2017 was the year the condo made a comeback in Toronto, and we predict 2018 will be The Year of the Condo. Today, we want to look at 14 common misconceptions about owning a condominium:
1. I own it, and I can renovate it how I want.
Unfortunately, this is false. Any major renovation in your condo will require board approval – and while it’s usually in the best interest of the condo board to keep the residents happy and approve renovations (they are residents themselves, after all), renovation approval is far from guaranteed. For example, it’s pretty rare for a condo to allow real hardwood floors (engineered is usually ok) and moving walls or touching anything that is owned by the condo (e.g. anything behind walls like electrical and plumbing) is usually a big deal. So if you’re buying a condo and have visions of adding a second bathroom or building a mezzanine in your loft, be prepared that your dreams might get quashed.
2. I own it, and I can decorate it however I want.
This one is only partially a misconception – the Board isn’t going to care about your IKEA couch or ceramic doll collection, but they may have regulations that dictate the kinds and colours of window coverings and what you’re allowed to keep on your balcony or door.
3. I can’t wait to barbecue on my balcony!
Unless that balcony has an existing natural gas line, you likely aren’t going to be doing any bbq-ing. Fire rules prevent propane tanks from being transported in elevators, and for that reason, barbecues are usually banned in condos.
4. I can Airbnb if I want to.
While Toronto’s new Airbnb rules don’t come into effect until July 2018, condo owners are also governed by the rules in their building. Most Toronto condos prohibit leases that are less than six months, so Airbnb-ing your unit is likely in contravention of the rules. Also to note: even if your condo doesn’t have a rule about short-term accommodation rentals, those rules can change at any time.
5. The roof needs replacing – I’m glad the condo board is paying and not me!
Truth: you are the condo board. While you may not have an official role on the board, as an owner, you own a certain % of the condo and part of all of your condo fees go towards building a reserve fund to pay for big expenses. So yes, the board is using your money when they spend the reserve fund…and if there isn’t enough money in the fund to pay for repairs, they’ll either increase the condo maintenance fees or levy a special assessment (a lump sum payment).
6. Part of my condo fees covers insurance – yay!
One less bill for me to pay. False! False! False! The insurance included in your fees covers the part of the building that you don’t directly own – you still need to buy insurance for all of your stuff. Pro tip: don’t forget to insure the sinks, toilet, appliances and all the upgrades you’ve made to the unit. You own all that stuff too! [Related: Home Insurance Scoop for First Time Buyers]
7. My ________(insert: six cats/pot-bellied pig/100-pound Rottweiler/cockatoos) will be so happy in my condo!
Every condo board will have rules dictating the number and size of pets you can have. Most commonly, we see a two-pet maximum and a size restriction for dogs (often 25 pounds). [Related: The Truth About Cats and Dogs] If you don’t want your pet to get evicted (yes, this happens), do your research before you buy.
8. Condo fees are too expensive – I’d rather own a house than throw all that money away.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions out there. Sure, condo maintenance fees can add up (they usually range from $0.55 – $1.00 per square foot per month in Toronto) – but it’s almost always cheaper than owning a house. Don’t forget: house owners need to pay for water, garbage and sewers, have higher utility bills and insurance payments and should budget 3-5% in annual renovation and repair needs (including a lot of unsexy money). [Related: Condo vs House]
9. Condo board meetings are boring, and I don’t have to go.
For starters, they aren’t usually boring – there’s a ton of really important information that gets discussed at annual meetings that impacts what is likely your biggest financial investment….so stay informed. And while it’s rare, funny-business can happen – check out this article about some creeps who took over a bunch of condo boards last year for their personal gain.
10. All condo fees are created equal.
If you’re in the market to buy a condo, it can be tempting to compare the condo fees of various units. Beware: inclusions in maintenance fees vary – some condos include all utilities, some only include hydro, some include cable TV, and some have separate fees for parking and lockers. Also keep in mind that while most condo fees vary based on the square footage, some buildings (usually older ones) have the same condo fees irrespective of the size of the unit – that’s a bonus for bigger units and an unfortunate reality for the smaller units. [Related: Heads Up! All Condo Fees Are Not Created Equal]
11. If I have a problem in my building, I should go to the media.
I get it: sometimes when you aren’t feeling heard, it’s tempting to go to the media with your woes. But remember: the internet has a long memory so that dirty laundry about the noise in your building/broken elevators/crappy construction quality might impact the value of your condo for years to come….and hurt when it comes time for you to sell.
12. I heard there’s Kitec plumbing in my building – but I’m going to choose to ignore it.
Unfortunately, that’s not really going to be an option. Kitec is a kind of plumbing used from 1997-2005 that has caused a lot of flooding problems (resulting in a lot of insurance claims and coverage denials). If your building has Kitec they’ll have to deal with it…and that usually means removing it. While some boards organize to have the work done themselves, others put the onus of responsibility on individual owners. Either way, expect additional costs either via increased monthly fees, a special assessment or direct costs. [Related: All About Kitec Plumbing]
13. I have an unobstructed view!
Condo views are like farts…never trust them. Did I just say that? In a city like Toronto, views change all the time, so unless you’re looking at a lake, don’t get too attached to that parking lot or park – it may become a condo sooner than you know it.
14. Condos aren’t a great investment.
False! I can’t even. Condos in central Toronto saw almost 20% appreciation in 2017, and as single-family house prices continue to creep, condos become a more affordable option for many. 2018 will be The Year of the Condo….just make sure you know what you’re getting into!