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Priced Out of Paradise: Condo owners, buyers face sticker shock following Surfside tragedy

Attorney offers advice to prospective buyers before signing agreement
Posted at 11:27 AM, Feb 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-10 18:23:53-05

BOCA RATON, Fla. — After the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside last year, the cost of living safely in a condominium has never been more of a focus in Florida.

"Buyer beware" is an important rule of thumb as owners of condominiums and other multi-family complexes make necessary repairs, either voluntarily or under state mandate.

Steve Rogers, the president of the condominium association board for Chalfonte Towers in Boca Raton, knows all about the challenges.

"We were always a proactive community," Rogers said.

Steve Rogers, president of the condominium association board for Chalfonte Towers in Boca Raton
Steve Rogers says the Chalfonte Towers has always been proactive about repairs.

Twin high rises with 378 owners make up that community, which entails a substantial amount of work and responsibility.

"Our concrete engineer had told us we needed to do a concrete restoration," Rogers said.

Constructed in the 1970s, salt air and ocean winds have eroded balconies in sections of the Chalfonte Towers.

"The balconies are what we're working on right now because of the rebar and concrete spalling is where the concrete starts to fall off the building," Rogers said. "We knew that had to be dealt with."

The cost of the work is around $2 million, which comes to a $5,300 assessment for every condominium owner.

"This is all part of the deal, and I am glad they are doing it," said Harry Waldman, who sits on the condo board.

Nowadays, the average cost of a Chalfonte condo is about $1 million.

Chalfonte Towers in Boca Raton
Chalfonte Towers in Boca Raton are twin high rises with more than 370 owners.

When you start adding in those constant repair costs, the grumbling begins.

"Until I got involved in this two years ago, if you told me the amount of politics involved, I would never have imagined what goes on here," Rogers said.

Rogers notes that the Chalfonte condo board is pushing ahead with its own voluntary safety inspection schedule. There are also new state mandates. They include fire safety improvements, which will likely mean another $2 million bill split between the owners.

"You want an active board, not an inactive board because that is dangerous," said Tom Madden, a longtime reside at Chalfonte Towers. "If a board is inactive and just wants to placate residents, and being heroes because they are not spending money, that is dangerous."

Paul Krasker of Krasker Law recommends hiring a real estate attorney and said you must carefully read the fine print before signing that condominium contract.

Paul Krasker of Krasker Law
Paul Krasker explains what prospective condo owners need to do before signing on the dotted line.

"My best advice is to do your due diligence upfront, understand what is happening," Krasker said.

In the wake of the Surfside tragedy, which took the lives of 98 people, cries have reached Tallahassee demanding a law to require structural inspection programs for all multi-family dwellings.

Getting owners to pay for repairs that are identified remains a sticking point.

Attorneys say this is even more of a reason to know what you are buying beyond the purchase price of a condominium.

"The first thing to say to the seller is, 'I want to get the last 12 months of the board meetings. I want to see what those board members are talking about,'" Krasker said.

Be prepared, Krasker cautions, to walk away before the purchase if you can't stomach ongoing assessments and other fees.

"You have a right to walk away if you find out the association has been talking about redoing the roof, the electric, the elevator shaft, the exterior balconies," Krasker said.

Back at the Chalfonte Towers, Madden offered this final counsel about condominium living.

"You think that (the purchase) is the end of expenses. You are never going to have to fix another roof," Madden said. "Your upkeep is not going to be there, but that is very foolish."