Running Small Associations Unique Communities, Unique Needs

Condominium associations come in all sizes and shapes. They can contain hundreds of units, or as few as two. While many of the issues faced by associations are universal regardless of size, small condominium associations do face some unique challenges that set them apart from their larger cousins. Those challenges touch all aspects of life in these communities, from legal to management to social issues.

A Cozy Alternative

Not all prospective condo owners are seeking the same type of living environment. Some prefer a large, all-inclusive community with tons of amenities and activities to choose from, while others prefer a smaller, cozier and more intimate community.  That type of vibe is often found in smaller properties – typically walk-ups and brownstones – and often in urban settings. Small associations are not unusual, and indeed dominate the available housing stock in certain locations. For example, “if you want to live in Jersey City or Hoboken,” says Joseph Rosenberg, Chief Operating Officer at Atlantic Management in Secaucus, New Jersey, “that’s pretty much what you’ve got!” 

Small condo associations also make up a sizable portion of the market in parts of  New York and in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. According to Frank Lombardi, a Principal with the law firm of Goodman, Shapiro and Lombardi, which has offices in Massachusetts and Rhode Island: “Small associations under six units are [also] very common in New England. In fact, they may constitute as much as a third of all associations in the region.”

According to Kevin McIntyre, a real estate operator in Chicago: “People who buy in small associations are usually drawn to the low common charges. Carrying costs in larger buildings are much higher, due to those buildings offering more services. They may be looking for a more traditional neighborhood as well, something more personal,” like the aforementioned Lincoln Park, where brownstones are the order of the day.

“There’s no particular profile of a typical owner in a small association,” says Ariel Fox, a property manager with Cornerstone Management Systems in New York City. “It has more to do with the type of building. We manage old-style tenement buildings where the units are smaller, and the owners tend to be single, perhaps buying their first unit. We also have conversions of old mercantile buildings where you may have say, eight floor-through lofts on eight floors. Those buildings attract families and investment bankers.”

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