by Mark Weisleder
A condominium is like a small town. It has a board of directors made up of its residents much like a local council, it has rules, restrictions, bylaws and even fines for misbehavior. The condo across the street that looks the same, but it may be a completely different community.
That’s why it pays to keeping a handful of things to keep in mind when it comes to finding the right unit for you.
1. The 3P’s – Pets, People and Parking
Many condos prohibit or restrict pets from dogs and cats, to goldfish and snakes. There may also be rules restricting the number of people that can occupy a unit, whether you can barbecue on the balcony or put a satellite dish on the outside wall. Other restrictions include the time of day when you can play musical instruments, use the pool or the party room.
There may be further restrictions about renting your unit. Your parking spot may be owned by you or owned by the condominium, and this will affect whether you can sell your parking space or be able to buy one from another unit for a second car.
2. Reserve Fund
How much money is in the reserve fund and how much is needed? The board must make sure that the common condo elements, including the lobby, hallways, elevators, furnace, roof and parking garage are always maintained and repaired. This means conducting reserve fund studies. Ontario’s Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) will add approximately 4 per cent to a condo’s annual expenses because items such as utilities, security, landscaping and snow removal are now being taxed. So common condo expenses will rise going forward. If the condo’s reserve fund isn’t topped up it could lead to costly special assessments in the future. If there is no reserve fund study done, be very wary of buying.
3. Professional management
Most condo directors do not have the business, legal or people skills required to manage their building. They are responsible for a budget that could be in the millions and must also deal with disputes between owners and the condo corporation. They also require a working understanding of the Provincial Condominium legislation that governs their condo. Even a relatively simple decision such as when to turn on the air conditioning requires someone who understands how the system works, as the decision will affect unit owners in different ways, depending on whether they are on the sunny or shady side of the building.
That’s why a property manager helps. This person can offer advice and help solve problems among unit owners.
4. Insurance deductible
If your building insurance policy contains a $5,000 or $10,000 deductible, then be sure to speak to an insurance specialist about obtaining your own unit coverage to protect your contents and any improvements that you make to your unit.
5. Were alterations legal?
If any alterations were made – check to make sure that any necessary approval was obtained by the condo board, so you do not have to go through the cost of getting approved – which could require further inspection and certification by plumbers, architects or engineers.
6. Do the owners get along?
Knock on some doors before you buy and ask people about the building. Also have a look at the minutes of the last annual meeting. Was it orderly or were many items disputed. You can tell a lot about whether owners get along as a group by what takes place at the annual meeting. Be suspicious if there has not been a meeting in over a year.
7. Status Certificate
The status certificate issued by each condo should provide an up to date copy of all important condominium documents, the budget, the last annual meeting, whether there are arrears of common expenses, any special assessments being considered and whether or not there has been a Reserve Fund Study. Your purchase agreement must be conditional on your being satisfied with the contents of this important document. Review this carefully with your real estate salesperson and your lawyer.
Before deciding on which condominium town you would like to live in, ask the right questions in advance and you won’t be hit with unwelcome surprises after you move in.
Tip Box – 7 Steps
Check out all condominium restrictions – People, Pets and Parking
Is the building professionally managed – if not – be careful
Is there a reserve fund study? – if not – be very careful
Is there an insurance deductible? – if so, you need to obtain your own personal policy
Have any alterations to the unit been properly approved?
Do the owners get along? – speak to people in the building and ask for minutes of the last annual meeting
Make any deal conditional on being satisfied with the Status Certificate