So, you’re considering making your first home a condo! You’re likely considering it because the price was right, less than a detached home, not a lot to look after, and you were attracted to the various amenities: the swimming pool, party room, even the exercise room. And the maintenance fee — the condo fee — was more than reasonable. So the next question is this: how do you live in it?
When you’re considering condo living as a lifestyle, it’s good to remember how density affects you.
A townhouse condo could be two or three family units in the same space that a family in a single detached unit might occupy. They could be side by side or one above the other. In a high-rise apartment-style condo, the ratio can be considerably higher.
Now, back to the mindset and trade-off. Do you need absolute say over how much noise is made, exterior colors, flower garden preferences, when you can wash your car, and how loud and how long you can party or argue? If these things matter a great deal to your lifestyle and happiness, and your capacity to compromise on them is extremely limited, then the trade-off for condo living may not work for you.
And just what are those trade-offs? The most obvious one is your lack of involvement in exterior maintenance in the case of a townhouse — cleaning the fall leaves from eavestroughs, downspouts, and the yard, shoveling snow, cutting grass, planting gardens and looking after them, the worry and work about looking after major maintenance items like the condition of your shingles, your asphalt driveway, window cleaning, and the condition of your siding. In the case of a high-rise suite, there’s absolutely nothing to do maintenance-wise… everything is taken care of by the building’s maintenance department.
While these work-related items may be the most obvious practical trade-off, the list doesn’t end there. Include the growing attention in new condo developments to amenities: swimming pools, games rooms, party rooms, library-media rooms, exercise facilities, concierge service, and secured underground parking.
What mediates between the mindset and the trade-offs? The provincial Condominium Property Act dictates how boards of directors of condominiums must act in administering condo rules, how money is spent and accounted for, how the corporation must save for the big items — the new roof, the leak from the unit above you, the sinking concrete parking floor — and how the unit owner may seek redress for poor or inequitable treatment.
The Status Certificate: This is provided to you to review when you purchase a condominium. It sets out how your condo fee is assessed, what parking spaces and storage come with your unit, and how successfully the condo project is saving money for long-term maintenance and repairs (the reserve fund study).
The By-Laws… Rules and Regulations: These are rules that govern how your condo complex works. They are approved by the owners and are defined to a degree by the Condominium Act. They will outline what restrictions there are regarding what you can and cannot do with your unit and shared (common) space, outline how the board works, detail any pet restrictions, how the complex will be insured, and so on.
The Board and the Property Manager: How do these folks go about their business? Does the board meet regularly? What is their style? Is it budget development and due diligence on the future of the complex or is it running and ruling the place? Are other owners satisfied with the performance of the property manager? Or perhaps the condo corporation manages itself, in which case is it doing a good job or is it just cutting corners?
Your mindset or peace of mind and the value of the trade-off depend on your due diligence when you buy. Looking at how well-maintained the lobby, the swimming pool, and other common areas are is one thing.