Condominium homes have always been, and will likely always be, an efficient and economical route to becoming a first-time homeowner. They can offer the comfort, prestige, and even luxury appointments that apartment living may lack, often at a cost that is not much different than rent.

Purchasing a condo is a smart and, most times, more affordable way to enter the housing market. However, not all condos are equal so it's vital that potential buyers be knowledgeable and know to ask the right questions.

Consider asking the following four questions before you buy:

What will you own? Read the bylaws and be sure you understand what you will be responsible for and what belongs to the condo association. Will you own the boat dock at the back of your unit? Can you elect to build a spa on your patio? Generally, unit owners own and are responsible for the interior of their condos, while costs for outside maintenance, including common areas and sewer lines, are the association's responsibility.

Who lives there? Are the majority of residents owners or renters? Owners generally take more interest in proper maintenance and are more willing than renters to serve on the association board and enforce complex rules and regulations—including the regular collection of homeowner dues.

How effective is the homeowner's association? Do they have legal counsel, reasonable funds and a capable, caring volunteer board? One way to judge is to check with residents about restrictions, oversight and timeliness of repairs and upgrades. Another is to take a hard look at the grounds and be wary of signs of neglect.

What about special assessments? The association should have the power to special assess for needed, one-time large expenditures. Otherwise, things that need to be done may never get done at all, leaving the complex vulnerable to disrepair and lowered property values.

Buying a home is a complex and complicated undertaking, whether it's your first home or your fifth. Once you have a good, working knowledge about purchasing a condo, making the right decision will come much easier. 

As a Member of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network®, I have a wealth of real estate and homeownership information that may be of help to you. Feel free to contact me any time to learn more about this important information, and be sure to forward this article on to any friends or family that may be interested as well.