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Two Deeds for the Price of One-A Wise Purchaser ‘Test Drives’ Both 4.19.2006

By Rick Racela

By KATHY BALIN
Guest Columnist
Buying a condominium means owning more than just a single unit.
That’s because in addition to purchasing a unit that becomes a private “home,” the buyer also obtains a proportionate share of those portions of the property that commonly are used by all unit owners.  Examples include walkways, stairs, decks, exterior lights, storage areas, driveways and lawns.  Referred to as “common property” or “common elements,” these areas are legally conveyed by a Master Deed.
For this reason, not one but two deeds are conveyed to you at settlement:  a unit deed and a Master Deed.
Your Master Deed governs the establishment, administration and operation of the entire condominium property.  In the hierarchy of documents, the Master Deed sits at the pinnacle.
Unlike your more traditional unit deed, the Master Deed is very long – often more than 25 pages – and the same document is presented to each new owner.  Its main purposes include dividing the entire condo property into units and common elements, and establishing the rights and obligations of unit owners on issues such as voting, payment of common expenses, and any restrictions upon the use and occupancy of units.
Your attorney undoubtedly will review both your unit deed and your Master Deed before settlement, but, because the Master Deed covers such unique and important issues, it is always a good idea for you to “test drive” it before settlement day, the same way you would test an expensive luxury car before its purchase.
The Master Deed’s provisions can affect owners in the most personal ways.
For example, they might include use restrictions on common elements, controlling very specific details about the design, architecture and use of condo property.   The purpose of such restrictions typically is to preserve the characteristics, scheme and property values of the entire property, but you must make sure – in advance of your purchase – that you will be comfortable with the restrictions.
You also might encounter restrictions on the appearance of your building.  I have a friend who would love to put up awnings and cannot because they are precluded under her Master Deed.  The use of certain colors and products on the exterior of the building may also be prohibited.   Mailboxes may have to be a certain color, children’s toys may be forbidden from a particular area, hoses may be limited to specific places, or trash may be prohibited from certain areas.  
And it’s not just common areas that are affected.  Your Master Deed may place restrictions on your ability to rent your unit.  Or, it might prohibit pets.  The owners of the condominium where I live had no idea that the Master Deed prohibits pets, and they were heartbroken on moving day.
You can appreciate the importance of a Master Deed when you realize that condo owners become part of a close-knit community.  And it’s constructive to view condominium rights and responsibilities as being for the good of all owners.
Just make sure that you review the rules before you buy, to satisfy yourself that this is a community in which you will be comfortable living!
Kathy Balin, an attorney with law offices in Marmora, writes a regular column for the Herald on condo-related issues.  Readers are invited to send inquiries to her at REUpdate.CapeMayCountyHerald.com.

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