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Vancouver Condo Buyers Guide

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Who Should Buy a Condo? 

With sky high prices on single family homes in the Greater Vancouver Region condo ownership is on the rise.  Condominiums (also called Stratas in BC)  are often a more cost effective alternative for First Time Home Buyers but they also have a broad appeal across all segments of society.  I am seeing more and more Seniors and Empty Nesters cashing in on the equity built up on their single family homes and downsizing to condos.  Many people like the security and low maintenance of a condo.  My own Mother is an extensive World traveler and loves the fact that condo life is so easy and she can just lock the door and go without having any worries.  We are also seeing more families with children taking to the condo life and developers are responding by building larger units with more bedrooms and facilities like playgrounds and veggie garden plots. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Condo Ownership:

Pros:

Cons

Cost is Often Less than Buying a Single Family HomeCondos Can Be Small so space efficiency and design are important
Wide Variety of Styles, Prices and Features Available from Ultra Luxury to BasicEquity Can Appreciates More Slowly than in single family homes and varies depending on development and location
Less Responsibility for Building Maintenance (you never have to cut the grass, shovel snow or paint the exterior).Restrictions on Use;  pets, noise, BBQ's, parking, rentals etc... (read bylaws and rules carefully). 
Wide Range of Amenities available from pools, bowling alleys, gyms, party rooms and the list goes on...If You Do Not Use Amenities - you have to pay for their upkeep and repair even if you do not use them.
Building Security Features give peach of mind especially when travellingLess Privacy, especially in apartment style condos
Predictable Monthly Maintenance FeesPossibility of Special Assessments
Owner Voting Rights give you a say in how the building is run.Board Makes Decisions On Your Behalf; variety of skill levels on Board

So What Is a Condo Anyway?

Condominium Corporations are called Strata Corporations in BC.

It is a specific type of OWNERSHIP, not a type of building.  Condos can take many forms, from bare land stratas, lowrise or highrise buildings, duplexes, triplexes and townhouses.

A strata development is a special way of subdividing a building, or sometimes land, into separate parts for individual ownership together with common property.

A strata development consists of strata lots, common property and sometimes common assets.

What Am I Paying For and What Do I Get?

You purchase and get title to a private dwelling called a "Unit" PLUS a share in the common property and assets.  Common property varies by strata corporation.  Some examples are: hallways, elevators, pools, parking structures, landscaped areas etc...  
There could also be limited common property which is collectively owned but is reserved for your private use. For example a balcony or patio. 

What Are Strata Fees?

These are strata corporation expenses that are shared among the unit owners..   These are set out in the condo declaration. It describes what expenses are to be shared and in what proportion. This can be equal or unequal in cases where they are based on the comparative size of the units.

The exterior and common area maintenance of your condo is covered by your strata fee. The fees are usually paid monthly in accordance with the budgeted expenses. You can expect that higher end buildings with great amenities such as a swimming pool, concierge etc. will have higher fees to reflect the cost of maintaining those extra services.


Reserve Fund 

Reserve or contingency funds are set up by the Strata Corporation to cover major or unexpected expenses. The developer of a new condominium usually sets up a fund which is then turned over to the Strata Corp. The fund becomes an asset of the corporation and each year the unit owners decide on what the level should be. The individual owner does not have any rights to the Reserve Fund.


Questions You Should Ask When Buying a Condo

Pricing

  • Is the unit competitively priced with others currently on the market?
  • Have you taken into account the amenities offered?
  • What is the resale potential?
  • Have the units appreciated?
  • Are other unit owners in your financial bracket? If higher they may vote for services you can not afford, if lower they may vote down changes you would like to see.

