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This Old House - Do-it-Yourself

Considering Your First Condo?

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 05 August 2003 00:00

With more than 500,000 condominium units in Canada and one in four new homes built as condominiums, Canadian buyers need basic condominium buying skills to protect them in any market.

Too often, condominium buyers fall prey to the "do nothing, just play" sales pitches inherent in lifestyle campaigns presented by condominium developers. Although "condo living" may offer freedom from the physical tasks associated with home ownership, condominium owners are not free of the responsibilities of property ownership. In fact, they take on the added obligation of ensuring the condominium corporation manages their investment properly.

"Just shut the door and go - even for extended periods," "welcome to worry-free living," and "leave everything to the property management firm" are three of the most common statements made to entice potential buyers to condominiums. These three statements are not automatically true. An owner should get involved in the running of the condominium to guarantee peace of mind and security of investment.

The term "condominium" does not apply to the physical structure of the building, but rather to a type of property ownership that differs from province to province. Townhouses, high-rise apartments, detached homes, commercial units and industrial properties may all be set up as condominiums. In each case, owners have agreed to share ownership of the common property called the common element which includes everything from swimming pools, stair wells and lobbies to the roof, plumbing and elevators. Owners pay monthly fees, based on the unit factor, to cover the expense of maintaining the common element. The unit factor will generally be calculated in proportion to the value that the unit has in relation to the total value of all units in the condominium.

Each owner has individual ownership rights to his or her unit. Condominium documents outline the exact extent of the common element, the boundaries of individual units, and rights and obligations of all parties. Each condominium is different. What is common element in one may be part of the unit in another. For example, the exterior wall of the unit may be part of the common element in one condominium and included in the unit in another.

Armed with information about how the condominium is set up, the property administered and the residents' actions regulated, buyers and owners will be able to protect their rights and their investment. For instance, condominium owners are legally bound to pay monthly maintenance fees whether they agree with management's spending decisions or not. Owners must not assume all management decisions are financially sound - they must make sure they are. Are lavish amounts spent on redecorating the lobby instead of upgrading to replacing energy-efficient windows?

The first step as a potential condominium buyer? Learn your rights as an owner. Our federal housing agency, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) offers a free comprehensive guide--online and in print--to get you started.

Aimed at the Canadian housing market, the no-charge Condominium Buyer's Guide clearly and concisely provides information on many aspects of condominium ownership.

First-time buyers, as well as experienced homeowners considering a condominium for the first time, will find useful information on types of condominiums, conversions, buying research checklists and various information sources and contacts. The glossary will equip buyers with the language of condominiums. The Guide suggests many things for buyers to ask about while it answers wide-ranging questions, including:

  • Affordability - How much will it cost?
  • Are condominium regulations the same across Canada?
  • What insurance will I need?
  • How can I tell if a condominium is in good physical condition?
  • How can I find out if a condominium is in good financial condition?

Print copies of Condominium Buyer's Guide are available from CMHC at 1-800-668-2642 or via the CMHC Web Site .

CMHC created the publication to "ensure that Canadians across the country have an unbiased, comprehensive guide to the most current information dealing with condominiums in this country." Your tax dollars created it, so why not take advantage of this opportunity to invest your home-buying dollars wisely.

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PJ Wade

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