The San Antonio housing market can be tough, making condos an attractive option for many people, especially young families and pre-retirees looking to downsize. Condo living might be described as a happy medium between the autonomy of living in a traditional single family home and the convenience and community of renting an apartment. When you buy a condo, you own the interior, meaning that, unlike with an apartment, you can make whatever changes or updates you want to the space. However, it also means that, unlike with an apartment, you are responsible for all of the maintenance and upkeep of the interior—there’s no handy maintenance number to call when something goes wrong. The upside is that, since you don’t own the exterior of your condo, outside maintenance isn’t your problem!
Like anything, there are pros and cons to buying a condo in San Antonio, and many factors you should consider before making a final decision on whether condo living is right for you. We’ve laid it all out below.
Condo or Townhouse?
The first question anyone looking for an alternative to a traditional home needs to answer is whether they’ll opt for a condo or a townhouse. Both are larger (generally) than an apartment, and both allow you to actually own your residence, rather than rent. So what’s the difference?
- Are more apartment-like. They’re more likely to be single-story and to be located in a high rise building.
- You will have less privacy than in a townhouse. You will share walls with neighbors on either side of you and you may have neighbors above and/or below you. This means you may sometimes have issues with noise, and that you will likely run into neighbors often.
- You own only the interior of your home. You’re therefore responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the inside of the condo.
- There will be many common areas shared among residents. These can include things like fitness centers, pools, playgrounds, and clubhouses.
- Are governed by a Home Owners Association (HOA). The HOA is responsible for maintaining the common areas and exterior of all condos, as well as dealing with clean up and repairs following unexpected emergencies like storms or flooding. The HOA is generally made up of elected condo owners.
- You will pay fees (either monthly, quarterly, or yearly) to the HOA to provide for the exterior maintenance of the condo complex, and to build up a fund for dealing with unexpected emergencies.
- HOA fees for a condo are typically higher than the fees paid for a townhouse, because there are more common areas to maintain.
- Are generally small houses built in a connected row. They are generally 2-3 stories, often with a small front and/or back yard.
- You will have more privacy. You’ll share a wall or two with other houses in the row, but will have no neighbors above or below you. Your yard also gives you additional separation from neighbors.
- Have fewer common areas. They may be part of a larger neighborhood and have access to a neighborhood playground or pool, but there is much less community property than with a condo.
- You own the house and the land the house is built on. This means you will have to pay property taxes.
- You’re responsible for all maintenance and upkeep, both interior and exterior, except for upkeep to communal portions like sidewalks and roads within the neighborhood.
- You will generally be part of an HOA, but usually with lower fees than for condos since there is less communal property.
Boiling it all down, condos may be best suited to people who don’t mind having to occasionally put up with overhearing someone else’s music or movie. People who enjoy frequent run-ins with neighbors and for whom amenities like pools, parks, or clubhouses will add to their quality of life. Condos may also be a better choice for people who don’t want to deal with outside maintenance issues like lawn care, roofing, shoveling snow etc. Townhomes, on the other hand, may be best for people who dislike the “overlap” of apartment-style living and enjoy a more private lifestyle; people who don’t find added value in amenities like fitness centers, pools, or clubhouses. Townhouses may also be best for people who don’t mind mowing their own lawn, shoveling their own snow, and handling their own repairs.
Can You Handle Living Under an HOA?
If you’ve decided that condo living is a better option for you than buying a townhouse, you now need to determine whether you’re suited to living under an HOA. HOAs exist to make sure that the condo community as a whole remains a well-maintained and pleasant place to live. To that end, HOAs will generally create a set of by-laws that govern the use of common areas. These might include regulations on who can use these amenities, when they can be used, and how they can be used. For example, the HOA might restrict use of the fitness center to residents-only but allow residents to bring guests to the pool. If the community has a clubhouse, the HOA may allow residents to use it for functions like birthday parties or showers provided they follow certain rules to ensure that other residents aren’t inconvenienced. Most HOAs also have rules regarding how you can decorate outside your condo, as well as issues like where residents can park, what types of vehicles are allowed within the condominium complex (for example, no RVs or boats), how long holiday decorations can be left up etc. Residents who fail to follow the rules will be fined by the HOA. The HOA also often has the authority to foreclose on residents who habitually fail to pay their dues or rack up an excessive number of fines.
