Tips for Buying a Condo in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach

You may be thinking about buying a condo in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach to live full time. Maybe you just want to have an awesome vacation getaway or purchase an investment property to capitalize on our massive tourism market. Whichever the case may be, here are some “not so” typical tips that you don’t hear everyday to hopefully make your purchase go smoother.

The search for your new condo

Tip: Start your search early. There are thousands of condos represented in a multitude of condo complexes in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. So, unless you already know that you want to be in a particular community, visit your Realtor’s website, have fun, and take the time that you need to narrow down your search. As an example, I have a current client who I’ve sold to before and they “only” want to purchase in Seawind Condos in Gulf Shores and on a particular floor. They know exactly what they want, but chances are you will need to become more familiar with what our area has to offer.

Getting a Loan

Tip: Don’t drag your feet getting “pre-approved”. You never know, you may find the perfect place for you right away so you should have all of the documents ready to make an offer. Sellers like to see a pre-approval letter vs pre-qualified. Another financing tip is to work with a local lender instead of a bank in another state. Local mortgage companies know our market and how condos operate. You’re less likely to run into issues during the process if your lender is familiar with our real estate market.

Does your Realtor “know” condos?

I wouldn’t want to buy life insurance from a fruit salesman. That’s an extreme example, and surely any Realtor would be able to assist you in a condo purchase. However, there are certain situations that come up with the purchase of a condo that never do with a single-family home. Tip: Work with a Realtor who is seasoned in dealing with condo transactions to avoid any speed bumps that are relative to condos.

Are you a people person?

It’s obvious that purchasing a condo will put you in closer contact to more people in a smaller space. On the other hand, our area offers many different types of atmospheres and various-sized condo complexes. Tip: Determine how you feel about condo living and the amount of crowds that you are willing to live near. If you want to live near the beach but deal with less crowds, you may want to live in the West End section of Gulf Shores or Fort Morgan. For instance, I live in Sailboat Bay of Gulf Shores, which is a waterfront, condo community that is situated away from the beach. It’s a very quiet area. I wasn’t specifically looking for quiet, but it suits me.

How do you feel about noise?

Noise issues are two-fold when it comes to buying a condo: outside noise and inside noise. Outside noises would include traffic, people playing at the pool, tennis or basketball courts, nearby restaurants or bars, jets/airplanes, or even the waves crashing on the shore. Inside noises mainly deal with how the building that you’re in is constructed. Is your condo a wood structure or was it constructed using poured-in-place concrete? With concrete, you hear virtually nothing from your neighbors, which is not the case with wood structures. Tip: Decide what noise level that you’re comfortable with, and purchase your condo accordingly.

How high do you go?

Oftentimes, buyers don’t even consider that the story height of their condo is going to be an issue before it’s too late. Tip: Determine what you’re comfortable with in regard to which floor that you’re willing to buy on. Do you get dizzy above the 10th floor? Would you rather be closer to the pool and parking garage? This is your purchase, and you can get as specific as you want. For instance, I have a client who wants to purchase a condo in San Carlos of Gulf Shores but only wants a unit between the floors 6 through 10.

Verify that the condo fees cover insurance.

Most people are very concerned about buying a condo because condo fees “appear” so high. In reality, most of these fees are being paid anyway while owning a single-family home, including insurance. A very small percentage of condo associations here in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach do not include insurance in with the condo fees. Tip: Verify that insurance is/is not included in the condo fees, so you’re not surprised prior to closing.

Are there any obstructions of view?

The many condo complexes on the beach are positioned differently and vary in the number of stories that they have. Tip: Decide what kind of view is important to you. Is a southern facing Gulf view all that you need (which is pretty nice)? Would you like to see the sunrise or sunset? These questions will determine if you should buy a southern, corner unit or not? Also, you may have to choose a condo on a higher floor in order to see over the building next to you if you want to look down the beach.

Beach balcony view - Gulf Shores

Fannie Mae approved?

Tip: If you’re financing, check with your lender to see if the condo that you want to buy is approved by Fannie Mae or not. The main difference has to do with how much down payment you will have to put down if the purchase is a primary residence or second home.

What are special assessments?

Special assessments are fees charged to the condo owner in addition to monthly condo fees. These occur if the structure, for instance, needs a new roof, parking lot has to repaved, etc. Special assessments are inevitable for every condo association at some point, and the total cost is divided among all of the owners of the building. Tip: Have your Realtor state in your Offer to Purchase that the sale is contingent on you receiving and approving all Condo Documents including financial statements, rules and regulations, and any known special assessments. This keeps you from being surprised.

Market Conditions

Tip: Get together with your Realtor so that you have a good idea of the market conditions for the area and the particular condo community that interests you. Are you in a buyer’s market or seller’s market? What are similar condos selling for in the building? How much should you offer?

It’s all about the money?

Tip: If you’re buying a condo as an investment to capture a piece of the massive tourism market in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, have your Realtor get you the current rental history for the condo or the building. Virtually all of the condo communities at the beach have some kind of current rental history that you are able to see. Some condos pull greater revenue than others, and you get to see this information. Put your Realtor to work for you.

Property taxes

Because we live in an explosive tourist area, there are many properties that are categorized as investment properties (more tax) instead of full-time residences (less tax). Tip: Have your Realtor get you the property tax information for your condo. If you are going to live there full time or use the property as a second home, you may have to contact the county in order to pay less tax.

Number of beds

Most of the time, condos here at the beach are sold fully furnished and, most of the time, there is a sleeper sofa in the living room. Tip: Decide how many that you need to sleep instead of how many bedrooms that you want. There are even some condos that have bunk bed cubby holes in the hallway, which are perfect for little kids.

Lease agreements

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Alabama Gulf Coast attracts millions of tourists every year, and there is a good chance that the condo that you want to buy may be under contract with a property management company. Tip: Have your Realtor find out if there is a current property management agreement. Depending on your particular situation, you may not want to honor the existing property management company. Can you get out of it should you purchase? How long is the agreement?

Condos on the Beach - Gulf Shores


The beach condo market is my wheelhouse. Please contact me if you have any questions about our real estate market or if you would like to schedule a time to talk about your next purchase.


About the author: The above Real Estate information on Tips for Buying a Condo in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach was provided by Jeff Nelson of IXL Real Estate – Eastern Shore. Jeff can be reached via email at jeff@livegulfshoreslocal.com or by phone at 251-654-2523. Jeff has helped people move in and out of properties for nearly 12 years.

Thinking of selling your home? I have a passion for Real Estate and love to share my marketing expertise!

I service Real Estate sales in Baldwin County including the cities of Spanish Fort, Daphne, Fairhope, Foley, Gulf Shores, and Orange Beach.