Thinking about buying a condo? As a potential condo-owner in B.C., you might be looking to make the most of an investment opportunity, or perhaps pursuing a turnkey solution–a low-maintenance, cost-effective alternative to buying a house.
Living in a condominium essentially means that the area you personally inhabit is owned by you alone. Whereas the common areas are jointly owned by all residents. Especially in the Vancouver area, condos tend to look exactly like apartment complexes, or a group of townhomes. Technically, a condo can take just about any architectural form, as long as the individual units are owned separately, and communal areas are owned and maintained by a community association (often known as your strata council or homeowners association). Here are some practical points we recommend thinking about on your path to homeownership:
1. Envision Your Ideal Neighbourhood
A huge appeal for owning a condo is the convenience factor. How your new location and lifestyle will correspond with each other is something to consider well before bidding. Try to map out what a typical day or week in your life looks like (and that of your partner or family, if applicable). Do you spend significant time commuting to and from work? Perhaps you’d gladly give up some square footage in order to be nearer to public transit. Do you love to entertain at home, or prefer to be out exploring trendy bars, cafés, and restaurants? Depending on your personal habits, you might decide to select a property that’s nestled in a mix of shops, eateries, and nightlife, or you may opt to be in a less urban area, but close to your favourite grocer and next to a major public transit hub. We all have different priorities, so weigh out which characteristics have the most value for you, and from there you’ll be able to quickly qualify which neighbourhoods will or won’t work. Similarly, make sure to investigate what kind of surrounding development plans are in the works for the foreseeable future–especially if minimizing noise and maintaining any picturesque views are a concern.
2. Weigh the Cost-Benefit of Amenities
One of the major perks of buying a condo is access to amenities like swimming pools, saunas, gyms, and tennis courts. Logically, you might imagine that the more your property has to offer, the higher your condo fees will be. While this may be true in some buildings it’s usually worth your while to shop around. A smaller property in a very trendy neighbourhood could have fewer comforts and conveniences but still have the highest fees, due to being situated in a highly sought-after area. Conversely, a large building with numerous luxuries may actually have the lowest fees–because there are more residents to help share the maintenance costs. Consider which amenities make your “must-have” list, and shop around accordingly to find the best fit.
3. Comprehend Condo Fees
To truly understand how buying a condo fits into your financial plan, ask for a detailed breakdown of association fees. Not only will you need to plan for the exact cost of these monthly dues, you’ll need to anticipate what isn’t covered. These fees could be earmarked for a range of things – typically painting, landscaping, and cleaning. Repairs and utilities become a more complex, variable topic from one strata to the next. A portion of this fund usually goes into a reserve for unforeseen repairs and maintenance. Ask plenty of questions to better understand the scope and limitations.
4. Review Rules and Community Guidelines
Condo owners tend to be in closer communication with their neighbours than apartment-dwellers, due to various shared responsibilities, and spending time together in common spaces. This can be a welcome benefit that helps you rapidly build a sense of community. As with forming any new relationship, keep in mind that it’s essential to make a good faith effort to understand and agree on acceptable behaviour. For example, if you’re a dog-lover, but dogs aren’t allowed according to strata rules, it’s better to keep searching for a property where pets are allowed. It may have been worth negotiating this point with a past landlord, but trying to negotiate this policy with your new strata isn’t likely to get results. On the other hand, if you suffer from allergies the same building with a no-pet policy could be your perfect fit! As long as you’re willing to dedicate a bit of time to researching, you’re bound to find your ideal community. To get an overview of how existing homeowners in the strata communicate with each other, deal with money matters, or sort out unexpected challenges, make sure you ask to see a copy of the condo association meeting minutes from the last several months, up to a year.
5. Understand the Insurance
Your strata will have its own insurance policy, which generally covers shared spaces such as the roof, hallways, elevators, swimming pools, hallways, and more. Early in the buying process, request a copy of their policy. Review it closely to learn what is and isn’t included. Typically, their corporate coverage will not include personal contents, liability, or unit improvements. In most cases, when buying a condo you will need to obtain individual Condo Insurance of your own (and potentially Homeowner Insurance as well), in order to be protected for personal property, injury liability, earthquakes, and additional living expenses (in case certain losses make your home uninhabitable). If you don’t understand your strata’s coverage, then we invite you to bring a copy of the policy in for review with one of our experts. We can also provide you with a no-obligation quote for the exact condo coverage that best fits your needs.
We’re here to help. If you’re buying a condo, contact your closest JM Insurance office today for a free consultation on Condo Insurance.