Q: Our cooperative apartment association will soon vote on whether to convert our building to condominium ownership. The proponents of the switch are suggesting that condominium units are easier to resell and that their prices increase at a more rapid rate than copperative units. Can you advise me how to vote on this issue?
A: Many legal questions cannot be simply answered without a complete evaluation of all the facts. I do not know a number of details, such as the size and location of your building, the age of the cooperative, the size of the mortgage (if any) on the building and the characteristics of the shareholders (age and income levels, primarily).
Thus, I am unable to tell you how to vote. I can, however, give some pros and cons to assist you in making your decision.
I think it is safe to say that condominium units in the Washington metropolitan area appreciate at a somewhat greater rate than do cooperative units. Perhaps the most important factor creating this situation is the fact that condominium units are easier to resell than cooperative units.
Financing is often hard to get when you buy a cooperative unit. In many of the older cooperative buildings, the equity in each unit is substantial. The purchaser either needs a lot of money or good banking connections, or the seller ends up assisting in the financing. Needless to say, sellers of cooperative units often do not have the available cash to buy additional property, if they have to take back financing from their buyers.
If your cooperative is relatively new, the mortgage on the building is probably fairly high. Under these conditions, there is less equity in each cooperative share, and the cooperative unit has a greater resale potential.
Additionally, recent developments, both locally and at the federal level, give encouraging signs that money will be available to assist purchasers of cooperative units. One local bank is presently experimenting with a program to help a cooperative obtain financing for its purchasers.
Thus, if the only reasons to convert into a condominium go to the resale problems, I suspect that these new developments may make these concerns moot as time goes by.
But, there are other issues to consider. Oversimplified, the management of a condominium is quite similar to the management of a cooperative. The tax benefits for individual apartment owners are similar, and thus it is hard for me to find other reasons that would support the decision to convert into a condominium.
Let me give you some negative factors to weigh. First, have you talked to the lender holding the underlying mortgage on the building? Consent of this lender is needed before you can proceed with the conversation. In a condominium, each apartment is owned in "fee simple." In order to accomplish this form of ownership, the underlying mortgage holder must be willing to release the portion of the mortgage in favor of the condominium owner.
Second, have you analyzed the cost of this transaction? The legal work involved in creating a condominium will not be inexpensive. Architectural reports, a structural engineering analysis and other such documents must be obtained in order to comply with applicable condominium laws.
Finally, have you considered the cost to each unit owner of converting to a condominium? There will be settlement fees, and indeed there may be transfer taxes applied by the local jurisdiction.
In the final analysis, the collective owners of your cooperative have the final say on whether or not to convert. Individual shareholders are entitled to a complete explanation of the pros and cons of this transaction, including the costs of the proposal. My own feeling is that it probably does not make sense, but then again I don't live in your complex.