area and stop at all of the local businesses," she says.

William and Maureen Michaels owned a four-bedroom home in Delafield for 15 years. Once the kids left home, the couple moved to a condo in the Third Ward. Today they are on their third unit, a 3,500-square-foot condo with a boat slip on the Milwaukee River. "The location is great but we also enjoy the feeling of a close-knit community that can be possible with condo associations. And we love the flexibility to just lock the door behind us when we want to travel and not worry about cutting grass, leaves, snow shoveling and other fun activities that come with traditional home ownership."

One of the new wave of condo buyers, Rachel and Jerome Vogedes moved from a single-family house on Wind Lake to a condo in the Third Ward. "We were finding ourselves driving everywhere and going out in the city anyway. Why not live where we work and play?" Jerome Vogedes asks. With a baby on the way and in need of more space, they are now living in their second condo, this one a 1,865-square-foot unit on Milwaukee’s Lower East Side. "It’s a great location and a relatively quiet neighborhood, yet it’s still close to all the action. We can easily walk to the lake, parks, grocery store, dry cleaners, restaurants, etc. Plus, our building has a nice exercise room and community/party room so there is no need for a gym membership," he says.

What are the hot-ticket items these and other buyers are demanding? "Condo buyers want their units to be in pristine condition so they can move right in without having to do too many updates," says Lauren Siegel of First Weber Group. "The buyers I work with want terraces, windows that open, high-end appliances and heated underground parking."

Do your homework

Before you sell the lawn mower, there are some things you need to know. Unlike buying a single-family home, condo buying comes with its own set of rules. Richard Ruvin of Circle Realty says it is important that a potential buyer find out if the building is well-managed and financially sound. "Speak with current residents, review the financials, interview the property manager and hire a competent Realtor familiar with condos," he says. "It is important to find out if there are there any deadbeat owners who are not paying their dues," adds Nancy Meeks of Shorewest Realty.

Gaspar-Waite recommends reviewing two years’ worth of association budgets, the bylaws and the rules and regulations determining how a condo can be used, and any limitations about pets and or renting. "Read the association meeting minutes. Reviewing several months’ worth of meetings will give you a sense of what they have been working on in the building and what is planned for the future," she adds.

Unlike a private home, condos come with fees. Typically, there are monthly dues, which are charged either per unit or by the square footage of the condo. In some cases there is also an annual insurance coverage fee.

For this money the owner should expect basic services like water and sewer, trash removal, maintenance and repairs on the common areas, landscaping, snow removal and the windows washed several times a year. Some fees include heat and cable, and some luxury buildings may provide security and even concierge services. A properly managed condo will also put a portion of each monthly condo fee in a reserve fund for any future major building improvements.

Market status

Gaspar-Waite says this is a good time to buy. "New condo construction was curtailed after the economic compression and prices are rising rapidly downtown in the best constructed buildings because we have limited supply. With no new condo projects coming out of the gate anytime soon, we will see continued escalation of prices."

Siegel cautiously agrees. "First and foremost, as in all real estate, we have no crystal ball to determine the future market conditions. However, general market conditions have improved over the last 18 months. Currently, in the downtown condo market, there is a six-and-a-half month supply versus a 12-month supply a year ago."

Meeks notes this is the easiest time of year to sell condos. "When homeowners are cleaning out their gardens, raking leaves, cleaning gutters and getting the storm windows on, condo owners are biking through Door County. Not to mention what happens when the snow flies," she says.



This story ran in the November 2014 issue of: