So, owners in the Harbor Towers condo complex on Boston’s Waterfront are faced with having to pay huge special assessments, due to necessary repair work on the buildings’ (there are two) mechanicals.

The Globe covered the story:

It’s the condo owners’ nightmare: The building’s heating and cooling system needs an overhaul, so everybody must pay a huge one-time assessment.

But the 500-plus owners at Harbor Towers on Boston’s waterfront are facing the mother of all bills: from $70,000 to over $400,000. And they’re due by the end of this month. In full.

The owners are reeling from the news, delivered in August, that collectively they owe $75.6 million for replacing much of the buildings’ main systems; some can’t afford the assessment and are selling their units.

That’s really bad. No one, of course, would want to be faced with a bill that size.

There’s a lot of questions for Harbor Towers’ owners to ask about this. How did this happen? Why wasn’t preventive measures taken to extend the lives of the mechanicals?

Of course, none of that will solve the problem they face. Coming up with $65 million to make the repairs.

If you are considering buying a condominium, you need to be aware of this sort of thing. You need to protect yourself. If you’re one of the many who use all your savings as a down payment on your new condo, you certainly don’t want to wake up the day after closing to find out you’re going to have to find another $500, $2,000, or $60,000 in order to pay a special assessment.

Here’s what you need to do.

Ask questions – specifically, don’t be afraid to ask these three questions, directly. (Also, your purchase & sale contract should include language on this, as well.)

* Is the condo association being sued by anyone (by anyone, not just “significant litigation”)

* Are any projects (any) planned, approved OR DISCUSSED for the building, and how will these projects be paid for – by special assessment or from capital reserves

* How much money does the condo association have on hand, does it have a capital reserves account?

If you don’t ask these questions and subsequently find out there were projects planned that will cost you money, yes, you might have a reason to sue the prior owner, but, really, why wait until then? It’ll be cold comfort.

Ask these questions, prior to buying.

As well, make sure you have a home inspection performed by a licensed home inspector, prior to signing the purchase & sale contract. (All practicing home inspectors must be licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the training and apprenticeship requirements are significant.) The inspector will do a visual inspection of many of the common area mechanicals to determine whether or not they are aged or run-down (of course, the inspector is not an engineer, and cannot be counted on to be an “expert” on anything).

More: Towering assessments leave waterfront residents divided – By Thomas C Palmer Jr, Boston Globe

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Updated: 1st Q 2018

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