Top Ten Tips for First Time Home Buyers Living in Orlando
February 20, 2021
Update on House Hunting.
Alex and I have been searching for a home to buy for the last three weeks now. It has been an utterly exhausting process. I have called around 20 HOA communities. The people who have picked up the phone and answered my various questions regarding the Home Owner’s Association have varied. I left 8
or 9 voicemails when I could not get ahold of an Association Manager. Only 3 got back to me. One only got back to me because I called him four times, left a message with his assistant, left him a voicemail, and sent him an email.
The assistant told me turnaround time for him answering me was 24 hours.
In 24 hours, I can make an offer on a home and be under contract. In 24 hours, I have one less day until my lease is up. One less day in which I have to act.
I need these vital answers to the HOA questions answered now.
Below is the list of questions that I asked each HOA (sometimes, it’s called a Condo Association. But it’s basically the same thing. One man was very particular that I call it that, though.)
1. What is the HOA Fee? What is included in the fee?
2. Is the roof included in HOA fee? –This is a crucial question, especially if you are looking into buying a condo or townhome such as we are.
3. When was it last replaced if it is included?
4. If included but roof not replaced - will it be replaced in the future and how much will assessment be?—Usually, this question cannot be answered, but you never know unless you ask.
5. Are there any anticipated assessments which will increase HOA fee?
6. Pet questions if you have pets. (weight, size, breed, etc.)
7. Are there assigned parking spaces?—I have discovered that if a community has covered assigned parking spaces—even better. Especially nice in Florida when it rains sporadically and without warning.
8. Is there a walking trail?—This question is important to me as walking is a passion of mine.
9. Is there a pool? More than one pool? A spa/hotub/jacuzzi?—My parents’ community has a spa and I adore it, so this is a question I added to my list.
10. Is this a gated community? —This is important to me since I live in a big city. This may not be as important in a small town. If it is a gated community, can people tailgate? If they can tailgate, it may not be as safe as it should be. Of all of the communities we looked at, no tailgating was allowed or even possible with the way the gate was set up.
I never asked about a gym because I don’t care about it. But this may be important to some of you.
Things to watch out for.
1) Sketchy Home Owner Associations: I discovered many varying rules across these various HOAs. But one HOA community in particular prevaricated when I asked them questions, which immediately made me uncomfortable with the thought of living there. The assistant who answered the phone refused to answer my questions, and instead directed me to the Association Manager, who refused to call me back. I emailed him, but he only said that I needed to submit my questions in writing, which was quite odd to me as none of the other HOAs had acted in this manner. I did submit my questions in writing but he never responded. In the end, I didn’t care as it eliminated one more community from my ever-shrinking list of communities that Alex and I might feel comfortable living in.
2) Cost of monthly HOA fees: Another thing to watch out for is HOA fees! I have found that a reasonable Condo Association fee in Orlando is anywhere between $300-$450 a month. I did find two units in the same community with an HOA fee of $800+ a month. I immediately contacted my realtor and told him we were not interested in those units. It was a shame because the units themselves were adorable!
3) Another thing I have noticed: the information in Realtor.com or Zillow is not necessarily correct. Often, the information about pets is incorrect, and a few times I found that the HOA fee information was also incorrect. One gentleman I contacted assured me that the information on the HOA fee for his community was on Realtor.com. I told him that the information was often incorrect, so I just wanted to be sure. He was quite gruff about my response to him—but he should have had the answer ready for me, a potential home buyer in his community. The fact that he didn’t and didn’t have the best attitude while speaking to me spoke volumes about the HOA itself. Alex and I decided not to pursue living there, though the community did look lovely.
4) Your responsibility to ask: Finally, I must say this: It is your responsibility to discover the answers to these above questions for yourself, not your realtor’s. Your realtor already has enough on his plate, searching for you, setting up showings for you, getting the paperwork together for the units or houses, driving around to meet you, writing up an offer for you, and negotiating for you. Also, if an incorrect answer is given to him while he asks these above questions (not that he should be asking them for you), then you as the buyer might blame him for not having the correct answers to the questions. You asking these questions eliminates the middle man and places less pressure on him. You only have yourself to blame or the HOA manager or assistant if you discover that you assumed something incorrectly, or were given the incorrect information.
5) What is the age of the air conditioning unit/water heater/electrical panel?—These are questions that you need to discover for yourself when you are physically looking at units. A good realtor will look at this for you while he is showing you the unit/house.
Another tip I want to make for every first-time home buyer living in Orlando in 2021: have around 10,000 tucked away for this purchase. Think of it this way: you need 3% for closing on a $160,000 home, then that is $4,800. If you are looking in a safe area with a decent HOA in today’s competitive market you will need to be ready to dish out closing costs as well, which can be anywhere from 3%-4%--around $4,800-$6,400. You can ask the buyer for closing costs, but this weakens your offer and in today’s competitive market you need every small advantage you can get.
If we are going with the higher amount of the closing cost, this could be upwards of $11,00+. This is a lot and I now know why so many people rent. But investing in your home is investing in your future. Also, if you ever need to sell—all that money will come back to you to invest in another home. Alex and I are still searching. And maybe God wants us to rent for another year. And we would be ok with that, too. But the experience we have gained through this initial searching process has been invaluable.
I hope this information was helpful to you all! I’ve been through a roller coast of emotions with it, and I’ve had some terribly difficult moments. But, at the end of the day, I know that God is on His throne, and He has a plan for my life. And I trust that plan. Yes, Alex and I would love to buy now. However, if we can’t this year—that’s ok too. This will only mean another year of saving for us, and we currently like the apartment complex we are living in.
If any of you have any further tips, please let me know! I don’t pretend to know everything about any of this. I am always learning.