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A light touch on the pitfalls of condos

BOOK REVIEW

Condos, Co-Ops, & Townhomes: A Complete Guide to Finding, Buying, Mintaining, and Enjoying Your New Home; Mark B. Weiss; Dearborn Trade Publishing; 181 pp., $18.95 paper

January 11, 2004|Robert J. Bruss | Special to The Times

Written by a longtime real estate broker and converter of condominiums, "Condos, Co-ops, & Townhomes" by Mark B. Weiss explains the pros and cons of this specialized type of housing.

But his bias toward these homes shows clearly. His emphasis is on the benefits of this lifestyle. Throughout the book, Weiss extols the positive side of condos while minimizing their possible pitfalls.

Occasionally he shares the downside of living in a "mini-democracy" where the homeowners association board of directors decides policy.

He uses a little humor to lighten up an otherwise dull book. "Disclosures about pet restrictions are exceptionally important because so much emotion is tied to people's cats, dogs, parakeets, and boa constrictors," he notes.

Based on the author's more than 25 years as a real estate agent, the book could have been made much more interesting with real-life examples to illustrate the topics. Instead, there are many generalities and not enough details.

For example, although Weiss highly recommends that condo and co-op buyers make their purchase offer contingent on a professional inspection, he neglects to explain how to find a competent inspector other than "Look for someone your Realtor has worked with successfully."

In other words, he seems to be saying, "Don't hire a tough inspector," such as a member of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), generally considered the toughest inspectors. Nor does he state how important it is for the buyer to accompany the inspector to discuss any discovered defects.

Weiss also glosses over mortgage financing. Never does he emphasize why buyers should be pre-approved in writing before starting the purchase quest in order to know their maximum mortgage amount and to be certain they can qualify for a mortgage. The author weakly suggests, "You should already be prequalified to obtain financing." Prequalification means nothing. What counts is a lender's written loan pre-approval commitment.

As a real estate agent who specializes in condominium sales, Weiss could have placed greater emphasis on what to look for in a superb condo. Information on how to find a well-run condo association with satisfied owners would also have been invaluable. And Weiss fails to emphasize the major drawbacks of buying a condo where there are many renters.

The author suggests careful investigation when the prospective buyer focuses on purchasing a specific condo. "Special assessments aren't called special because they're considered treats of the homeowner," Weiss warns. Then he suggests investigating the homeowner association reserves, although he doesn't say how to determine what is an adequate reserve amount.

His explanation of cooperative apartment pros and cons is very limited, perhaps because there aren't many co-ops left as a result of the difficulties of financing their sales.

Weiss' bias in favor of new construction rather than a resale condo is obvious. But he warns of the pitfalls of buying from an unreliable developer. Then he explains that some developers stay in business only because they operate on the "greater fool" theory, knowing that someone who isn't aware of their bad reputation will purchase in their next condo project.

Based on the author's experience, this should have been a great book. Instead it is uneven, with too few specifics. It appears Weiss was walking on eggshells and didn't want to offend anyone, which might put a damper on his future condo sales.

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