25 Things to think about before you buy a condo

A lot of people buy condos simply based on how the unit looks. Then when they move in, they are met with many “surprises” that they didn’t even think about before they signed that contract.

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Condo Fees aren’t fixed – Monthly condo fees can increase at any time and for a number of reasons, like an unexpected major repair, legal proceedings involving the condo corporation, or just to keep up with rising costs. Most increases happen annually.

Owning a condo doesn’t always mean affordable and carefree living – Condominiums are communities. Your financial responsibilities are similar to home ownership, but you also share common expenses with the other unit owners.  You also have to follow your condominium’s declaration, by-laws and rules and work with the other owners to make sure that the condominium property is well run.

You will not use all the amenities – Many people don’t use all the amenities in their condominium, like the gym or the pool. However, a condo owner has to pay for amenities through monthly condo fees even if he or she does not use them. Consider if the amenities of a particular condominium are right for you.

The condominium corporation is not responsible for all repairs and insurance – There are legally defined boundaries between your unit and the common elements. In most cases, you will be responsible for and required to maintain and repair your own unit. The corporation covers everything else through the condo fees. Only parts of a condo unit may be covered by the condo corporation’s insurance. The rest, including the furniture and other contents of the unit, would have to be insured by the unit owners if they wish. Insurance policies may also have a direct financial impact on you if there is ever damage to your unit, to other units or to the common elements. For example, if there is a flood in your unit and it damages the unit below you, you may be responsible for costs associated with the repair of that damage. Every condominium property is a little different. Be sure to check a condominium’s declaration and by-laws for information on who is responsible for repair, maintenance and insurance.

Cell Phone Reception may be poor or non-existent – As someone who is addicted to my phone, reception is A MUST. While cell phone service providers are getting better at solving reception issues, there are many condo buildings in Toronto where the only place you can find reception is right beside the window. When you are viewing a property, take your phone out and see if those bars are staying full. The last thing you want to do is buy a place where you can’t even make a call to the outside world from unless you are hanging out the window.

The elevators always work – This gets a bit tricky, and will require some extra snooping, but talk to people who live in the building and see how the elevators are. One of the biggest issues in a lot of buildings is the elevators are down some of the time. While this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for a lot of units, it could be something you might want to think about before you buy that 60th floor penthouse.

Visitor Parking is always available – If you are going to be doing a lot of entertaining, check out the visitor parking situation. Is there somewhere your friends can park without forking over a crazy amount per night? Many newer buildings have a very limited number of visitor parking spaces. If there are 500 units and only 4 visitor spots, chances are you are going to run into some issues.

Proximity to the TTC – Proximity to transportation is always a huge selling feature, but really do some investigation before you buy a place. Are you located on a route that only runs until 9pm, or will you be able to get home later at night via the red rocket?

The Condo looked good, but…  The Quality Of Work – Look EVERYWHERE! Check the painting all around the door, look at the floors, is the quarter round in good shape, are the windows clear, etc. If you notice lots of lazy workmanship or poor quality there is a good chance this might be an issue throughout.

The condition Of Unit – Similar to the point about the quality of work, if it is a resale property, how has it been kept? Does it look like someone was there before that took care of the place, or does it need lots of work? This shouldn’t be a deal killer, but could be an area to negotiate on price.

Walls and Ceiling Condition – Are the walls painted or just primed by the builder? Did they use a popcorn ceiling? Is the paint in good shape? Are the colours to your liking, or are you going to need to spend some money. Again, not a deal breaker, but something to think about and maybe negotiate on.

Water Pressure – Before you put pen to paper, run all those faucets, flush all the toilets and check how the pressure is in the shower. These are things you are going to have to live with, so make sure they are to your liking. Or better yet, get a Home Inspection.  Yup, they have them for condos too and getting one means that you probably won’t miss anything.

Noise – When you get inside a suite that you are inspecting, close the doors and be quiet. Stay quiet for a minute or two, and check out if you can hear anything in various rooms. If it is quite outside and you can hear road noise, think about how it might sound if it gets louder or when you are trying to sleep. There is a reason that condo 5 feet from the Gardiner is such a “great price”.

Neighbours – While this one is tough because people move in and out, peek at your neighbours balconies to see if they are well kept. If they aren’t or if they look like a perfect place for a party it could indicate some sleepless nights ahead.

Percentage of Leases in the building – People who own something tend to take care of it better than if they are renting. Think about how you drove that last rental car. The status certificate of a condo should tell you how many units are rented or you can talk to property management.

Building Demographics – If you are moving into a building full of elderly people, they probably aren’t going to like when you have your friends over and start playing music. Look at who is going in and out of a building and try to find a building with people similar to you.

The Other Neighbours – There is nothing like buying a condo and finding out the building beside is a slaughterhouse or a shelter. It happens, Toronto is an old city. To some these aren’t a problem, but other people may feel like they have been deceived. While a good realtor should inform you of these things, it is always good to do a little investigation of your own just to be safe.

Condo Fee Increases – Try to find out when the last maintenance fee increase to a building occurred. Older buildings and/or poorly managed condosmay see a huge spike in fees when any major work needs to be done. Make sure that your offer is conditional on your lawyer giving the Condo’s Status Report the “OK” before firming up your offer.

Home Inspection – If you are serious about buying a condo get a home inspection might save you from buying a lemon. Condos can experience water damage, and other issues that a home inspector might be able to find before your offer.

Cabinetry and Closet Organizers – Inspect the quality and condition of the millwork in the suite that you’re considering. Last thing you want to do is buy a place at the top of your budget then need to replace it all a few years after.

Appliances – Yes, the seller said that they are in working order, but how many years can you livewith them?  How old are the appliances and do any come with warranties?

Balcony – If you have a balcony on a lower level, inspect the ground outside. Check how many cigarette butts are on the ground as this could be a sign of things to come.  Whatever floor your on, check to see what the restrictions are on the use of your balcony.  You probably can’t cook out there…

BBQs – If you love to BBQ as much as I do, find out if the condo will let you have one on your balcony. Some buildings have natural gas hookups on the balcony, while others they are strictly prohibited.

Pets – If you have a pet, make sure the new condo will let you bring it to your new home. Many buildings have restrictions on what pets are allowed in the building. Does the building that you’re considering have a Pet Cleaning Station? A dedicated walking area? A limit on the number of pets? A limit on the size or type of pets? Does it provide “waste” bags near the exit of the buiding? These are all things to consider.

Upgrades – Are there restrictions on upgrades that can be performed on your unit? If so, what are they and will they work for you.

Other Condo Rules – Read the rules for the condo to make sure that they work for you. Some condos have rules that may not work for your intended use of your new home.

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