5 Questions to ask when buying a condo

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As you guys might have noticed, Brian and I are in the condo buying market again.  So I’ve had real estate on my mind and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I’m looking for in our next condo.

Photo Credit: Keoni Cabral via Flickr

Why do I want to live here?

For me at least, it’s easy to be distracted by a beautiful, well decorated condo.  I often have to remind myself that it’s not just the unit, it’s the whole neighbourhood.  When we bought our first condo, the unit was fine, nicely renovated (mostly) and the building was in solid shape… but the neighbourhood was lacking in community and amenities.  I missed walking over to the coffee shop!  So before you decide that a condo is “the one”, have a peek around the neighbourhood.  Are there stores and restaurants that you would frequent?  Are the people who live there friendly and welcoming?  It might be better to live in a better neighbourhood with a condo that needs more work.


What are the rental restrictions?

Even if you’re not planning on renting out the condo, it’s important to consider the building’s rental restrictions.  As an owner, you may want to live in an owner-centric building since owners have a vested interested in caring for their unit and their building more diligently.  However, as a future seller and investor, a building that allows rentals may be easier to sell or convert into a rental property a few years down the road.  Keep in mind, the strata council may one day decide to change the building rental restrictions!

What are the pet restrictions?

Pet ownership is pretty common so many people don’t think to check whether or not their potential new home allows pets.  In fact, many condo buildings do not.  Before considering a condo, be sure to check the bylaws for any pet restrictions.  Some places will not allow pets at all, while others will allow some pets, with restrictions.  Brian and I have to stick to pet-friendly condos due to the cat!

Is the building rain-screened?

During the 80’s and 90’s, building technology changed and houses started being built completely sealed (previously, air was allowed to flow in and out of walls). Since Vancouver has a wet climate, any water that does get in gets trapped and as a result, many buildings suffered from ‘leaky condo syndrome’ and required expensive rehabilitation known as “rain-screening”.  If you’re buying a condo built during these times, I would be extremely wary of condos from this time period unless work has been done to rain-screen the building.  If you are ever assessed for rain-screening, the cost will easily eat up any equity you have in your home, and more.  Typical costs can run from $50,000 to well over $100,000 on a moderately sized condo or townhome.  When Brian and I purchased our first condo, one of the biggest selling points for us was the fact that it was completely rain-screened!


What are my responsibilities as a condo owner?

Condos come with a stack of bylaws and regulations.  Before deciding to purchase a unit in a condo development, carefully read over the bylaws and rules.  Some buildings do not allow BBQs on balconies for example.  Other buildings might restrict the types of items you are allowed to keep in your parking stall.  Being aware of the rules can help you avoid costly fines later on!  For example, in our first condo, we were not allowed to store bikes in the parking garage, subject to a $150 fine.  Grr!




Any other suggestions?  For home owners, what do you look for in a house?

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  1. It looks like you’ve got a great start here. For my wife and I one important thing was location. We wanted to be close to things we wanted, but at the same time not right off of a busy street. We also wanted an area where there were other families as we were starting our own.

    • CF says:

      Yeah location is important to us as well – we are big on being able to walk to community centres, markets and coffee shops. We did view some condos in Burnaby (a city adjacent to Vancouver) during our first condo search but we just couldn’t stand the thought of being so far away from everything and so dependent on a car.

      The busy street doesn’t bother us as much, but we know that it’s important for a lot of buyers, so we try to keep that in mind for our own future sale.

  2. Jason says:

    I think you touched on all of the major ones, but to classify it into a broader group I think you need to constantly keep the resale value in mind. The resale is affected by the pet, renters, and community restrictions. We’ve having trouble selling our house because that’s the one thing we ignored when we bought our current home.

    • CF says:

      That is true. With our first condo, we got a good size and layout, building quality and accessibility – but we sacrificed a little on the location because it’s a ground floor unit on a busy street.

      We’re hoping the renovations and the good state of the building will offset those points when we are ready to sell.

  3. I don’t know about Canada, but in the US, one of your top concerns if you’re looking at condos should be the financial health of the condo association. Since you don’t technically own your walls there can be a big question of what happens when the association goes bankrupt. You also don’t want to be on the hook for special assessments because other people have stopped paying.

    We’ve always stayed away from condos in the US because you are taking on more of the risk of your neighbors and that has yet to seem like a risk worth taking.

    • CF says:

      I’m afraid that in Vancouver, we are limited to condos for the moment, due to the cost of housing! 🙁 The condos we are currently looking at are in the range of $280k-$320k… and that’s considered “cheap” for an 10-15 year old one bedroom condo :S

      But you’re right – your condo needs to have a healthy contingency fund to deal with routine roof, piping, and parking garage repairs as well as things like pest control and landscaping.

  4. I totally learned about the importance of rain screening when me and my BF went to look at condos with his real estate friend. Very important!

  5. Along with shopping for the neighborhood, remembering that location effects resale value a great deal is important! You can always change the decor, but you can’t change the neighborhood.

    • CF says:

      Yup, very true. We tried to strike a balance between price and location with our last condo. It’s close to a busy road, but also very transit accessible, near parks and a community college.

  6. It looks like you are doing your due diligence! I would also mention, from a fellow multi-unit housing dweller (begrudgingly), that it is important to know how old the building is. Even if it is in great shape but a bit older, it could keep you up with some restless nights as older buildings rarely have underlay under the flooring, causing you to hear every footstep of the person above you. Plus, you want to know what you’re getting into for maintenance.

    • CF says:

      That’s true! The age of the building gives you an idea of what repairs it will need in the near future – eg. older buildings often will need roof or pipe replacement.

      We skipped over a few places which had very high maintenance fees. Fees can only go up after all and by the time you try to sell, it’ll probably be even higher, making it harder to sell.

  7. You are so right in watching out for leaky condos.

    In YYC many condo buildings have recently discovered leaks on the outside walls.

    In fact your post reminded me of a specific 3 storey multi-condo building that was built in 1990 with stucco siding. Initially all the units were rentals and I actually lived there for a year. Then they were converted to condos and people either bought them to live there or to rent out.

    In 2007 the entire complex had ‘leaky condo syndrome’ and every unit owner had to come up with approx $14,000 to contribute to fixing the entire complex. What a nightmare for them.

    You are in a beautiful area. Good luck with your search!!

    • CF says:

      With condos, it really pays to get it inspected and to pore over the engineers reports carefully. $14,000 really sucks though! I’ve heard horror stories of assessments getting up to $50,000 and $60,000 too :S

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