Last Stop – HumbleDollar (Or, make your move sooner rather than later)

I GREW UP in a small apartment. Truth be told, I was never enthusiastic about maintaining a house, but I did so for 45 years. Eight years after I retired in 2010, the house and its stairs became too much for my wife and me.

Where I grew up in the 1940s and 50s

We considered moving to a smaller one-story house and briefly flirted with a continuing care community. We even looked at one community and found it too expensive, especially having to hand over a partially refundable $900,000 upfront fee, with no interest earned on the money. When a condo in a nearby 55-plus community came on the market, our realtor convinced us to take a look.

Here we are two years later and we’re pleased with our decision. We have two bedrooms with walk-in closets, two full baths, living room, dining room, large kitchen, laundry room and a family room with fireplace.

No grass to cut, no snow to shovel

In all, we have 2,000 square feet, plus an 80-square-foot balcony. The unit came with two garage spaces and two good-sized storage rooms. Amenities include a pool, tennis and bocci courts, putting green, well-equipped clubhouse, and beautiful grounds with ponds and walking paths.

There are nine buildings in the community. Each has three floors, with four condos on a floor. It’s quiet. Sound from above and below us is virtually nonexistent. Our building currently houses just four residents, as the snowbirds leave the cold of New Jersey and migrate south for the winter.

There are always rules. We can have pets, but a dog can’t weigh more than 50 pounds. Forget my dream of having an Irish wolfhound. Luckily, no weight limit applies to residents. There are also rules on deliveries and on which day of the week you can move in or out. Overall, the rules are commonsense.

Now for the big question: Is it a good investment? Honestly, I don’t care.

Our decision was based on livability. Still, we’ve done well so far. We bought our unit in 2018 for $580,000, which was less than the purchase price in 2011, when the unit was brand new. Today, units our size sell quickly for around $660,000. We live in one of the highest-tax states. Our property tax is $12,500, compared with about $14,500 for our old home a mile away.

The homeowner’s association (HOA) fee is $770 a month. Thus, our annual fixed costs are $21,740. Of course, that $770 offsets some of what we previously spent on house maintenance, lawn care, snow shoveling and so on. A few months before we sold our old house, the air conditioning (AC) went and we needed to remove a tree. Those two expenses were equal to six months of our current HOA fee. I haven’t done all the math, but not worrying about maintenance and repairs is worth it.

Condo living is not worry-free, though. We have our own heating, AC and hot water equipment. Turns out the builder didn’t go for the best quality, so many residents have had major repairs or replacement. We have an estimate to replace heating and AC for $12,500. Ouch.

The HOA fee is tricky. Some residents want no increase, while a few—like me—would prefer a modest increase each year to avoid sticker shock down the road. So far, the no-increase group has carried the day, but that won’t last. At last month’s association meeting, we learned the irrigation system was mismanaged and we wasted thousands of dollars on water. A new landscaper is being hired at a higher cost than currently spent. Explaining money issues to some of us seniors is no easy task.

Read the rest of the story at the link below.

Source: Last Stop – HumbleDollar

8 comments

  1. When you own a home independently, you have a lot of control over maintenance costs, comparatively. If a large dead tree is merely ugly but doesn’t threaten your house, you could defer removal, if money is short. If the tree threatens your neighbor’s house but not yours, then too you don’t need to pay to remove it unless it’s on your property/

    A few years after we bought our retirement house, we had a bad leak in the roof. Time for a new roof? If we were in a condo, probably no choice. But since it was solely up to us, my wife and I decided to let our neighborhood handyman patch the roof for around $80. That didn’t fix it completely. so we had him do some more patching. The next big rain it still leaked! But after a third round of patching, it has been just fine for the last 10 years. That was an irritating episode, but it was much cheaper than a new roof.

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      1. Limited yes, but with only 108 units in our community, it’s a lot easier than controlling property taxes.

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  2. My wife and I bought our retirement house in 1994 (though we didn’t actually retire until 2010). It’s a quite different deal than most retirees describe– an independent cottage on 1/4 acre, pretty ramshackle, built around 1945 in an exurb of Honolulu. But no upkeep fee or special rules. Low property tax, and, since our ideas about maintenance and repairs are pretty casual, easily manageable expenses. No worries about heating or air-conditioning, of course.

    We’ve been very happy here. Though our house is not much, our neighborhood is quiet, safe, and close to the beach, 4-5 blocks from beach parks on both sides. We have 5 flowering trees in our yard. We do have to drive to stores.

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    1. Taxes go up every year, that’s a given, nothing I can do about that anywhere. HOA fees have been stable for three years, but I budget more than the actual amount. I have no doubt they will rise in 2021 though. The real concern is the possibility of an assessment if the Association does not keep sufficient reserves for a major expense, but so far they seem to be focused on trying to make sure that does not happen.

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      1. My income won’t allow for no control over HOA and special assessment fees …but it does seem to work for others.

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      2. But what major unplanned spending on a house do you have control over? Isn’t a needed new roof or a large dead tree that must be removed an assessment? Even renters have minimum control over rents and then must worry about a landlord doing what are supposed to. I understand what you are saying, but I think it evens out to a great extent.

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