Saturday, May 17, 2008

'Collateral Foreclosure Damage for Condo Owners'

My condo is also feeling the effects of Bush's shoddily regulated capitalism and the resulting "subprime" fiasco. See the NYT article here.

Barbara Sanz has never missed a mortgage payment, but the plunge in real estate is punishing condominium owners like her anyway.

Four years ago, she bought her first condo in a glassy new Miami tower when the building was filling up. Now nearly one in six residents in the 43-story building is battling foreclosure and their contributions to the building association are shrinking. Each of the remaining owners has had to chip in an extra $1,000 assessment and $50 more a month for cable and Internet. That is on top of Ms. Sanz’s $450 monthly maintenance fee.

Even though she pays more, her building has broken washers and dryers and unusable exercise equipment, and her hallway is spotted with mold.

“It’s not fair,” said Ms. Sanz, a 32-year-old event planner. “The first two years, I enjoyed all of the benefits of living in a condo. I’m disappointed now. I hate the way the building looks.”

When people buy condos, they expect their monthly fees will cover many of the responsibilities that they would otherwise have as owners of single-family homes, like cutting the grass and paying the water bills. Now many find themselves nagging each other in the hallways to pay their assessments and adding special fees while haggling over chores. In Miami, Chicago and San Diego, condo owners are adjusting to the economic woes, sometimes by mowing themselves and working shifts for building security — all while lamenting their lost community.

“What motivated people to go into the condo market in a way that led to overbuilding was the expectation that it would be easier than owning a home on a maintenance basis,” said Sam Chandan, chief economist at the real estate research firm Reis. “The downside is that your fate is tied to 50 or 100 other people who may stop making their condo payments.”

Many of the numbers compiled on home sales specifically exclude condos [WHY?], which account for one out of eight homes in the nation, and that missing data may be masking just how weak the housing market really is. Sales of existing condo units were down 26 percent in March from a year earlier, compared with an 18 percent decline for single-family homes, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The pain in the condo market, mostly in urban areas, may not only be deeper than in the rest of the housing market during this downturn but more prolonged. Bargain hunters say they are reluctant to buy into a building even when the upfront cost seems low because they might have to pay unexpected fees as distressed neighbors default on their mortgages or just stop paying the association fees that cover everything from taxes to pool maintenance to air-conditioning repair. . . .

The shabby condition of some condos means potential buyers insist on especially steep discounts on foreclosed units. Alessandro Comoglio, a 34-year-old investor from Italy, recently visited six apartments in Ms. Sanz’s Miami building with a real estate broker. Mr. Comoglio was surprised to find worn-out hallway carpeting and orange foreclosure stickers partly scratched off the doors in such a new building.

His willingness to spend stopped short of $200,000 for the condo units, which once sold as high as $700,000, according to the broker, Peter Zalewski. Mr. Comoglio also wants a written guarantee that he would not have to pay more fees. . . .

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