Live the high life without headaches by thoroughly vetting high-rise condos

Tom Corbett

Chicago is in the midst of a high-rise condo boom, but before signing on the dotted line, buyers should look away from the enchanting skyline views and take a long hard look at other aspects of their prospective buildings.

I have more than a dozen clients suffering from the problems I’ve outlined below. Should you encounter any of these scenarios in your hunt for the perfect home, I urge you to strike the building from your list and avoid a high-rise headache.

The bully board. Many of our clients complain bitterly about their condo boards. Often, the people who make up such boards lack the necessary experience and skills to budget for the kinds of repairs necessary in a high-rise, new or old.

Ask the building’s property management company to fax the minutes from the last several years of condo board meetings and pore over them. Does the building have a sizeable reserve fund? Is the board anticipating and planning to fund regular maintenance of important common elements such as the roof and the furnace? Has it resorted to levying special assessments to address unanticipated problems?

If you don’t see a capital works budget, ask the condo board president if costly capital works projects are looming. If you’re buying a condo in a new-construction building, it’s probably best to join the board and get its finances off to a good start.

Inspect common areas. Don’t let a developer tell you that your home inspector can’t take a look at the building’s roof or heating and cooling systems. You need to know that the bones of the building are in good working order.

Recently, one of my clients purchased a unit on the first floor of a high-rise. This place had beautiful views and a great location, but the chute happens to be un-insulated and situated close to my client’s bedroom. Unfortunately, this garbage chute makes a 45-degree turn right near the head of my client’s bed, sending him and his wife in search of earplugs and Valium – not the ideal way to start life in your new home.

Who’s frying fish? Condominium living is, to some extent, communal living, and the experience isn’t always utopian. Examine your prospective home not just with your eyes, but also with your nose and ears. Do you detect a strange odor in the common hallway?

Some high-rises are built without exhaust systems in public areas, and if kitchens are positioned toward the interior of the building with no natural ventilation, you could be in for some nasty surprises. Along the same lines, common walls in high-rises sometimes are not well insulated, so it pays to visit the building at various times of the day to gauge noise levels. You don’t want to lose sleep in a unit that seemed quiet during the day but turns out to be noisy at night.

The “cold feet” purchase. If you want to avoid experiencing buyer’s remorse, take a good look at the heat distribution in the unit. Half the homes my company inspects do not have adequate heating systems. In winter, many of my clients claim that their feet are cold while their heads are hot.

To avoid this problem, make sure your unit is equipped with a heating system that has a low-lying cold air return. It’s also important to have a supply air register situated close to one of the unit’s walls that doubles as an exterior wall.

Remember, hot air rises and cold air falls, so you need a furnace that will collect the cooler air from the floor of your condo and reheat it before redistributing it into your unit. The supply air register should be located close to one of the exterior walls because the cooler air that collects around these walls and is mixed with the supply air helps to balance the temperature of the reheated air.

Thomas Corbett is president of Tomacor, Inc. The professional property consulting company specializes in commercial and residential property inspections and expert witness work.Â

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