By Geoff Kirbyson
This is not your father’s condo market.
Fifteen years ago, people who bought condominiums were older and wanted to downsize so they wouldn’t have to mow the grass and walk up and down the stairs all the time.
Retirees are still part of that market but it’s grown to include first-time buyers because condos are more affordable than most houses and fit in with the busy lifestyle of many young people today, said Catherine Schellenberg, president-elect of WinnipegREALTORS® and a professional REALTOR®.
Condos require a slightly different buying process than single-detached homes. If you’ve got your eye on a particular two-storey house in Fort Garry, for example, you can take a tour of the property and drive around the neighbourhood to check out the schools, stores and various other amenities.
With a condominium, however, you’ll want to see what attractions the building has to offer, such as a gym, parking and common areas, but you probably don’t want just any old unit. Some people want to be on the main floor for convenience while others want the view from the top. Some people want to be able to see the sunset while others love watching the sun rise.
“I have to watch that project for the right unit to come on the market,” she said.
Another major difference from buying a home is condo fees, a monthly expense paid by all residents to cover off services that benefit everybody, such as security, landscaping and snow removal. They vary by property but can range from as little as $200 up to $1,400.
Condo fees are higher for older buildings because they require more upkeep.
Schellenberg strongly recommends poring over the condo project’s reserve fund study which will tell you that the building has been assessed from the basement to the roof by a contractor or engineer and provide their estimates when certain elements will need to be replaced or repaired. The property manager is supposed to then allocate money from the current pool of condo fees to keep the reserve fund at a level to cover those future expenses.
“You don’t have to worry, you just pay your condo fees every month. There are more checks and balances and more disclosure for customers today,” she said.
Before you shake hands on a deal, however, make sure you’ve got all the numbers you need, including the purchase price, condo fees and anything else not covered by the condo fees, which could be heat or water.
You’ll also want to know what elements in the condo are common for everybody and what’s just for you.
“Some things are exclusive use, like your patio, meaning you won’t come home and find people sitting there having a beer,” she said.
Even once you’ve come to an agreement and signed on the dotted line, you still have a seven-day cooling off period once you’ve received your completed documents during which you can change your mind.
“You can back away from the purchase for virtually any reason. You may get cold feet or you have a pet but you hear they’re thinking of removing the pet-friendly policy. That can be a game-changer for you,” she said.
If you still have outstanding questions, Schellenberg recommends contacting people of the condo’s board of directors. (Their names will be listed in your documents.)
“They’re going to tell you the real facts. If you want to know about the history of the condo fees or a flavour for how social the residents are, board members will always share that. They’re not trying to make a sale. They’re owners themselves,” she said.