Purchasing an apartment: A checklist for buying your own condominium

Eight aspects of buying an apartment. What you need to know.

Buying a condominium is not the same as buying a house. Learn what commonhold ownership means, why a well-stocked renovation fund is important, and what else you should pay attention to when you are buying an apartment.

1. What do you actually acquire when you buy a condominium?

Before you buy an apartment, you should be aware of what rights and obligations come with it. You are purchasing not only the condominium but entering into a commonhold system of ownership. This means you purchase an apartment or house with joint ownership of the shared property and the infrastructure.

You can use the condominium as you see fit and design the interior according to your taste. Common areas of the property, such as the stairwell or facade, however, cannot be modified unless you have the consent of your fellow owners.

2. Is the apartment in good condition?

The structural condition of the apartment is an important purchasing criterion whether you are looking at newly built apartments or existing buildings. Is the quality of the features of the apartment (for example, the flooring, kitchen appliances, and bathrooms) good? If the apartment is relatively old, did the owner invest in maintaining it?

When viewing apartments, pay attention not just to the layout and the atmosphere, but also look for any renovations that are needed. They should be factored into the price of the condominium. If you are unsure about whether the property's value is equal to the purchase price, it would be worthwhile consulting an expert.

3. Is the renovation fund adequate?

Anyone who owns a single-family dwelling should regularly put aside money for renovations. Whenever multiple parties own a house together, as is the case with commonhold property, that is generally done by establishing a renovation fund. However, renovation funds are not required by law.

If you are buying an apartment in an older property, you should inquire as to whether there is a renovation fund and whether it is sufficient to cover all the necessary renovations. Your share of the renovation fund is already included in the purchase price. The seller is not reimbursed for his or her share because the renovation fund belongs to the association of owners.

4. How high are the ancillary costs?

Before you buy a condominium, you should ask how much you will be spending on ancillary costs. As a co-owner of the property, your options for influencing or optimizing them are limited. The best thing you can do is to examine the utility bills from previous years.

Heating costs in particular are a major factor. They can be relatively high or low, depending on the quality of the insulation and type of heating. In addition, the co-owners jointly pay the caretaker's wages, elevator service, waste container fees, and other ancillary costs.

5. Who are the neighbors?

In a condominium, you live side-by-side with your neighbors. You run into one another in the stairwell, use some rooms together, and have to reach compromises together at meetings of the owners' association.

For those reasons, it is even more important to get along with your neighbors than it is for ordinary homeowners. Find out about the other owners before you buy an apartment. Many neighbors will appreciate it if you introduce yourself in person. Good neighborly relations are desirable for both parties.

6. Has the condominium association made important decisions?

Condominium owners hold regular association meetings to decide on important matters together. For example, that may involve the color of the facade, choosing a new management company, or approving the budget.

For you as an apartment buyer, it is good to know what the tone is like at a condominium owners' association meeting. After all, you will be contributing to the discussion. You should also find out whether any decisions are pending that may have an impact on your decision to purchase the condominium or not.

7. Is the management company dependable in performing its duties?

As is the case with rental apartments, condominiums often have a building manager. The manager coordinates work on the building and in the common areas on behalf of the apartment owners. It prepares annual billing of maintenance and ancillary costs, and it organizes the meeting of the owners' association.

A good building manager works dependably and in the interests of all owners. It does not have to be an established institution. Some properties are managed by private individuals. When you are buying your first condominium, it is important for you to be able to count on the building manager. Check with the seller or neighbors to find out what their experiences have been.

8. What stipulations are contained in the house rules and regulations?

Even though the purchase of a condominium makes you an owner, you may still have to obey a set of house rules and regulations. In Switzerland, quiet hours are governed by cantonal laws. A homeowners' association can additionally adopt rules that restrict the playing of musical instruments, for example.

House rules and regulations also contain provisions relating to common areas and outdoor spaces. For example, they may prohibit the installation of satellite dishes or using charcoal BBQs. You should read the house rules and regulations before buying an apartment. That way, you can avoid any unpleasant surprises.

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