Chris Griffith: Making sense of condo maintenance fees

CHRIS GRIFFITH

This is going to be exciting! There is nothing more exciting than talking about numbers, budgets and statistics to get everyone hanging on the edge of their seats … or the abyss to boredom. End sarcasm here.

One of the more consistent questions asked by real estate consumers is, what exactly is included in the fees and what exactly is the maintenance fee? If you’ve spent any time searching for real estate online you’ve probably realized just how confusing it is to come up with the correct condominium fees.

There is a rather large segment of the population who either decide to or toy with the idea of jumping into the condo market but know very little about condominium ownership or ownership of a condo in Florida. One of the most frequent request folks have when shopping for a condo is to look for a complex or building with low fees.

Maintenance fees are a fact of life when you own a condo. Naturally, everyone wants to pay the least amount for anything, condo quarterly fees included. The bright eyed consumer might be wondering, exactly what is the least amount of fee they can actually expect to pay? Well, for the most part in Southwest Florida the high $200’s per month is the starting point with condo fees and the prices move upward from there, depending upon the complex and its amenities.

So who comes up with the fees or determines what they will be? The number isn’t plucked from thin air. Every condominium is, in fact, a business and has a budget for operation. Whether a condominium association is managed by the residents or a professional management company, estimates for services and upkeep of the common elements are collected and a new budget is typically proposed at the end of the year for the following year.

One of the largest bills a condominium association is going to have is for insurance; the building structure, common elements, flood insurance. As we all know, insurance can be expensive in Florida and condominium insurance is one of the larger constants in any association budget.

Add to the insurance the other expenses typically covered by the association, cable television, trash collection, water/sewer, legal expenses, lawn care, accounting/management expenses plus any of the amenity maintenance, tennis courts, pool, elevator, club rooms, the list goes on.

All of these are itemized on the budget. There is, or should be, a spreadsheet with every expense the association pays. This is also where the reserves for replacement are calculated and accounts receivable.

So, if you’ve embraced the idea of quarterly expenses and decided that condominium ownership is right for you, know that you should have the opportunity to review the condominium bylaws, rules/regulations, frequently asked questions, as well as the financial and the budget as part of the condominium buying process.

Now, there is always the chance that you’re dealing with a situation where that information is outdated or unavailable. You can take matters into your own hands and contact the management company for the association to ask pointed question or request current information as well as an application for ownership.

You can find out who the management company is by looking for their contact in a common, public location on site at the condominium complex; for example the club house or the community pool. You can also look up the association on www.SunBiz.org. The management company and the directors/officers of the association are published there, just like the principals of any other Florida corporation.

There you have it, the keys to the quarterly condo fee kingdom.

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Chris Griffith is a real estate agent at Downing-Frye Realty Inc. in Bonita Springs. If you have a question about local real estate or Bonita Springs, e-mail her at chris@LifeInBonitaSprings.com.

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