What to Ask When Buying a Condo Pre-Construction

Buying a condo that hasn't been built yet poses its own set of risks. Learn what details you should find out about before you sign that contract.

While most people would never sign away tens of thousands of dollars on a car sight-unseen, they do exactly that with real estate all the time. Many homes and condominiums are purchased before the builders ever sink a shovel into the ground. Visiting a model home may give you an idea of what the finished product will be like but it's not the same as touring the real thing.

Buying a pre-construction condo is also different from buying a pre-construction home. In most cases, a homebuyer will have some degree of say in the design and layout of their planned home. A condo buyer rarely has this luxury. Beyond flooring and surfaces, the design of the unit is generally left to the discretion of the developer. Concerns that seem intangible at the time of purchase-proximity to neighbors and waste disposal, for example-can become unavoidably real after you move in. But it's hard to think about all the potential problems when you're basically purchasing a spot of empty space.

Purchasing real estate of any kind is a big decision. Here are some questions to ask when buying a condo that hasn't been built yet.

What's being done to enhance the soundproofing?
While you've no way of finding out how noisy your neighbors are going to be until after you've actually moved in, you can ask what steps the developer has taken to improve the building's soundproofing. Depending on where your unit is located, you may have people living above, below and on either side of you. Sound transmission-be it airborne sounds coming through the walls, or impact noise from high-heeled shoes coming from the ceiling-is a common complaint about condo life.

Most modern condos are well soundproofed, but certain things are well worth asking about. You can request to see a floor plan of your neighbors' units to determine which common walls you share and which of their walls connect with which rooms in your unit. Also, if possible, try to find out if your upstairs neighbors have opted for wall-to-wall carpeting-an option that's less conducive to sound transmission than bare hardwood flooring.

How close will my unit be to common areas?
Many areas of a condo are shared by all of the tenants. Find out ahead of time if your unit will be situated on, or near, the front vestibule, meeting/party room, gym, elevator or stairwell. People tend to be less careful of noise in shared areas than they are inside of their own unit, and a raucous celebration in an adjoining party room or people tromping up and down nearby stairs could keep you up at night. If your unit will be situated near a noisy part of the complex, ask if it may be possible to get a price discount.

Where will my unit be in relation to sanitation and laundry facilities?
Being near the laundry, sanitation room or pool can pose noise- and smell-related hazards. You could end up living in a condo that constantly smells of bleach, chlorine or cleaning supplies. If your unit backs onto the parking lot or alleyway behind your complex, make sure you ask where the Dumpsters will be placed. A balcony becomes significantly less charming if it offers a scenic-not to mention fragrant-view of a building's trash, especially in mid-summer.

What is the building's expected occupancy?
Be sure to ask how many people you'll be sharing the services and amenities of your condo with. Do some math: Will a laundry room built for five washers and dryers be big enough if a quarter of the tenants opt to do their laundry on a Sunday afternoon? If the gym has only three treadmills, how long might you have to wait after work to get onto one?

Also, ask about what the expected ratio will be of owners to renters. Owners are more likely to take better care of their units than renters. As a result, it can sometimes be more difficult to secure financing for a unit in a condo with more renters than owners, or you may be charged a higher interest rate on a mortgage. A good owner-to-buyer ratio is 3:2 or better.

What are the rules and regulations?
Unlike private home ownership, condo ownership is subject to certain rules and regulations pertaining to the use of both common areas and individual units. Condos can place restrictions on just about everything from the number and type of pets you can have (if any) to what kind of renovations you're allowed to undertake on your unit. Some even place restrictions on how many guests you can have at one time. Get a list of all of these rules and see if any of them are unreasonable or potential deal-breakers.

By asking the right questions, you can get a better understanding of what a condo is going to be like after it's built. And, hopefully, knowing what to expect will help you avoid having any unpleasant surprises.

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