Q.  I am getting ready to retire and I am considering buying a condominium unit and have looked at several older complexes and some that are brand new. Are there any tips you can give me on what to look at before I make a decision?

A.  When looking at the new construction condominiums, the primary document you will want to review is the public offering statement and all of its attachments. State law requires that condominium developers keep the public offering statement current and give you a copy when you sign a contract to purchase. You will then have ten (10) days to review the documents and make a final decision. 

In looking for housing keep in mind that a condominium is not a type of housing but simply a form of ownership. There are condominium apartments, townhouses, single-family detached homes and even trailer parks. Condominium ownership means you own your "home" or "living space" the same as you would a traditional single‑family home. But you own all the common elements “’in common" with the other owners. If you have trouble locating someone to talk with about the association it may be self-managed. All associations are required by law to be registered annually with the Common Interest Community Board in Richmond. By contacting that agency you can determine the current officers with whom you can talk.

The older associations will need to provide you with a “Resale Certificate”. Under Virginia condominium law, the seller of a “resale” condominium unit must obtain a resale certificate from the association and provide it to you. Your purchase agreement should be contingent on your being satisfied with the contents of the package you receive.  The seller should request a resale certificate from the secretary or president of the condominium association or the management company which is normally paid for by the seller. The law requires the association to provide the certificate within fourteen (14) days after the request is made and may charge a “rush fee” if faster service is offered.


The certificate will include such valuable information as:

1.    The amount of unpaid assessments regarding the unit you wish to buy.

2.    A statement on upcoming additional assessments for such things as pool renovations, that have been approved by the Board of Directors of the association.

3.    The amount of assessments charged against the unit on a regular basis.

4.    The amount and status of reserve and replacement funds for maintenance, repair and replacement of the common elements.

5.    Any suits or judgments filed against the association which will have a material impact on the association or the unit being purchased.

6.    Insurance coverages.

7.    A statement that any changes to the unit made by the current or previous owners do not violate the condominium covenants.

8.    A copy of the association’s financial statements.

9.    A copy of the association’s governing documents including rules and regulations.

Ideally, you should have an experienced real estate attorney familiar with condominium law look over the public offering statement or the resale certificate. The attorney can quickly focus on the documents’ key parts and may have other beneficial advice. 

If you wish to go it alone, though, here’s what to do:

1.    Review the condominium’s documents. Buyers should read the disclosure package they receive. Questions should be directed to the seller, real estate agent or an attorney. Buyers need to make sure they can live with the condominium’s rules and regulations. A dog owner, for instance, might find a 30‑pound limit on pets unacceptable.

2.    Find out whether the association is professionally managed by an experienced person or company.

3.    Look for expansion rights in newer communities which do not appear to be built out ‑ that is, how much land, if any, can still be added to the community. Find out what can happen to that land if the developer chooses not to build on it. Determine how many units may be ultimately built.

4.    Find out when the recreation facilities or other common amenities ‑‑ swimming pool, tennis courts and extra parking ‑‑ will be completed, if they are not already built.

5.    If the property is still under development, determine how long construction will continue and whether you are willing to tolerate such activity for that period. State laws regulate the length of time for the completion of a project.

6.    Ask about the number of delinquencies in the payment of assessments.

7.    Get the latest financial statement, which should state the reserves for replacement and maintenance. This information should be not more than 6 months old. The financial status of the condo association is important. Nothing produces more discontent and difficulty for condominium owners than a community association in bad financial health. Review the budget and financial status of the condominium association. Buyers should make sure the association is financially healthy. This includes having enough cash on hand to fund long‑term replacement reserves.

8.    Visit the community at several different times of the day and week. Not every person fits every community.  For instance, a retired couple may not want to move into a community full of young singles. Also, the owner of a large dog needs to consider the size of the unit and the availability of space to walk the dog.

9.    Once you have reviewed all of the above, you will be in a position to make a purchase. By choosing carefully, you are more likely to enjoy your new home and community.

Condominium living is not free of responsibility. Although someone else might cut the grass and paint the buildings, you will need to pay assessments on time. You should also attend the condominium association’s annual meeting and even volunteer to serve on a committee or the Board of Directors. Active participants in a condominium community help protect and enhance its property values.