In hot markets such as Toronto and Vancouver, condominiums are becoming an attractive solution for many first, second and third time home buyers alike. I know because I just sold my single family detached home and downsized to a condo. And boy, am I happy about it.
While Canadians are socialized to believe that owning a house with land is the ultimate goal, many of us find caring for a house far too time consuming, stressful and expensive particularly for single parents, first time home buyers, the elderly and busy executives.
This is where the beauty of condo living comes in. No longer do you need to worry about landscaping, taking the garbage out, cleaning the eavestroughs or raccoons invading your home. The only concerns you will have in a condo pertain to the interior functioning of your suite, and when to find time to enjoy your new amenities. Many new condo builds are incorporating fabulous amenities specifically to attract professional, urban dwellers that would be impossible to obtain in a single family home without a significant investment.
Shopping for a condominium however presents quite a few different considerations than when looking for a single family home. Consider our top 12 tips to when shopping for your new condo.
- Figure Out What You Need vs. What You Want
Think hard about what you actually need vs. what you want and then look again at your budget.
- Where do you need to live? Location, location, location is still the cardinal rule in real estate.
- Do you prefer boutique buildings or are you more of a high-rise person?
- How many square feet do you need?
- Do you need a fully renovated suite, or can you afford the time and expense to do some renovations?
- Do you value an outdoor space, or are you okay without a balcony?
- Do you prefer to live on lower levels or are you happy to dwell in the sky?
- How many parking spots do you need?
- Do you need a gym, pool or other amenities?
- And finally, what is your budget? You need to think of your monthly costs which will include both your mortgage, maintenance fees, taxes and anything not included in your maintenance fees.
2. Shop around!
Take your time and look at as many condominiums as possible. My realtor and I tirelessly looked at 65 condos in total over a period of about two months. Make sure your realtor is willing to put in the leg work with you as the learnings were tremendously important and helped me to not settle on a condo that was either too pricey, or didn’t fit my needs. I am now tremendously happy with my decision, which is important as we’re talking about my home here.
3. Maintenance Fees and taxes
The spectre of maintenance fees often strikes fear into the hearts of many a condo shopper. It’s important to be wary of a building with very high condo fees.
Be aware of what is included in the maintenance fees of the condos you are looking at. Most will include heat and air conditioning, but some also include electricity, water, concierge services and any amenities the building has. High condo fees can occur if a building is quite old and therefore requires a lot of maintenance or if finances are not properly managed. Additionally, if the building is smaller fees can be higher as they are spread across less residents . Amenities such as gyms, pools, party rooms and concierges also drive up maintenance fees, but if you use these amenities, the cost is easily offset by the enjoyment you derive from them.
The fact is however, that single family homes – like all buildings – require significant upkeep. Homeowners should budget about 3 to 4% of the value of their home for yearly maintenance. Therefore, people who own a $500,000 home, will be spending spending $10,000 to $20,000 a year on maintenance, not including utilities and other regular, monthly fees.
Property taxes are not included in your monthly maintenance fees, so expect to pay those over and above your monthly costs.
Suddenly, those maintenance fees don’t seem so bad do they?
4. Ask Before You Renovate
If you have fabulous ideas about how you’d like to renovate a condo you’re interested in buying, ask BEFORE you buy if you can in fact undertake your desired renovations.
Many condominiums will not allow certain structural renos, so to avoid having to spend time and money restoring a room back to its original state, confirm with building management (in writing, with a status certificate to be safe) that your proposed renos are allowed. If you are planning any renovations, do so with a contractor who has worked on condominium renos in the past. Condos have specific rules that trades are familiar with, which will help you in the long run.
5. Buy Only In A Well-Maintained Building
When shopping for your condo take note of the general building maintenance. Are the hallways and elevators clean? Are there any burnt-out lightbulbs in the hallways? Are the carpets clean, is the wallpaper still adhering to the walls? How about the decor in the lobby – is it dated, and is the furniture clean and welcoming? How about the common areas such as the barbecue areas and party rooms. Are they clean and well maintained?
You’ll likely not be able to see into the guts of the operations – things like how management maintains the HVAC system for example, but you’ll get a good sense of the quality of the building maintenance by paying attention to the details around you.
6. Only Buy Into a Condominium Corporation That Is Financially Healthy
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to inspect the finances of a condo corporation before closing the deal to purchase. You do not want to find yourself living in a building with substantial paybacks, charges, debts or other issues that will cause your maintenance fees to increase sharply. Or worse – finding yourself suddenly having to shell out lots of cash for a large project because the building has been improperly maintained, or because the board is not capable of managing the corporations finances.
Inspection of a condo corporations’ finances happens once a status certificate has been ordered, which is usually close to the final stage of the offer. Do not close the deal without reviewing the finances very carefully.
7. Research Building Management
If you’re interested in a specific building, find out who the management company is and do some research on them. If you can find out who the property manager is and talk to other owners about how effective they are at managing the property, so much the better. The management company and the property manager are tremendously important as they hire the trades and ensure they do good work. They also enforce rules and ensure the building is secure and that the community is safe and cared for.
I’ve heard many a horror story of management companies that “hire” their friends to complete maintenance work, and so the work simply never gets done, meaning your hard-won cash is being squandered. Be careful, ask around.
8. Attitude of the Concierge Staff Counts (If There Is Concierge Staff)
Let’s face it, it’s great to have a concierge staff. You may pay a bit more in maintenance fees, but if it can be worth it for security and practicality reasons. Sometimes a good concierge is worth their weight in gold. Many buildings hire security companies to provide concierge services, but the best concierges are those that work for the building directly, not through a third party.
A team who is hired by the building tend to get to know their residents and their needs intimately and provide a much higher level of service that you may need to call upon if you have a medical or security emergency.
9. Obtain All The Elements You Need From The Previous Owner
Make sure the previous owner gives you everything you need to take possession of your new condominium. This can include key fobs, pool wristbands and anything else that you need to be provided to give you full access to your new condo, parking spot and amenities.
10. The Community
When touring a prospective building, make sure you look around at all the common spaces and amenities to gauge what the community is like. Do you have young children? Look around – are there other kids and young families? If so, great, this building could be a good fit for you. If it’s a building full of partiers, or opposite – a lot of older folks who value peace and quiet, then it may not be a good idea to buy in this building, no matter how perfect the suite seems.
Many condos only allows a certain number of pets, and with a specific weight limit. To avoid heartache, make sure you ask your lawyer to aprise you of the rules regarding pets if you are a pet owner. If a building only allows one pet and you have two for example, you may want to consider purchasing in a different complex.
12. Parking Spaces
Be careful – parking stalls are legally part of the condominium you will be purchasing, but can prove to be a pain if a seller who has two parking stalls decides to sell one of the parking spots to another condo owner during the sale process. Work with your lawyer to make sure that everything is clear vis a vis your parking property.
And perhaps most importantly – if you are an introvert or just don’t like being around lots of people you might want to reconsider your choice of condominium as your primary dwelling. Living in a condo building means you are surrounded by other people, and often have the chance to interact with your neighbours, whether in the elevator or in common areas such as the gym and pool. This can be a plus for some, but a drawback for others.