Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Condo
Current market conditions have driven the demand for condos through the roof. Couples looking to downsize their home in retirement and young families looking to purchase their first property are buying up condo units in droves. Real estate developers and promoters have taken that ball and run with it, which may explain why you see condo units sprouting up pretty much everywhere you look.
There are different elements involved in owning a condo versus a single-family home. Here are a few details you should know before you sign up.
Mention condos, and the first thing that will come to most people’s minds is fees.
As the owner of a condo unit, you are obligated to pay monthly fees. These fees are non-negotiable and are set by the condo board.
Your monthly payment will at least partially cover your hydro and water costs, and may also include heat (if heat is centrally controlled, the total expense is split evenly amongst all units, regardless of the square footage). It will also contribute to the reserve fund and the maintenance of the building’s common areas (i.e. a pool, parking lot, landscaping, etc.).
It should be noted that the condo board can increase these fees at any time. The exact fees can typically be found on the listing for the condo unit.
Condo insurance (much cheaper)
In Canada, most provinces have made it mandatory for newly built homes to be covered under the New Home Warranty insurance plan. This full coverage lasts one year and covers the buyer against certain defects in work and material. For example, if the plumbing for your toilet is leaking, it would cover the repairs.
The cost of this warranty will generally be included in the unit’s sale price.
Condo owners also need to purchase homeowner insurance.
Because the condo board purchases insurance to cover the building’s structure and common areas, insuring a condo differs somewhat from insuring a single-family home. Thus, each individual condo owner must purchase insurance designed to cover the interior of their unit.
Both insurance policies are designed to complement each other and avoid double coverage.
Because of this, you will pay less for your homeowner insurance itself than you would for a single-family home. But, you’ll be paying for the building’s insurance as part of your condo fees. The costs (condo vs. single-family) will be approximately the same in the end; it’s just done differently.
It is mandatory for every building to have a status certificate.
This certificate contains a lot of important information regarding the building’s financial situation, and the stability of the condominium corporation. You’ll also find the budget, the status of the reserve fund, the management contract, and all the info on any legal battle that the building has faced or is currently facing.
More importantly, it also includes the current maintenance fees, and any large fee increase that may come into effect soon.
Your lawyer can review this status certificate to make sure everything is in order before you purchase your condo unit.
Some condo buildings are self-managed, by the board of directors.
In certain cases, the board will hire a management company, or an independent contractor, to manage the building.
Managers are responsible for the maintenance and repairs in the building, and for ensuring that all systems (HVAC, plumbing, pool, etc.) are in good working condition. Some managers are also tasked with the paperwork, such as accounting and making sure that all condo fees are paid.
For a resident owner, the building manager will be the go-to person for repairs to common elements, such as the lock on the front door, and the air conditioning system.
The Condo Board’s Role
Every condominium building is required by law to have a board of directors. This board represents the owners of the building and is tasked with making all the major decisions regarding maintenance, finances, and must uphold applicable laws, by-laws, and rules.
The board of directors must ensure that rules are applied uniformly. Rules don’t change because an individual owner complains. Failure to follow and enforce rules fairly and consistently could lead to major problems down the road, such as abuse of power, financial problems, or court action.
A condo board is composed of unit owners elected by fellow unit owners. Elections are held once a year, usually during the annual general meeting (AGM).
Owners interested in running for a position on the condo board can do so by advising the board of their intentions at least 4 days before notice of the AGM is sent out.
Ratio of Resident Owners
If you are looking to purchase a condo unit as your main residence, you may be interested in finding out the ratio of resident owners to investment owners.
In other words, you may want to find out how many owners live in their unit and how many of them rent them out.
A condo building with a high percentage of investment owners may prove more problematic.
A higher number of rental units means you’ll be seeing new faces more regularly, which may make it more difficult to create a sense of community in buildings.
Moreover, investment owners rarely attend AGMs and other board meetings, and rarely send proxies to attend on their behalf. This could lead to a lack of a quorum at meetings, which may make it more difficult to solve problems (no votes can be held during meetings when the quorum isn’t met).
Worst of all, if a board of directors is dishonest, even in the slightest bit, it could be strongly tempted to replace absentees with fraudulent proxies who will vote along with them on controversial issues. Such situations are not unheard of and have lead to problems and headaches for many condo owners in the past.
Attending The Meetings
Owning a condo is big business. There’s a lot of stuff going on at all times.
As a condo owner, it is critical that owners keep apprised of what is going on in and around the building. Ideally, you’ll want to make sure not to miss a meeting. If there’s a billboard where important information is posted, make sure you read it while you wait for the elevator to come around.
If, for some reason, you couldn’t make it to last week’s meeting, make sure you read the meeting’s minutes and/or the next newsletter. This is your right as an owner, and the board of directors or the manager can’t keep you from accessing this information for any reason whatsoever.
By doing so, you’ll be aware of the latest decisions affecting your property, and you’ll avoid the chances of being surprised when roofers start banging on your head one Saturday morning…
Are You Free?
A lot of folks wonder, if, when it comes down to it, they are sacrificing some of their freedom by buying a condo unit.
Well, the answer isn’t so obvious, contrary to what people on both sides of the fence will tell you.
Some owners will tell you they are free because they get access to some services and features without lifting a finger. They can go swimming without having to worry about cleaning the pool. In the winter, the parking lot is plowed before they leave for work. They can work out in the gym or grab a sandwich from the deli without leaving their building.
But, on the other hand, you can’t always do as you please. You need to follow the rules.
You can’t always change your windows or your front door without getting it cleared by the board first. You have to live in proximity to people; if you get along with them, great. If you don’t, your quality of life may suffer because of that.