4 Questions for a Pro: Barbara Mei


Born in Italy, Barbara Mei spent much of her life in New York City, working in real estate. She came to Sarasota to retire, failed at that, returned to her former career and has been a successful broker with Sotheby International Realty for the past three years. Her specialty is luxury condos in the 34236 zip code -- Lido and St. Armands and downtown Sarasota.

Barbara Mei

Barbara Mei

"Vertical living is what I'm familiar with," she says with a smile. "As a baby boomer, I like the lock-and-leave lifestyle it offers."

Correspondent Chris Angermann interviewed her at Beau Ciel, a condominium on Boulevard of the Arts, where she lives and has her office.

Q: How do you approach selling in your particular market niche?

A: Many people who come from a single-family home are not necessarily familiar with condominiums and what's important to know about them.

I start with lifestyle because that defines what kind of condo you'll look at -- whether you want to have your feet in the sand as you walk outside or be able to walk to shops and restaurants, or live in a golf course community. Once you establish that, that narrows down the neighborhoods.

Q: And then?

A: The financial aspects. Is the condo adequately funded? Some buildings do not have reserves. The owners opt out of putting money into an account and pay as special needs occur. Their reasoning is, if I'm not here in five years, why should the HOA have my money? Personally, I find that a little dangerous, and I tell people that a condo with a solid reserve fund is very important.

If you buy a unit, you become part-owner of the building. You have a title and deed, and you areĀ  partly responsible for what happens to it. By setting money aside, you cover your portion of capital improvements -- painting the building, fixing the roof, elevators, landscaping and anything else that may come up.

In most condominiums you pay quarterly fees, a portion of which goes into the reserve fund.

The rest is used as the operating budget that goes to lifestyle. It all depends on your level of comfort and what you're willing to pay for it.

If you're in a 24-hour concierge building like Beau Ciel, the HOA fees will be higher, but people feel very safe. They know that their packages are going to be delivered to their door.

Your HOA dues usually include water, sewer, landscaping, basic cable, pest control, pool cleaning, the concierges, and the handyman and janitors.

When you start adding all those individual expenses that you have to contract out yourself if you're a homeowner, it adds up. I've seen people do the numbers in their head and say, "That's not so bad."

There are some self-managed condos, but most luxury condos have property managers, and they can benefit from volume discounts. If they have a number of buildings, they can usually negotiate better deals than individuals can.

Q: What about insurance?

A: That is very important. The master insurance policy provides wind, hurricane and flood coverage. As a unit owner, you only have to pay for contents. You are responsible from the outside wall in. The master policy takes care of the shell.

If the condo is downtown and has retail space, usually the HOA fees are a little higher, because the insurance policy is higher, something many people don't know.

Q: What other questions should buyers ask?

A: Are there any lawsuits pending? Is anyone in arrears in their HOA dues? Are there any short sales or foreclosures in the building? How many rentals are there, and what is the rental policy?

In many buildings, it's three months, minimum, twice a year. That limits frequent turnover. How many people are renting? That's important if you're financing, because most lending institutions frown upon buildings that have 50 percent or more rentals, because then it becomes an investor building.

Most lenders require 25 percent down payment if the condo is owner occupied. If it's an investment, they require 30 percent down.

Are owners allowed to have pets? Most condos have size limitations for dogs. Are tenants allowed to have pets? If you buy a condo for investment or aren't ready to move in yet and want to rent it out, having the ability for the tenant to have a pet is a big thing. No one likes to leave Rosie home.

Last modified: August 9, 2013
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