So how can you make a smart decision about condo fees? Do your research, says Ilona Bray, real-estate attorney and co-author of "Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home," who shared these tips in a recent Nolo post.

You not only need to look at the dollar amount for the unit you are considering, but you also should consider:

How many owners are actually paying those fees? More than 15% in arrears is a serious problem.
How much does the association have in its reserve account? Close to nothing is all too common and means there's nothing to rely on if a sudden repair or emergency comes up.
When can the condo association impose special assessments or other fees? What is its recent history of doing so?
Are any financial disputes or lawsuits brewing between residents and the board?
What's your home worth?
A good first step is reviewing the master deed or "Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions," but you will also want to talk to other owners and read the minutes from recent board meetings, following up on anything that sounds suspicious.

If you do decide to take the plunge, remember to leave a little bit of room in your monthly budget for small, inflation-adjusted increases in those fees.