condo yard

What You Should Know Before Buying A Condo

If you’re interested in buying a condo, here are some helpful terms and things to consider. 

No matter what, future condo homeowners should ask a few important questions when considering a unit: 

  • Who runs the condo association?
  • What are the rules and restrictions for living in the building?
  • How much are the monthly fees and what do they cover?

Condominiums, aka condos, are a common building type in major urban areas, and Chicago is no exception. Living in a condo might not be for everyone, but they’re often an excellent choice for first-time homebuyers or for those who wish to live in a more urban setting! 

condos in Chicago on a street


A condominium is an individually owned unit in a complex or building of units. You own the space inside your individual unit and share an ownership interest in the common property. This can be as extensive as roads and courtyards and as confined as a shared stairwell and roof. 

What’s the difference between a condo and an apartment? The former is owned while the latter is rented. What about a condo versus a co-op? In a co-op, you buy shares in a corporation that owns the entire building and get a stake-hold to a specific unit. 


Maintaining and managing the common areas of the condominium are run by an entity called a Condo Association. The whole condominium is governed by a set of rules called Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions (CC&R’s), which operate much like bylaws. 

A board runs the condo association and has the power to regulate and monetarily penalize owners for violations as decreed in the CC&R’s. Who sits on the board? Depends on the condo building. Some associations hire a third-party management company, which typically increases the cost of living in the building, and some are managed directly by the owners. Usually, buildings with fewer units are self-managed while large buildings with more units are managed by a company. 

condos in Chicago downtown


The Illinois Condominium Property Act requires the condo’s seller to provide a number of important documents to the prospective buyer prior to close. These include the declarations, the CC&R’s, the financials and more. 

When you’re buying a condo, review these before making a final decision on your purchase! What should you look for in these documents? Here are a few questions to get started: 

  • What are the rules about pets, remodeling projects, leasing units and use of common amenities? 
  • Are there reserves, and if so, how much is in the reserves? 
  • What were the most recent major purchases or renovations? Are there any upcoming special assessments to cover these maintenance projects? 
  • What are the individual owners responsible for versus the condominium association as a whole? 

Don’t hesitate to go over these documents with your REALTOR® and your attorney. They can supply additional expertise and advice! 


Most people who know about condos know about HOA fees. As intimidating as they may seem, they serve a very specific purpose! 

Homeowners Association fees, sometimes called monthly assessments or nicknamed “HOA fees,” are an additional cost beyond your mortgage or escrow payments that go directly to the condo association. They include several maintenance costs like water, trash, landscaping and beyond. 

Why are some HOA fees so much more than others? Here’s an overview of HOA fees. In the end, you should ask about the included services in your monthly HOA fees and the portion that is sent to reserves. 

If you’re buying a condo with many shared amenities like pools, gyms, rooftops, elevators, and movie theaters, anticipate higher monthly fees to maintain these features. 


As you move forward with looking for your future condo, keep these key term definitions in mind. You’ll hear them a lot during the transaction! 

  • CC&R’s: stands for Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions which regulate living in the condo association. 
  • Condo Association Board: the governing body which makes executive decisions about shared amenity renovations and repairs, monitors the reserves and determine if special assessments are required, and enforce the CC&R’s. They meet monthly. 
  • HOA Fees: the monthly assessments or costs for living in the association. 
  • Amenities: the shared features available to all association owners and residents. 
  • Special Assessments: additional fees billed to the condo owners outside of the monthly HOA fees. They’re typically passed if a large repair is needed for a shared amenity that cannot be covered by the reserves. 
  • Reserves: the condo association’s savings! These cover emergency repairs or regular maintenance costs for the shared amenities. 
  • Property Insurance: this is the association’s insurance for the shared amenities and common spaces, but it does not insure each individual unit or their contents. 

Comparable Sale: What It Is & Why It Matters

The burning question for anyone getting ready to sell their home is: “How much can I sell for?” First, it’s important to understand what a comparable sales price is and why it matters is valuable, which we’ve broken down for you below.

What Is A Good Comparable Sale Price:

comparable sales infographic

Why Does It Matter?

