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George Nicola

George is a seasoned interior designer and property marketing strategist with over 13 years of experience. He specializes in transforming properties into visually stunning spaces, helping clients recognize the potential and beauty in each property. With an impressive international client base of exciting projects throughout Europe and America.

Table of Contents

When buying a condo, knowing what signs to look for can make the difference between a great investment and a money pit, both the individual unit and the building as a whole matter.

One of the most important signs of a well-made condo is a good location, floor layout, no pending major repairs, ventilation, well-maintained building, and a low delinquency rate on HOA dues.

Buying old condo unit:

Older condo units often offer investment potential through lower purchase prices and opportunities for value-adding renovations. These units typically feature more spacious layouts, with room sizes up to 20% larger than newer counterparts. Established buildings come with mature landscaping and a proven track record of management, providing stability and predictability for owners.

However, older units may require updates to electrical systems, plumbing, or HVAC, potentially costing 5-10% of the purchase price. Buildings constructed before 1990 might lack modern amenities or energy-efficient features, increasing utility costs by 15-25% compared to new builds.

Buying a new condo unit:

New condo builds, in contrast, shine with modern design elements and energy-efficient systems. These units incorporate the latest technologies, reducing utility costs by up to 30% compared to older buildings. New construction often comes with warranties, minimizing repair costs in the initial years of ownership.

Yet, new builds can carry premium prices, sometimes 20-30% higher than comparable older units in the same area. Owners in new developments may face higher HOA fees initially as the association builds its reserve fund. Construction quality varies, and some new buildings experience “teething problems” in the first few years, requiring adjustments and fixes.

 

Read about Red flags when buying a condo and the condo buying checklist we have created.

George Nicola from TALLBOX advises: Older units offer value-add potential but may require more hands-on management. New builds provide modern comforts but at a premium price. By weighing these factors carefully, you position yourself to make an informed decision that aligns with your investment strategy and lifestyle needs.

Key points:

Location factors heavily into the equation for both old and new condos. A well-located older building might offer better long-term appreciation potential than a new build in a less desirable area, even if prices are well balanced. Proximity to amenities, transit, and employment centers can increase property values by 10-15% regardless of the building’s age.

Financial health indicators prove crucial in both scenarios. For older buildings, a strong reserve fund covering at least 70% of anticipated major repairs indicates responsible management. New builds should have detailed financial projections and a clear plan for building reserves over time.

The ratio of owner-occupied units to rentals impacts community stability and maintenance standards. A higher percentage of owner-occupants, ideally above 60%, correlates with better upkeep and stronger community engagement in both old and new developments.

Inspecting the Condition of the Condo

When looking at the condition of a condo, it’s important to check the structural integrity, evidence of any repairs or defects, and the advice of a professional inspector. Ensuring the condo is in good shape can prevent future problems and expenses.

Structural Integrity and Maintenance

Checking the structural integrity is one of the first steps. Look at the walls, ceilings, and floors for cracks or water stains. These can show signs of bigger issues like foundation problems or leaks.

Deferred maintenance is another important sign. If some areas look neglected, it might mean regular upkeep has been missed. Questions should be asked about shoddy construction or building code violations. This can directly affect living conditions and resale value.

Evidence of Repairs and Defects

Look for signs of past repairs or any current defects. These can include patches on walls, mismatched paint, or new flooring. Signs like this could point to hidden problems. It’s a good idea to ask about the reason for these changes.

Check for rodent problems too. Droppings or chewed materials can signal this issue. Deferred maintenance on things like plumbing and roofing could also show future repair needs. Taking note of these areas can help understand what repairs the condo might need soon.

A person in a dark suit stands beside a freestanding bathtub in a high-rise room with large windows, offering a panoramic view of a city skyline, inspiring thoughts beyond the home renovation budget.
A person in a dark suit stands beside a freestanding bathtub in a high-rise room with large windows, offering a panoramic view of a city skyline, inspiring thoughts beyond the home renovation budget.

