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5 Things to Consider Before Buying a Condo in Washington, D.C.

Jennifer Lubell

For busy Washington, D.C., professionals looking for a no-fuss property that's just minutes from their job on Capitol Hill or K Street, a condo in the city's downtown area is often a perfect solution. Much less expensive than single-family homes, these units are often equipped with gyms and pools -- and there's no lawn to mow.

"Condos are everywhere in D.C., mostly in the core," says Kevin Wood, a Realtor with Slate Properties. Areas with hip restaurants and bars are prime hot spots for condos right now, specifically appealing to young, single professionals. Think Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan, Wood says.

Condo options are also aplenty on Capitol Hill, where many row house conversions are taking place, and in the H Street and Foggy Bottom neighborhoods.

But before you make an offer, top Washington, D.C., real estate agents identified by OpenHouse Realty, an agent referral company (and a U.S. News partner), suggest you take a few things into account.

[Read: A First-Time Buyer's Guide to Washington, D.C.]

Your lifestyle. According to Ty Voyles, a founding principal of Fulcrum Properties Group, most condo buyers in the Washington, D.C., area fall into two categories: They're millennials looking to purchase their first home, or they're suburban empty nesters who are moving back to the city. Others might buy condos to use as a pied-a-terre, maybe only living there part time or during the work week. "Somebody who is a lobbyist and based out of Milwaukee might fly in and work Monday through Thursday," he explains.

When hunting for a condo in the Washington, D.C., area, take your lifestyle into consideration and think about what you might need, Voyles advises. "Is it important to live in a boutique building, or a larger building that has shared amenities and provides more anonymity?"

Your finances. Buyers with their heart set on a Washington, D.C., condo can expect to pay an average of $300,000 for a one-bedroom space in a newer building. For people who work long hours, a studio condo might be a good option (and these units are usually less expensive than one-bedrooms).

The general rule for condo shopping is that height and light increase the value of the property, Voyles says. If you buy something on the fourth floor, "it's typically going to be more valuable than a unit on the second story, as there's more views and more light." Units located at the basement or terrace level are often less desirable and sell at a lower price.

The common spaces. Condo buyers should look at the common areas of the building they're interested in. A dirty lobby or poorly maintained grounds "say something about the condo association and how well it's run," Wood says. A good rule of thumb is to review the minutes of condo association meetings to see what issues the building has and any plans for future renovations.

[Read: D.C., Maryland or Virginia -- Where Should You Live?]

Once you settle on a place you like, it's important to look at the condo documents and review the financials, experts say. "You need to be comfortable with the building's financials, that it's well-maintained and has the ability to repair and cover any problems that come up," Wood says.

A building with low reserve funds is a red flag. "If they need to replace the roof or repoint the brick in the building, each unit owner might have to pay a special assessment fee to get the repairs done if the reserve funds are low," he cautions.

The extras. Not every condo building has perks -- especially if the building is older, Wood stresses. Newer buildings are more likely to have pools and exercise rooms.

The reality is, if you want amenities, you're going to have to pay higher condo fees. Buyers should ask themselves if they want to pay a premium for these extra perks -- and if they're actually going to use them. "If not, the building might not be the right fit for you," Wood says.

The rate. Voyles advises, "Anytime you buy a condo, you should talk to a number of lenders and compare rates. Do your research to make sure the loan officer and title company you'll be working with is reputable." If you're buying a condo in a new-construction building, the builder must provide a two-year structural warranty -- something that should be disclosed in your resale package. "This is a nice thing to have as a security blanket," he adds.

[Read: How to Get the Best Price for Your D.C. Condo.]

A number of programs are available to assist condo buyers with closing costs and down payments, such as DC Open Doors and the Home Purchase Assistance Program, Voyles says. When investing in a Washington, D.C., condo, "it's important to spend wisely to get what you really want out of the building."

Looking for a real estate agent in Washington, D.C.? Our Find an Agent tool can match you with the person who's most qualified for the job.

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