Evaluating the differences and similarities of surrounding properties on the market will give you the best idea of the current estimated value of your home. This is also where your REALTORS’® expertise will come into play, as they’ve likely seen many homes in your neighborhood and know about comparable sales in your area, making them your greatest asset in the listing process to help adjust your price efficiently and effectively.

4 Ways to Price Your Home Like A Pro

Your home is a major investment in time, money and memories, so understandably, selling it can be an emotional process.

It’s important to lean on your REALTOR® for guidance. After all, this person is your go-to industry expert who is invested in helping you sell on your timeline and for the best possible ROI.

Still nervous about the pricing conversation? We’ve created four pro tips to help you through this process.

1. Higher Isn’t Always Better

Be strategic in your pricing and don’t list too high – that could scare away potential offers!

The longer your house sits on the market, the less likely you are to get your asking price. Buyers are more likely to negotiate a deal on a house that’s been listed for a significant stretch of time. A price-to-sell strategy will give you leverage, options and exposure to potential buyers.

2. Know The Local Market

How did similar homes in your neighborhood sell? These comparables (also called “comps”) play a big role in your own home’s price.

Your REALTOR® should run the average sale price for homes in your area. When selecting comps, REALTORS® generally filter properties within a one-mile radius of your home that sold in the past 90 days. Comparable homes will be similar in age, location, square footage and number of bedrooms/bathrooms.

Based on these results, they’ll pinpoint the differences and assess why price reductions did or didn’t happen. This nuanced understanding is invaluable, particularly when measuring the unique aspects of your home.

3. Upgrades Don’t Always Mean More Money

Buyers want a home they can:

  1. Picture themselves in, and;
  2. Easily make their own.

Help spark their imagination with neutral updates. Upgrades based on specific taste can sometimes devalue a home based on personal buyer taste and preference.

For example, just because you spent $40,000 to update your kitchen doesn’t mean you get to add an extra $40,000 to the listing price. Research from the National Association of REALTORS® states you might recoup 59% of your costs, based on the national average of kitchen upgrades.

Talk to your REALTOR® about what you can do, or have done, that positively affects your home value and listing price.

4. Keep Your Emotions in Check

Don’t let pride, sentiment and nostalgia mislead you!

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, the wrong price can drastically delay your sale. That “fresh factor” tends to wane after just 30 days! Therefore, it’s important to listen to your REALTOR® about your pricing strategy.

Their unbiased perspective combined with knowledge of the market and real estate inventory will help you walk away from the closing table feeling confident in your transaction.

Real estate agent with couple shaking hands

4 First-Time Homebuyer Loans and Programs

Buying your first home can be a daunting task. But don’t fret, options are available to help you save money in the process! There are thousands of dollars available for first-time homebuyers through loans and programs in the Chicago area.  

Find the right one to save you money on your home purchase. 

1st Home Illinois 

First-time homeowners, veterans or those who haven’t owned a home in the past three years and are looking to purchase a home in Cook, Marion, St. Clair or Winnebago county can apply for this grant. This grant provides a 30 year, fixed rate mortgage with a $7,500 grant towards down payment or closing costs. 

City of Chicago TaxSmart Mortgage Credit Certificate

This credit is available to first-time homebuyers or those purchasing a home in an economically troubled census tract. The Mortgage Credit Certificate allows homebuyers to claim a tax credit for a portion of the mortgage interest paid per year. Currently, annual savings are 25% for a purchased home or 50% for a home improvement or rehab loan, and savings are capped at $2,000. 

IHDAccess Forgivable 

This grant offers 4% (up to $6,000) of the purchase price in assistance for a down payment and closing costs for a home being purchased in any county in Illinois. In addition, the loan is forgiven over 10 years, so it doesn’t need to be repaid with a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage. 

IHDAccess Deferred 

This grant offers 5% (up to $7,500) of the purchase price in assistance for a down payment or closing costs that is interest-free for the life of the mortgage. However, the loan must be repaid when the house is sold, refinanced or paid off.

Keep in mind that most mortgage lending companies have specific homeowner grants and loans to apply for. Make sure to talk to your lender to see what’s available!