Professional Inspection Recommendations

professional inspector is crucial. They have tools and knowledge to check beyond what’s visible. They inspect aspects like HVAC systems, electrical setups, and plumbing. They also check for building code violations.

It’s wise to get a detailed report from them. Their findings on issues like deferred maintenance or shoddy repairs can be used to negotiate prices or request fixes before buying. They also help ensure that any repairs made are up to standard, preventing future surprises.

Soundproofing and Privacy Concerns

One of the main issues in condo living is noise. Soundproofing measures are essential to ensure privacy and comfort.

Inspect walls, windows, and floors for sound insulation. Look for double-glazed windows and thick, well-sealed doors.

Ask residents about their experience with noise levels. Are there complaints about noisy neighbors or street noise?

Examine the building’s design. Condos with staggered floor plans or extra insulation materials can minimize sound transfer.

Adequate soundproofing helps maintain privacy and reduce disturbances from noise.

Recognizing Red Flags and Potential Issues

When buying a condo, it’s important to look for signs that could indicate future problems or added expenses. Be vigilant regarding issues like poor maintenance, financial instability, and inadequate parking.

A man in a suit stands near large floor-to-ceiling windows in a high-rise apartment with a clawfoot bathtub, contemplating his next home renovation budget while overlooking the cityscape.
A man in a suit stands near large floor-to-ceiling windows in a high-rise apartment with a clawfoot bathtub, contemplating his next home renovation budget while overlooking the cityscape.

Warning Signs in the Sale Process

During the sale process, certain red flags can signal potential issues. Visible damage and lack of upkeep in common areas may indicate poor maintenance. Be wary of water stains on ceilings or floors, as well as unkempt exteriors. These can be signs of ongoing or past water damage, which might be expensive to fix.

Request financial records from the HOA to assess its standing. A proper review of monthly duesfund allocation, and reserve funds can highlight financial stability. If many owners aren’t contributing regularly, this could lead to special assessments in the future, adding unexpected costs.

Look out for high association fees which can be a drain on long-term finances. Also, assess parking facilities. Inadequate parking can be a serious inconvenience, especially in urban areas where alternate parking may be costly or hard to find.

A person stands in a cluttered, dimly lit room with a "For Sale" sign, contemplating their home renovation budget while looking out a large window at the cityscape.
A person stands in a cluttered, dimly lit room with a "For Sale" sign, contemplating their home renovation budget while looking out a large window at the cityscape.

Long-term Considerations for Ownership

For long-term ownership, consider the quality and maintenance of the building. Deferred maintenance and shoddy construction can lead to expensive repairs. Poor insulationthin walls, and other construction issues can affect comfort and energy costs.

Review any restrictions set by the condo association. Restrictions on rentals or pets can impact your flexibility. Pay attention to the overall management of the building. Mismanagement, lack of transparency, or frequent disputes within the condo association can create an undesirable living environment.

Also, special assessments can be a burden. If the association often imposes these additional fees, it may indicate poor financial planning. Before finalizing the purchase, do due diligence to ensure the long-term value and livability of the condo.

How to negotiate for a condo?

A modern living room features a sofa, indoor plants, a glass coffee table with books and decorative items, and large windows letting in sunlight, all designed thoughtfully within a home renovation budget.
A modern living room features a sofa, indoor plants, a glass coffee table with books and decorative items, and large windows letting in sunlight, all designed thoughtfully within a home renovation budget.

To negotiate effectively for a condo, start by researching comparable sales in the area. Armed with this data, you’re better positioned to make a reasonable offer, typically 3-5% below asking price in a balanced market.

Identify the seller’s motivations to tailor your approach. Sellers facing time pressures or long-standing listings may be more receptive to lower offers, potentially accepting 5-10% below asking price.

Leverage the property’s time on market. Units listed for over 30 days often sell for 2-4% less than fresh listings, providing room for negotiation.

