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Buying a Condominium: An Interview with Michael Solis of The Solis Law Firm, PC

Tell us about your company and its foundation.

After graduating from law school, I took a position at Troutman Sanders (a large downtown firm). Shortly afterwards, I launched my own law firm so that I could have greater latitude to chart my own path. I was an older graduate with a previous career as a commercial architect, so I felt comfortable going out on my own. Because of my experience as an architect, I focus on construction, real estate development, and landlord-tenant matters (I also provide business advisement and litigation). Because it is my firm, I can be creative in billing arrangements, such as fixed fee, capped hourly rates, and lowered hourly rates. The chief advantage of a smaller firm such as mine is direct and easy access to the principal attorney- calls are returned by me and no later than the next business day.

Please provide an easy understanding of what a condominium is.

A condominium is a form of real estate ownership in which only the unit is owned with no individual ownership of land. Compare this with owning a house in which the owner owns both the house and the land or a townhouse in which ownership is of the unit and a limited amount of land, but with most of the land held by the owners association as common property.

What are the main areas of difference between purchasing a condominium and purchasing a home?

Perhaps the most crucial issue is that a condominium owner is subject to the authority of a condominium owners association (although many higher-end housing communities are a "planned community" with home owners associations that likewise have authority over many aspects of property usage and appearance). The association controls the exterior appearance of the unit (the color scheme for the exteriors and what is allowed on decks and patios and for window coverings and doors) and many of the community's utilities (electricity, gas, trash pick-up, cable, etc.). Compare this with home ownership where, even if there is a home owners association, there is more latitude in individual color schemes for doors, shutters, and trim and the utilities are typically negotiated directly by the owner, affording much greater freedom of choice.

When the condominium is a high rise, additional considerations arise. Parking and traffic becomes a more acute consideration with the higher concentration of residents. Security and valet services are often offered in response. So, you will need to inquire about the services and costs. Too little security and you may be at risk, Too much and it will be a chore for your friends to visit you.

The other key issue is that, unlike a detached home, you will share a common wall with your neighbors. It is crucial that the condominium be properly constructed so that you can enjoy privacy and not be unduly disturbed by those around you and that the association have regulations and policies regarding noise.

What legal aspects should a prospective homeowner be aware of when purchasing a condominium?

As I say above, the most important legal aspect is the authority held by the condominium owners association. Due to the fact that condominiums units are within a common building, the association controls to a much greater extent aspects of appearance and selection of utilities than other associations such as home owners associations.

For someone wishing to purchase a condo, where should they start?

As with any real estate purchase, ask around (a great resource is to go to a community you like and ask residents who they used) and locate a realtor who is not only experienced in this geographic area, but experienced specifically with the condominium market. Once you've selected a prospective community, inquire about the association fees including a history of fee escalation over recent years. Ask about what items are regulated by the association- too much regulation and you will not feel free to make the unit your own. Too little and you may regret that neighbors with standards lower than yours may create an unpleasant living environment and drive down the value of your investment. Look around the property to insure that common areas are well maintained. Also, visit the property at different times of the day to observe the traffic load- particularly at the peak periods of the start and end of the business day.

What's the best way to contact you and/or your business?

The best way to contact me is via e-mail at msolis@solislawfirm.net--that way I have a record of our communications so that I might better and more accurately serve you. Although, you may also call me directly at 404/317-3733. Information on me and my firm (education, experience, location, billing rates, etc.) is at www.solislawfirm.net.

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