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Condominiums: Which one is right for you?

I am often approached by people about condominiums.  Often they are first time buyers, existing condo owners looking to up size, investors, or they’re home owners looking to downsize.  Usually the first questions I ask is, “What is your lifestyle like?” and, “What features are you looking for?”  Upon answering this we narrow things down such as neighbourhoods and their amenities, budget, and specific unit attributes.

Condominiums come in many forms ranging from town houses, modest low rises, and luxury high rises with 5 star amenities.  There is no shortage of styles and selections to choose from.  Depending on your lifestyle a condominium might be the right fit for you.  For example if you are an avid traveller and often away from home a condo may fit the bill.  For someone who is active many buildings offer gyms with weight and cardio equipment.  Some even offer full size swimming pools.  If you enjoy gardening, a unit with a balcony or terrace is often suitable.  Other benefits of condo ownership, depending on which building you choose, may include not having to mow the lawn or shovel the walks, indoor parking, 24 hour security, not having to worry about performing exterior maintenance and a multitude of other conveniences ranging from game rooms, workshops, racket ball courts, party rooms, and even guests suits for residence to use.

When shopping for a condominium keep in mind that all condominiums charge a monthly maintenance fee ranging from a few hundred dollars to over $1000.  The general rule of thumb is the more amenities a building offers and the larger the unit, the higher the monthly maintenance fees will be.  In some buildings the monthly fees include water, heat, hydro, common element insurance, interior /exterior maintenance, use of common areas, and even cable TV.  In others the monthly fees may include only the basics such as water, common element insurance and building maintenance.  Typically the less utilities that are included and the fewer amenities the building has, the lower the monthly maintenance costs.  The owner is responsible for additional utilities, such as hydro, if not included in monthly fees.  There is also a relation between how well the building is managed fiscally and the monthly fees. Maintenance fees typically range from fifty – sixty cents per square foot of the unit but can differ depending on management and the building.

There are also many physical characteristics of a condo unit you should look for when shopping.  If you are afraid of heights, although the view may be spectacular, a penthouse on the 40th floor may not be the best choice.  If you like going outdoors to get fresh air, a condo with a balcony will probably be high on your priorities.  If you like bright sun-filled rooms, then a condo with a western, southern, and or south western exposure will most likely be important to you.  A parking spot is also a nice feature to have if you own a vehicle or entertain quite frequently.  If you do not have a need for a parking spot, more often then not you can rent it out on a monthly basis.  Storage is important to.  Make sure you ask yourself how much storage you will need and if there is suitable storage space within the unit or if a locker accompanies the unit.  If you live a minimalist lifestyle you can probably get away with needing only the storage space that comes with in the unit itself.  Once again if a locker accompanies the unit you can always try and rent it out to another resident.  Just make sure you check with the property management company to ensure it’s permitted.

There are also other rules and guidelines set out by the condominium corporation that you should pay attention to.  Most condominiums allow pets but there are usually restrictions placed on the number, type, and size each unit can house.  Some don’t allow pets so if you are an animal lover make sure you check that your furry friend is permitted.  Quite often, condominiums have restrictions on the outside colour of window treatments.  Usually white or off white is the norm.  Additionally many condominium corporations require that you seek permission to undergo any significant renovations to your unit.  These rules are in place for reasons.  One of the most important reasons is that a large number of people are living in very close proximity to one another and the rules help to maintain peace.

Noise is another factor to consider.  If you are okay hearing the occasional foot step in the corridor or thump from the neighbour above you dropping something you’ll probably adjust to condo life quite well.  On the other hand, if you are a person that likes to celebrate by throwing large noisy bashes, perhaps your lifestyle is better suited to owning a house.  Remember that when living in a condominium you’ll likely have 5 immediate neighbours: one on each side of your unit, one above, one below, and one across the hallway.  This intimate setup can be a recipe for great neighbourly relationships or the beginning of a disastrous experience if mutual respect is not shown.

Some Benefits of Condo Living:

  • Often more affordable
  • Worry free maintenance
  • Some utilities included in monthly fees
  • Access to amenities such as fitness centre, pool etc…
  • 24 hour security in some buildings
  • Locations in urban environments
  • Breath taking views from higher floors
  • Sense of community

Some Drawbacks of Condo Living:

  • Maintenance fees may cost more depending on how efficiently the building is operated
  • No yard
  • Noise (minor in most cases but potentially a serious problem)
  • Neighbours (Too many)
  • Stricter regulations
  • Distance between unit and parking / building exit
  • Lack of natural light depending on where the unit is situated
  • Less control over utility expense (If included in monthly fees)