Highlight any needed repairs or updates. Use these as bargaining points to reduce the price, estimating costs and requesting 50-100% of that amount off the asking price.

What is good renovation budget for a condo?

Condo renovation budgets can vary significantly depending on the size of the condo, the extent of the renovation, the quality of materials used, and the specific city.

A general idea of what you might expect for a mid-range renovation in a mid-sized USA city:

Philadelphia, PA:

Size: 1,000 sq ft condo
Budget Range: $40,000 – $120,000
Specifics:

Kitchen: $20,000 – $50,000 (new cabinets, countertops, appliances)
Bathroom: $10,000 – $30,000 (new fixtures, tile, vanity)
Flooring: $5,000 – $15,000 (throughout the condo)
Painting: $3,000 – $8,000 (interior walls)

  • Contingency: It’s crucial to have a contingency fund (10-20% of your budget) for unexpected expenses that may arise during the renovation.
  • Permits and Fees: Research the specific requirements and associated costs in your city, as these can vary significantly.
  • Contractor: Get quotes from multiple reputable contractors and ensure they are licensed and insured.
  • Materials: Choose materials that fit your budget and style, but prioritize quality to avoid costly repairs down the road.
  • Timeline: Be realistic about the renovation timeline and plan for potential delays.
A modern living room with large windows offering a city view. The space, designed thoughtfully within a home renovation budget, features a beige sofa, a wooden coffee table with books and decor, and a side table with a fruit bowl.
A modern living room with large windows offering a city view. The space, designed thoughtfully within a home renovation budget, features a beige sofa, a wooden coffee table with books and decor, and a side table with a fruit bowl.

New York, NY:

Size: 800 sq ft condo
Budget Range: $60,000 – $180,000+
Specifics:

  • Kitchen: $30,000 – $80,000+ (higher-end materials and appliances)
  • Bathroom: $15,000 – $50,000+ (luxury fixtures and finishes)
  • Flooring: $8,000 – $20,000+ (hardwood or high-quality tile)
  • Permits and Approvals: $5,000 – $10,000+ (additional costs in NYC)

Los Angeles, CA:

Size: 1,200 sq ft condo
Budget Range: $50,000 – $150,000+
Specifics:

  • Kitchen: $25,000 – $60,000 (modern design and appliances)
  • Bathroom: $12,000 – $40,000 (spa-like features and finishes)
  • Outdoor Space: $5,000 – $15,000 (landscaping and upgrades)
  • Permits and Approvals: $3,000 – $8,000 (depending on the scope)

How to improve the re-sale value of a condo?

To improve the resale value of a condo, focus on targeted upgrades and maintenance that appeal to potential buyers. Start with the kitchen, as it often yields the highest return on investment.

Considering the value of your home as a whole when budgeting for renovations is a smart approach to ensure you don’t over-improve a single room relative to the rest of your house. Here are some examples to illustrate this principle:

  • $250,000 Home Value: • 10-15% range: $25,000 – $37,500 • Kitchen renovation budget: Up to $37,500 • Bathroom remodel: Up to $25,000 • Master bedroom update: Up to $25,000
  • $500,000 Home Value: • 10-15% range: $50,000 – $75,000 • Kitchen renovation budget: Up to $75,000 • Bathroom remodel: Up to $50,000 • Finished basement: Up to $75,000
  • $750,000 Home Value: • 10-15% range: $75,000 – $112,500 • Kitchen renovation budget: Up to $112,500 • Master suite addition: Up to $112,500 • Living room and dining room update: Up to $75,000
  • $1,000,000 Home Value: • 10-15% range: $100,000 – $150,000 • Luxury kitchen remodel: Up to $150,000 • High-end bathroom renovation: Up to $100,000 • Home office conversion: Up to $100,000
  • $1,500,000 Home Value: • 10-15% range: $150,000 – $225,000 • Gourmet kitchen overhaul: Up to $225,000 • Spa-like master bathroom: Up to $150,000 • Home theater installation: Up to $150,000

To improve the resale value of a condo, focus on targeted upgrades and maintenance that appeal to potential buyers. Start with the kitchen, as it often yields the highest return on investment. Upgrading countertops to quartz or granite can increase your condo’s value by 3-5%. Modern, energy-efficient appliances not only attract buyers but can reduce utility costs by up to 15%.