While HOAs are very common in the San Antonio area, if you’ve had no personal experience with them, or if you’re moving to the area from another part of the country, the idea that a shadowy body of your neighbors can dictate your lifestyle—and punish you if you if don’t play along!—might have your skin crawling. Some people do have bad experiences with HOAs that are poorly run or caught up in petty interpersonal conflicts. But just as many other people say that they prefer living in a community with an HOA. The main selling point of an HOA is that they ensure that the community’s standards are maintained, thereby maintaining everyone’s quality of life–AND their property values. It also makes it easy to handle problems with neighbors without having to confront them yourself and potentially cause bad blood between you. By contacting the HOA about your issue, the source of the complaint remains anonymous. Perhaps even better, you’ll never have to deal with the eyesore of a neighbor leaving junk out to rust in their yard or leaving garish holiday decorations up all year long.
Whether or not you are comfortable living under an HOA will depend on your temperament and willingness to compromise. Whatever the case, always make sure to request a copy of the by-laws for the condo complex you’re interested in moving into. Just because you’re willing to live under an HOA doesn’t mean you’ll be willing to live under this HOA. You need to make sure that their specific rules won’t require you to alter your lifestyle in ways that will significantly undermine your happiness.
Are You Ready and Able to Downsize?
If you currently live in a traditional home, moving into a condo will mean some major downsizing. Not only will you have less square footage in terms of living space, but keep in mind that you will no longer have access to an attic and may not have access to garage storage. In other words, you’ll have to store everything you want and need to live comfortably within your living space itself.
Downsizing can definitely be done—in fact, it often leads to a less stressful home life. But don’t kid yourself. Deciding what to keep, what to sell or donate, and what should just be thrown out, is tough. If you’ve decided that you can live with less, give yourself time to make a plan for getting there. This might include using time-tested decluttering tips like selling/donating anything you haven’t used in the past year, and might even include renting a dumpster to help speed up the removal of everything that’s just plain junk.
Just make sure you’re being realistic with yourself about how much space you’ll need to maintain what you’d consider a fulfilling lifestyle. If you’re the type of person who can live comfortably with less stuff in less space, and you have the fortitude to do the actual downsizing, condo living could be perfect for you.
Now that we’ve covered some of the main factors to consider before pulling the trigger on buying a condo in San Antonio, we’ll break down some other general pros and cons to be aware of.
Problems with Buying a Condo in San Antonio
Condo living can come with problems that don’t occur in other types of residences. First, if you decide to move, condos can sometimes be quite difficult to sell. One reason is that, while your HOA fees will likely go up over the years as prices increase, this doesn’t always mean an increase in the number or quality of amenities those fees pay for. When you decide to sell, you may find that the buyers willing and able to afford your current fees expect more or better amenities in return. Another factor that can make it difficult to sell is that all condos in a given building are the same. If there are other people selling at the same time as you, you have no way to differentiate your condo from the competition the way you would with a house.
Financially, you should also be aware that if the building requires emergency maintenance at a time when the HOA doesn’t have enough savings in reserve to cover repairs, they will likely levy what’s known as an assessment, essentially dividing the cost of repairs among all residents, a charge they will now owe in addition to their normal dues. One more thing to be aware of: if other residents fail to pay their HOA dues, the buck may be passed to the other residents in the form of higher fees until either the defaulting residents repay what they owe or the HOA evicts them.
Benefits of Buying a Condo in San Antonio
The most obvious benefit of buying a condo is that the down payment will be much less than for a house. In addition, although you will be paying HOA fees, you will likely see significant utility savings in a condo’s smaller space. You may also be able to weed out other expenses, like a gym membership if your condo complex has a fitness center, not to mention the convenience of not having to drive to enjoy amenities like a park, playground or pool.
Speaking of convenience, unlike with a house, or even a townhouse, you don’t have to worry about vetting contractors or other professionals to take care of outside maintenance, nor do you have to pay to have that outside maintenance done. Condo buildings/complexes also tend to have security features in place (paid for with residents’ HOA fees) that you likely wouldn’t have in a traditional home unless you lived in a gated community.
Also convenient: your location. Many condos in San Antonio are located in the heart of the city–or close to it. This means you’ll have easy access to the best shopping, dining, and other attractions in town. No fighting traffic or wasting precious time hunting for a parking spot in order to enjoy the best that San Antonio has to offer. At the same time, because of common spaces like parks, returning to your condo complex will feel a bit like a retreat from city life, giving you the best of both worlds.
Buying a condo could be a smart move for many San Antonio residents—from young couples who can’t yet afford to maintain a traditional home, to retirees who are tired of maintaining one, to many others who simply enjoy the convenience and sense of community. However, no one should jump into condo living without understanding everything that entails and considering whether an alternative, like a townhouse, might better suite their lifestyle.
Love condo life? Hate it?
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