 

Condo Security

  • Security is a key factor in choosing a condominium. The type of security will vary depending on the type of condo you choose and special care must be taken to ensure it meets your lifestyle requirements. What security features exist or are planned - suite alarms, TV surveillance, controlled access? Here are the factors you should consider or the questions you should get answers to.
  • Doors - Are they solid wood or metal and equipped with dead-bolts and peepholes? Do patio doors have effective locks?
  • Parking - how is access controlled? Electronically?
  • Intercom - is there a good working system?
  • Lighting - is property well lit in all areas - hallways, parking, fire escapes entrances and exits?
  • Balconies - are they accessible from the ground or adjacent units?
  • Mailbox - are numbers different from apartment and parking spaces?
  • Alarms - is there wiring for home security alarms in every unit or suite?
  • If possible check on the condo’s record for break-ins and vandalism by asking local authorities or current residents.

Common Elements and Facilities

  • What amenities are offered, what are the hours of use, is there a separate cost?
  • What is common element fee and what is included? History of increases?
  • Are there any exclusive use common elements (reserved for one or more unit holders)?

Parking and Storage Facilities

  • What is included in the purchase? Some parking and storage may be separate and legally defined units you own, others are common property allocated to the owner and subject to reallocation by the Board, others are exclusive use elements designated for the use of a unit, pursuant to provisions in the Declaration.
  • What parking/storage is required and can you rent or buy additional spots/space?
  • Is there visitors parking available?

Quality of Construction

  • What types of materials were used in construction? Are the facilities in good condition? How old is the building?
  • Find out if the corporation has done a reserve fund study (estimate of the remaining life of the various components, cost of replacement, and contributions needed to ensure funds are available for anticipated repairs and replacements)
  • What is the reputation of the developer?

Design and Layout

  • Size of suite and rooms - adequate for furniture?
  • What exterior changes can you make?
  • Can you add solarium to balcony?

Owner Occupied vs. Tenants

  • How many units are owner occupied vs. tenant occupied? Is there a maximum? Are there rental policies and what are they?  Another concern in Vancouver is unoccupied units in condos.  If there is a high percentage of vacant units this may be a cause for concern.

Management/Appearance

  • Is project managed by a professional company, resident manager or self-managed?
  • How well has the building been maintained?
  • Does it fit your personality/lifestyle?

Restrictions

Ask your RE/MAX agent for the complete set of building rules and regulations. Are there any restrictions you require/don't want - pets, children, age, number of people per suite, carrying on business in a suite? Most condos have a long list of association rules and regulations by which you'll have to agree to abide if you purchase in the building. These rules may limit the number, type, and weight of pets; how many visitors you can have at any one time; how often - and for how long - you can rent out your unit (if at all); when and how you can reserve common facilities like the party room; when you can have work done in your unit; and, what day you can move.

Expenses

  • What will be your monthly operating cost?
  • Have there been any special assessments in the last two years and are any planned?
  • Which utilities are common and which are individually metered?
  • What are the property taxes?
  • What insurance do you need and what is covered by the corporation?

  • Ask to see the past two years worth of condo board meeting minutes, as well as the last two years' of budgets and the current year's projected budget. What are the owners concerns?
  • Are there any large-scale improvement projects planned? How much will they cost and how are they to be funded?
  • Has there been a review of the reserve fund to ensure it is adequate? Is the building fiscally responsible? Are any fees/owners in arrears?

New Condominiums

  • Check the reputation of the developer with people living in other projects they have done or project you are looking at.
  • What is the cost for set up of a reserve fund (one time up front fee)?
  • What are the landscaping plans?
  • What warranties are being offered - is the project covered by a New Home Warranty Program? What are the terms of this warranty? Contact the organization offering the warranty and find out exactly what is covered and what restrictions are involved. What specific timelines builders must work to and what dispute resolution services are offered? What clout does the warranty organization have with builders in settling a dispute?
  • How many elevators are there and how fast are they?
  • Are units wired for cable TV and telephone at the developers cost?
  • Does the corporation have a proposed operating budget? - If so, obtain a copy.


Lynn Le Drew
Lynn Le Drew
REALTOR®
Personal Real Estate Corporation