Bathroom renovations typically return 70-80% of their cost at resale. Install water-efficient fixtures to appeal to eco-conscious buyers and potentially reduce water bills by 20-30%.

Maximize natural light throughout the unit. Removing heavy window treatments or installing larger windows can make spaces feel 25-30% larger and more appealing.

Update flooring for a fresh look. Hardwood or high-quality laminate can boost resale value by 3-5% compared to dated carpeting or vinyl.

Modern living room with large glass windows offering a cityscape view. Room has a beige sectional sofa, colorful abstract wall art, wooden coffee table with books, and hardwood floors—a perfect example of stylish simplicity achievable even on a home renovation budget.
Modern living room with large glass windows offering a cityscape view. Room has a beige sectional sofa, colorful abstract wall art, wooden coffee table with books, and hardwood floors—a perfect example of stylish simplicity achievable even on a home renovation budget.

Paint walls in neutral colors to create a blank canvas for potential buyers. This simple update can yield a 1-3% increase in perceived value at a relatively low cost.

Enhance storage solutions throughout the unit. Custom closet systems or built-in shelving can add 2-3% to your condo’s value while appealing to space-conscious buyers.

Improve energy efficiency with updated insulation, LED lighting, and a programmable thermostat. These upgrades can reduce energy costs by 10-20% and attract environmentally conscious buyers.

Maintain and update outdoor spaces like balconies or terraces. Well-designed outdoor areas can add 5-10% to your condo’s value.

Keep up with regular maintenance to prevent minor issues from becoming major problems. This proactive approach can save 10-15% in unexpected repair costs over time.

Consider smart home technology upgrades. Features like automated lighting or smart locks can increase your condo’s value by 3-5% while appealing to tech-savvy buyers.

Condo value to budget correlation (rooms per % of the budget per sq.ft)

To allocate your renovation budget effectively across different rooms in a condo, consider the following property value to budget correlation, broken down by room and percentage of budget per square foot:

George Nicola (DESIGNER): Adjust these percentages based on your condo’s specific needs and market trends. High-end finishes in luxury markets may increase per-square-foot costs by 20-30%. Conversely, cosmetic-only updates in budget-friendly areas might reduce costs by 15-25%.

Kitchen: 25-35% of the total budget (this is often the most expensive room to renovate). For a kitchen of 100-150 sq.ft., expect to spend $150-$250 per sq.ft. This higher allocation reflects the kitchen’s significant impact on overall property value.

Bathroom(s): 15-25% of the total budget (can vary depending on the number of bathrooms). For a standard 50-80 sq.ft. bathroom, budget $200-$275 per sq.ft.

Master bathrooms may warrant a higher investment of up to $300-$350 per sq.ft.

Living areas (living room, dining room): generally need 10-15% of the budget. These spaces often require less intensive work, averaging $50-$100 per sq.ft. for flooring, paint, and lighting updates.

Bedrooms: typically account for 10-12% of the renovation budget. Plan on $40-$75 per sq.ft., focusing on flooring, closet systems, and paint.

Entryways and hallways: while smaller, benefit from 5-8% of the budget. Allocate $75-$100 per sq.ft. to create a strong first impression.

Flooring: 10-20% of the total budget (depending on the type of flooring and the size of the condo)
Painting: 5-10% of the total budget
Other: 10-20% (includes lighting, electrical upgrades, appliances, etc.)

Balconies or terraces, if present, should receive 5-10% of the budget. Invest $100-$150 per sq.ft. to maximize outdoor living potential.

Storage areas and closets warrant 3-5% of the budget. Spend $50-$75 per sq.ft. on organization systems and upgrades.