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    Buying a condo; avoiding financial hell
Part of a series
by Roger McCaffrey

Q. I just bought my first condominium this summer and one week after I moved in the Association sent me a notice that there would be a special assessment to fix the back porch and stairs and that my share was $5,000. of the cost. Do I have to pay this?

A. Before you buy any condominium you should be prepared to examine a fair amount of paperwork. It is better to work hard before the closing than to wake up to a nightmare of problems afterwards.

When you buy into a condo building you have to pay the assessments, you are bound to pay the assessments. And if you don't, they will put a lien on your property or evict you. That's why it's important to be diligent before buying a condo unit, looking into the financials of the governing group before closing on a deal. Before buying, find out if special assessments are anticipated, get a statement of the reserves and find out how they compare to the most recent reserve study.

A reserve study will analyze the financial state of the association's reserves and anticipate expenditures that will be needed down the line. If a study hasn't been done, step back and think about what you're getting into — an association that may not be adequately prepared for future expenses.

When you buy make sure your sales contract is subject to your review and approval of the following condominium documents:

-Declaration, bylaws, rules and regulations. You must be satisfied that you can live within the guidelines that each building imposes. The bylaws can cover pets, leasing your condominium and requirements that the apartment floors must always be carpeted to reduce noise.

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-Statement of any large expenditures by the association. This information will let you know if the association is planning a major building repair or improvement that could cause your assessment to increase.

-Statement of the amount of the reserve or replacement fund. This information will tell you how well the board of managers is running the building and providing for future unforeseen repairs.

-Copy of the financial statement of the association. Use your lawyer or accountant to analyze the association's financial statement.

Additionally, you should review the minutes of the building's board meetings. This may reveal significant matters that may affect your decision to buy the apartment.

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