As condos continue to multiply and the prices of single-family homes rise, more buyers are thinking about condo living as a long-term option. For the most part, these buyers have lived their lives in single-family homes before moving to San Francisco or are downsizing. Buyers all ask questions about homeowner associations (known as HOAs).
There are three types of group ownership in San Francisco: condos, TICs (tenancy in common), and stock cooperatives. All have HOAs and all have dues paid to the HOA.
Here are some things to consider if you are thinking about buying buying a condo, TIC, or stock cooperative.
How much are the HOA dues? The amount will be between a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000. Typically, TIC dues are the lowest, covering minimal expenses.
What expenses do the dues cover? Keep in mind that there are always exceptions to the rule. For the most part, HOA dues cover common water, garbage, and building insurance. From here expenses will be added to cover the salaries of a doorman, management companies, and building amenities such as a gym or swimming pool. An additional cost might be a monthly contribution to the building reserves.
Why are the dues so high? When buyers ask this question, they usually are looking at a building with a doorman, gym, and swimming pool, or possibly all three plus a management company. A building with a 24-hour doorman will always have dues at the high end. Some buildings have valet parking to maximize the number of cars that can be parked in the building. Also there is often a monthly contribution to the building reserves.
I always tell buyers when it comes to maintaining a property that there is a choice: Pay now monthly or pay later with an assessment. Putting off work may be appealing to a buyer who is planning to move on in a few years. Still, there is no downside to paying monthly toward future repairs on a building. Buyers look for buildings that have a healthy reserve. No reserve funds in the bank or a low reserve can be a red flag for buyers. Lenders all ask how much money is in the building reserve fund. I have sold condos where the lender required the buyer to contribute to the reserve fund in order to qualify for a loan. This may be the case where the monthly HOA dues are low and only covered water, garbage, and building insurance.
Is there a special assessment for work needed on the building? This is always a good question, but not a common expense to find in a property. A special assessment is an amount of money billed to homeowners for specific work needed on a building. The assessment is often — but not always — divided by square foot of ownership. In San Francisco, this work may be an unexpected soft story reinforcement or more typically a new roof, exterior painting, or dry rot and foundation repair.
Until the birth of Airbnb, it was common to find a 30-day minimum allowed for renting. Stock cooperatives typically do not allow renting, or if they do there is a minimum of a one-year lease. Airbnb caused a homeowners’ revolt. Residents found their peaceful buildings inhabited by short-term renters who were not respectful of their neighbors. The end result has been that many buildings have changed their rules to limit renting to a six-month or one-year minimum. Also it is not unusual to find that a building has limited the number of rentals in the building. Some buildings have a wait list to rent, and it may be many years before it is possible to rent.
Every day, finding a parking space on the streets of San Francisco becomes more difficult. Parking is a valuable asset and can add as much as $50,000 to $100,000 to the sale price. There are many forms of parking. Parking can be deeded (the most desirable), assigned, shared/rotational, tandem, valet, leased off site, or nonexistent. New construction parking spots are typically smaller than those found in existing buildings. Some HOAs charge a separate monthly fee for parking even if the garage is in the building. If you are driving a large car and find a condo, TIC, or stock coop apartment with a small space, I strongly recommend buying a smaller car.
Not all buildings allow all pets. Many buildings limit size by weight or have specific breeds that are not allowed. If your dog is under 20 pounds, you will have a good chance of finding a home. A dog over 50 pounds is a hard sell, and the majority of multiunit buildings in San Francisco are off limits to large dogs.
San Francisco is awash with a population of educated professionals. HOA boards are frequently made up of retired lawyers, accountants, and managers who want to protect their homes and their investments. Elections are held to select the board. Terms of office can be anywhere from one year to three years.
The simple fact is that to live in a multi-unit building with others, there are compromises. These are offset by the pluses. There may be a view, amenities like a doorman, gym, or swimming pool, or a more interesting lifestyle than you could afford in a single-family home in the same neighborhood.
Everyone will agree that the bylaws, CCRs (covenants, conditions, and restrictions), and house rules of a multiunit building are not fun reading. Still it is necessary to understand the rules of a building. You cannot ask your agent or the listing agent too many questions before you make an offer; I am also here to help.