Downsizing to a Condo? – Tread Carefully, Read Everything and Ask Questions!

November 4, 2010

By Cindy Witt

Condo HousingLiving in a strata community, such as a condo, is very different from owning your own home. As we age the possibility of downsizing from a house to a condo is very real. There are many aspects that, for those of us who have always lived in a single family dwelling, can be totally unexpected when owning a condo for the first time.

One might assume that everyone would treat the building as if it were their own, after all, all owners have a stake in the entire building as a whole. They reap the rewards of a well-maintained, secure building in the sense that it is a more pleasant place to live and the resale value of their particular unit remains on an upward scale. However, by being part owner of a strata property, one also suffers the consequences of a building that is not maintained well, where bylaws are not upheld and there is no accountability to ensure that the best interests of all the owners are protected. Knowing this is great but how do you know for sure that you have made the right choice before you purchase? The following list of questions will help guide you towards making an informed purchase.

Building Maintenance and Maintenance Fees Questions to Ask:

How much are the fees, what do they include (gas, hot water)?

  • When is the last time they were increased? (As costs go up so will your maintenance fees). It there hasn’t been an increase in fees for a extended length of time there would be a concern that perhaps the maintenance hasn’t been kept up as it should and may result in a much larger increase in fees to bring the building up to where is needs to be.

Is there a maintenance schedule in place for the building? What repairs over the life of the building have been done?

  • Beware of a building that does not have a maintenance schedule or has recorded little or no repairs. It is more likely that needed repairs have not been done than it is likely the building hasn’t needed any repairs. Many strata councils are reluctant to make “official” any building repairs or pending building repair costs as this can affect the resale value of suites in the building. A building that has essentially been “maintenance free” can be a red flag.

Outside Area and Landscaping Questions to Ask:

Is the landscaping well-maintained and how much landscaping is there, as this will definitely cut into your maintenance fees.

Does the building look well-maintained?

How many entrances and exits are there and how busy is the traffic on the street where you pull out from the building?

Parking Questions:

Is there secured covered parking?

How many parking spots are included with your purchase?

Are additional parking spots available or is there a waiting list and what is the cost?

If there are no available extra spots to rent, is there somewhere close by to park a second vehicle while you wait for an opening?

Is there visitor parking?

Storage Questions:

Are there extra storage lockers available? Are they secured, well-maintained and easy to access?

Is there bicycle storage, does it cost extra, is it secured?

  • Some buildings do not allow bicycles inside the building unless they are dismantled.

Pet Related Questions to Ask

What pet restrictions are there?

  • It is surprising how many people who own a pet purchase a condo and then find out their pet does not meet the allowable requirements and they are forced to have to make a very unfortunate decision.

Is there a pet walking area provided or close by?

Questions to Ask About Rental suites:

Are rental suites allowed? How many are there?

  • Many people buy a condo thinking they will live in it for a couple of years and then rent it out only to find out that there is a long waiting list of owners wanting to rent out their suites and only a small number are allowed at any given time.

Is renting to a family member (mother, father, son, or daughter) exempt from the rental restrictions?

Strata Council Questions to Ask:

When going over the minutes of the building try to get a sense of the type of strata council that is in place. Are their meetings productive? Are they progressive in their thinking? Do they make maintaining the building and upholding the bylaws and rules of the building a priority?

There are cases where Strata council members offer their services with their own agenda in mind. They promote what they would like to have done, don’t enforce certain bylaws due to conflict of interest, or try to put off necessary repairs or increasing fees because of their own financial situation.

An example of this is where a tenant in a building got a pet that was over the size restrictions allowed in their building’s bylaws. They were friendly with council members and this infraction was essentially ignored. Complaints by other owners regarding the animal were not addressed, and at one point the building had five more oversized pets in residence. It took a special meeting, called for by the owners, to finally have the issue addressed and resulted in lawyer fees etc to have the animals removed. It is very important to have a strata council who has all the owners’ best interests as a priority and ensures that everyone conforms to the bylaws of the building.

Another important point to consider once you have moved into your condo is that it is essential that you keep abreast and be involved in the decision making process of your building. A strata is basically a corporation, with a budget, a board of directors (the strata council) and shareholders (the owners). As a shareholder in the corporation you have a say how your corporation is run, where money is spent and in virtually every aspect of running the building. If you don’t like what is happening be vocal, attend your council meetings, read your minutes and most of all be aware of what is going on. A comment heard many times from owners is “I don’t want to get involved” or “ I can’t do anything about it” and this is simply not true. You have made a substantial investment in your new home and you do have a say as to how it is looked after and how the building is run. But you must be willing to step up and be heard.

Check with police and talk to current owners in the building:

Before purchasing in a building you can check with the local police detachment or community policing office to find out if there has been much police involvement with the building you are considering. Also ask owners you see in or outside the building how they like living there. Try to speak to a variety of age groups to get a well-rounded consensus of what living in the area is like. People are generally honest but getting several opinions is more likely to provide you with a more accurate picture.

Benefits of Moving to a Condo

Downsizing into a condo or townhouse can be a very positive move. It can provide lock up and go freedom if traveling is your retirement wish, it can free up money that you may have invested in a house and property, and provide you with closer access to shopping, recreation facilities and medical services. For those who may be own their own moving into a condo community can give you the opportunity to meet new people and make friends.

Thoroughly researching your potential new home before you decide to purchase and participating in the way the strata is run as a whole after you move in will help ensure that you will really enjoy your new home in the years to come.

Have you bought or thought about moving to a condo? Have you encountered any problems with living in a condo?

About the Author Cindy is 51 years old and has been a Langley resident since 1970. She has always been interested in fitness and enjoys working out with weights, swimming, jogging and hiking. She enjoys drawing, painting with soft pastels and playing with her Jack Russell Terrier.

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