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Book Review

Overview of Condo/Co-Op Buying Is Short on Depth

"Keys to Purchasing a Condo or Co-Op," Second Edition, by Jack P. Friedman and Jack C. Harris (Barron's Educational Series, Hauppauge, N.Y., 2000), $7.95, 137 pages.

February 04, 2001|ROBERT J. BRUSS

If you're thinking of buying a condominium or a cooperative apartment, "Keys to Purchasing a Condo or Co-op" offers a concise yet complete overview of the pros and cons for these special residences.

The book's 55 short chapters of just a few pages each highlight the special considerations buyers should think about before purchasing a condo or co-op. Although the book overemphasizes how co-ops differ from condos (since there are so few co-ops), readers easily gain insight about co-op drawbacks, such as the major detriment of required board of director's approval for buyers.

The authors do an especially good job explaining how buying a condo is much like purchasing a single-family, detached house. The mortgage financing is the same, as are the tax deductions for interest and property taxes. Then they explain owning a condo is like living in a small town and being subject to governance of the board of directors. Some folks might not like that.

Next, the authors compare cooperative apartments with condos. They explain how a co-op is a corporation that owns the building and issues a proprietary lease for a specific apartment to each shareholder. The difficulty of financing co-op purchases is emphasized and then compared with the ease of financing condominium acquisitions. But the authors never explain why co-ops exist in some cities because condos have all the advantages and none of the co-op drawbacks.

Several times the authors mention the importance for prospective condo and co-op buyers to inquire into the number of renters in the complex. They explain that renters, and their absentee landlords who don't live in the complex, have different attitudes than owner-occupants. But the authors fail to emphasize that most lenders refuse to finance condos if more than 25% of the complex is rented.

This primer for first-time condo and co-op buyers offers an easy-to-understand, generalized summary of factors to consider. More specifics would have been useful, such as how to avoid buying a bad condo or co-op. For example, the authors fail to emphasize condo owners No. 1 complaint of poor soundproofing between units.

Although the book superficially covers many considerations for condo and co-op buyers, it lacks depth of inquiry. To illustrate, it doesn't emphasize how "no pet" and "no rental" rules can affect the market value of condos and co-ops. Also, the subject of monthly maintenance fees is barely mentioned, and the important topic of adequate reserves for repairs is inadequately covered. Readers are left begging for more details.

This is an excellent survey book of considerations for condo and co-op buyers. But don't expect much depth of coverage. It offers just enough information to alert readers to potential problems, but not enough detail so readers feel confident about buying.

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