Helping your client buy a safely constructed condo

After last summer’s tragic condo collapse in a neighboring state, your clients may be reluctant to consider buying a condo, especially one in a building that is not a new construction. This is understandable since most individuals may have little knowledge or experience that would help them identify whether a building is safe or has dangerous defects.

Finding your clients a condo that meets their needs and is safe to inhabit may now require some extra effort, and you will want to have the tools to guide them in doing their own investigations before deciding on purchasing a unit. Often this means knowing the right questions to ask and who is responsible for the building records and maintenance.

Watch out for these signs

Every state has minimum standards for safety in high-rise residential buildings such as condominiums. This includes codes for fire safety, decks and balconies, elevators and stairs, and the overall structural soundness of a building. Sustaining those standards requires periodic inspections by trained professionals and a schedule of repairs and maintenance to ensure the building remains sound. Depending on the location of the building and the materials with which it is constructed, deterioration is a possibility, so it is wise to be alert for any of the following red flags:

  • Cracks in the outer walls or foundation, especially cracks that are particularly wide or that travel at an angle
  • Crumbling concrete, such as pillar or supporting posts or balconies
  • Exposed metal or rebar that concrete once covered
  • Corrosion on exposed metal
  • Windows or doors that no longer close correctly
  • Significant cracks in floors, walls or ceilings of a unit
  • Wallpaper with unexplained wrinkling
  • Musty odors in units

Perhaps the most important red flag is when a condo association does not have any cash in reserve and has not kept up with routine repairs. Your client may quickly find his or her fees rising after purchasing a unit but perhaps too late to repair life-threatening damage.

Your clients’ homework

Clients who are interested in purchasing a condo should do their due diligence. This means obtaining copies of association meeting minutes to learn of the most common complaints and unresolved safety issues. Have residents complained about concrete falling on their vehicles in the underground garage? Are there persistent leaks throughout the building? These are issues that should raise concerns.

The association should also provide a copy of the financial report, which can reveal a lot about the upkeep of the building. Finally, your clients will want to hire a skilled inspector who has experience in condo safety.

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