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What To Look For In A Condo
Dated: July 29 2020
What is a condo, anyway? Well, it’s short for condominium, of course. But "condominium" technically refers to a collection of individual housing units which are sometimes - but not always - apartments and sometimes - but not always - located in large multi-level buildings. Still, when people say "condo," as in, "Let's go back to my condo for a sundae," they're usually referring to a single unit within a building.
Just to make it more interesting, in BC we usually - but not always - refer to condos as stratas. So there!
Approximately one out of every 8 Canadians (13.3%) lives in a condominium, and this number is much larger in major cities like Vancouver (16%) and Toronto (24%). And the demand is growing: between 2011 and 2016, 33% of all new homes constructed were condominiums. They’re everywhere!
Unlike a single detached home where you buy the land as well as the structure, when you buy a condo you’re buying the unit you live in as well as a share of the common property. The building might be a high rise, or it might be a row of townhouses, or it might be a character conversion - an older single family house that’s been split into strata units. There are also bare land stratas made up of detached homes sharing some property in common.
For many people new to the housing market, or those buying into a relatively expensive city like Victoria, budgetary constraints might make a condo the only option, but there’s no reason to assume that a condo is inferior to a single family home. A condo can mean living in a lively area, close to shopping, restaurants, and entertainment, with no need for a car to get around. Buildings will often offer amenities like a rooftop patio, a pool, or a gym, and recurring upkeep like window washing and landscaping is taken care of.
As ever when buying property location is primary. The old advice says it’s better to buy the smallest house on the best street than the nicest house in Craptown, and in condo terms it’s probably best to buy a smaller unit in a nice building close to transit, shopping, and other amenities rather than a big sprawling suite out by the rendering plant.
You should also try to imagine the future of the neighbourhood. Is there a lot of construction underway or planned? On the one hand, this will increase supply, perhaps lowering prices - on the other, increased density might increase demand as the area becomes more vibrant and popular. Downtown in a stable or growing city is probably a safe bet - people always want to be where the action is.
In Victoria you can probably buy anywhere in the Core with the expectation that your property will increase in value over the long term. That said, there are currently over four thousand condominiums and rental apartments nearing completion in Greater Victoria over the next two years - the release of so much inventory onto the market can’t help but put downward pressure on the market. Whether this downward pressure will be enough to lower prices to any significant extent, and for how long, remains to be seen.
Floor and View
In general, you will pay a premium of $3000-$10,000 for each floor going up in a building. This is more pronounced in high-rise buildings than lower ones. However, the top floor in a smaller, wood-framed building is generally far more desirable since wood-framed buildings tend to be noisier and you’ll have no neighbours above you.
Ground-floor units often offer outdoor patios and direct access to green space, which is nice. However, the ground floor also has its own security and privacy concerns, especially if you’re downtown with everybody wandering around drunk and getting into your business.
Direction is another important consideration. A South-facing 6th floor unit is probably nicer - and thus worth more - than a 7th floor unit facing East into another building. Again, try to find out what construction is planned for the area: your South-facing 6th floor space won’t be half so nice if they put up a ten floor building across the street.
Your neighbours will always influence your quality of life, but in a detached house at least you’ll have some space between you. In a condo you’ll likely be sharing walls, floor, and ceiling, and often elevators and common areas, so you’ll want to have an idea of who you’ll be dealing with.
It’s a moot point whether your neighbours will be a greater concern in a high rise, a townhome complex, or a smaller strata like a fourplex. In a smaller complex you’re more likely to have direct personal contact with other members of the strata council, and you might well have to be on the council yourself. In a larger building you might be able to freeload and let others handle the strata council duties. Don’t fret, given enough occupants there will always be someone who wants to be on the strata council.
If you hate kids you can look for a building with age restrictions - some prohibit occupants under 16, some under 19, and some under 55. If you dislike old people you’re probably out of luck: there are no maximum age restrictions in BC…because this would be ageist and gross. Why the same reasoning doesn’t apply to prohibitions against children is anybody’s guess.
Strata fees - also known as the monthly assessment - need to be paid each month and go towards operating expenses as well as contributing to the contingency reserve fund. Buyers often like lower strata fees but this can be shortsighted: if the fees are so low they aren’t covering maintenance as well as building the contingency fund, owners might be on the hook for a special assessment down the road. Keep in mind: if you owned a detached house you’d be responsible for all the expenses, and these would quite likely add up to more than strata fees year over year.
On the other hand, really high strata fees can be a sign of a poorly maintained building. Compare other buildings in the area to see whether or not the fees are in line.
There’s a lot more to keep in mind when buying a condo, but this should get you started. If you’re still troubled by the idea that a condo isn’t a real house or a “forever home,” keep this in mind: people move more than they used to. There are very few “forever homes” left. Even if you raise a family in a detached house, there’s a good chance they’re going to sell it when you finally move on to that Big Penthouse in the Sky. So don’t sweat it too hard.
A Victoria resident for over 20 years, I grew up in Halifax and studied at Dalhousie University, Concordia, and the National Theatre School. Several years in the music industry then led to an extended....
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I once showed my own listing to a potential buyer who took delight in pointing out what he saw as the property’s innumerable deficiencies. I’m a pretty open-minded fella and I've learned