K.C. from Middlesex County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Is there a way that I can find out where the highest common fees are in the state? And in addition, what the average fees are for the state? My condo complex has more than 300 units. The only services included in our common fees are grounds maintenance, snow removal, garbage, and pool & tennis courts. The owners pay everything else. Currently I’m paying $389 a month in common fees and $111 assessment for siding & decks. That is $500 a month (which is almost half of my mortgage payment)! These fees and assessments have no end in sight and foreclosures are popping up everywhere because people can’t keep up with all the unnecessary fees from the condo association. Is there anywhere we can turn for help in lowering these fees? I should add that we do not live in a luxury community, so to be charging these kinds of fees is ridiculous and unfair, in my opinion.
Mister Condo replies:
K.C., I feel your pain, brother. You are not alone in feeling that your common fees are excessive but let me assure you, while your fees are high, I know of many communities where the fees are higher. There is no official place to find out where the highest fees in the state are but I suspect communities that are close to the shore, where very high premiums are paid for flood insurance and passed on to the unit owners in the form of common fees are likely the most expensive in the state.
You asked about turning for help in lowering these fees. K.C., I wish I could tell you it is as simple as tightening expenditures but the reality is that almost everything associated with condo budgets is on the rise. You mentioned the visible items that your common fees include but you neglected a few key (and expensive) items that I’ll bet are at the heart of your community’s common fees. First and foremost is insurance. A portion of your common fees are used to pay your Master Insurance, your Umbrella policy, your Workman’s Compensation Insurance, and Flood Insurance. Your management company receives a fee for their services and you pay for that, too. You likely have professional fees associated with a community of your size for accounting, legal, and administrative expenses. You may not see these services as a homeowner but, trust me; you wouldn’t want to live in a condo that didn’t take care of these things for you.
The monthly assessment charge for the siding and decks is indicative to me that not enough money was charged in earlier common fees to properly fund for such a project. Building a healthy Reserve Fund is paramount to long-term community success. The good news is that once your assessment is paid up, that $111 monthly expense will go away. Unless it is time for a new roof or new pavement or whatever. You know how that goes…
The bottom line is that every community is different with regards to its Annual Budget and its Reserve Fund contributions. You should have access to your community’s Annual Budget. I suggest you read it and understand exactly where your money is going. If you see a place where the community could save some money, go ahead and suggest it to the Board. Better yet, volunteer to serve on the Board or one the Finance Committee so you can have a say in how your money is spent. See for yourself if any of these fees are “unnecessary” as you put it. My guess is that it would be a real enlightening experience. You might just find that you’re getting a bargain at $500 per month!