If you are interested in gathering information or in need of some direction, look no further. McGarr Realty has been heavily involved in the Niagara condo market since the day we opened for business in 1988.
When purchasing a condo there are some important factors to be aware of.
In a condo, you own your particular home (suite, townhome or otherwise) and you share the costs involved to operate the common areas.
The health of the corporation, which you are a part owner of, is critical in terms of both your costs while living there as well as the ongoing maintenance and financial health of the corporation itself.
What types of condos can be found in Niagara?
Across Niagara, we have condo conversions which range from 40 year old buildings (high or low rise) to 120 unit townhome sites that were originally built as rental units but later converted into condominium ownership. For apartment style, these typically do not have the amenities that you would find in a newer, purpose built condo building. For example, there is often a common laundry room. Heating and cooling are often through a common system. Sizes and layouts are typically limited in terms of variety. Parking is often surface or covered however there are a few conversion buildings in the area with underground parking, typically available on a waiting list for a fee. For townhomes, the conversion sites you will typically find are of the 2 storey variety. Sizes quite often are in the 900 to 1300 sq.ft. range and can offer great value for both first time home buyers and downsizing buyers alike.
These have been built over the years in Niagara. Ranging from 3 to 5 storeys, they were built with various construction methods due to the lower height. Some are built with wood frame construction while others are concrete slab with a small number being built more recently with insulated concrete construction. The condo fees vary with age. Some of the 20+ year old buildings have HVAC wrapped into the condo fee with some being heated with electric baseboard or forced air heat. One thing to be aware of with the conversion buildings is that the amenities are often less than purpose built condos. Laundry may be in a common room in the lobby area for example. The ages of these buildings range across the board. Some are condo conversions while others are brand new so look closely at the condo fee, construction method, amenities and financial health of the corporation as there are various factors that will affect all of the above.
These buildings are a mix between purpose built condo buildings and conversions. The purpose built high rise buildings that you’ll find in Niagara were typically built in the late 1980s. These quite often are 10-14 storeys tall and include similar amenities. A sample can include swimming pool, underground parking, workout rooms, storage lockers with some including guest suites and additional common rooms. Fees are often in the $600 to $1,000 per month range and may include heating and/or cooling along with the usual items such as water, common maintenance, condo insurance and relevant contribution to the reserve fund. The condo conversions in this category often vary in amenities but typically do not have the extent that you’ll find in a newer, purpose built building. For example, underground parking, if there is any, is often an additional monthly fee. Features like insuite laundry, ensuite bathrooms, guest suites and varied layouts are not typically found in the conversion building. As a result, the condo fees and market values are typically lower and more affordable.
Aside from condo conversions, there are numerous purpose built condo townhome sites ranging from small clusters of 6 or 8 townhomes ranging up to full sized 80 townhome communities. Construction quality should be looked at with these buildings as well. Questions to ask would include what is separating the units, what exterior items are covered and what rules and regulations will affect me. Do you have a 65 lb dog? Some of these sites have beautiful common areas including pools, BBQ pavilions and a fair amount of common space to operate and maintain. The demand for bungalow townhomes is typically high throughout Niagara due to demographic trends as people downsize out of their larger stair-dependent homes. There are numerous shapes and sizes of townhomes available so having someone help you with your search will only help your cause.
Whether you are buying a brand new bungalow townhome or an 800 sq.ft. 1 bedroom condo apartment, there are important steps to take to get it right.
Contact us and we will connect you with one of our team that will help you navigate through the diverse and often complex condominium market in Niagara.
Some Frequently Asked Questions Include...
In a condo apartment style building, they will typically calculate the total square footage in the building and then assign a proportional ownership to each unit.
For example, in a building, your suite has a 2.15% share of the proportional ownership based on its square footage. They would then take the total costs to operate the building (common area maintenance, heat and hydro of common areas, water and any other common utility costs, corporation insurance and reserve fund) and bill you, the share owner, 2.15% of that amount divided into 12 monthly condo fee payments.
Exactly the same. Sort of. With any residential condominium corporation, there will be shared costs. In a townhome, these will include exterior maintenance, roof shingles, possibly the windows, doors and exterior finishing. Townhome condo fees are typically lower than condo apartment fees largely due to the difference in the building structure. Elevators, underground parking, common element maintenance (lighting and HVAC in all of those hallways) and overall structural liability will add up to a larger number in a condo apartment style building.
Remember that proportional ownership concept? When the bills come in and there is a shortfall, then the ownership group (via a very regulated process) along with the property management group may decide to assign a bulk payment to cover a cost. For example, the building management are advised by an inspection that the balconies need to be replaced in the next 2 years. While its common to have money in the reserve fund, this typically is not enough to cover the fix; when this happens a decision is made to assign a special assessment fee to all unit owners to cover the cost.
This is where the health of the corporation plays such an important role in the operation of the property. If the condo fee and financial management hasn’t been adequately monitored over the years, a major expenditure surprise can also be dealt with by increasing the condo fees. We have seen a few properties in Niagara elect to raise the fees by a significant amount over ‘x’ number of years in order to offset these costs. The idea is that after 3 or 4 years the fees would be brought back down once the issue has been resolved. The downside of this approach may have a negative impact on re-sale values that exceeds what a special assessment would have cost.
The physical style of the condo will affect fees. For example, a condo townhome complex will likely only be tied to one common utility which is water while condo mid or high rise buildings may also include heat and/or hydro. When a corporation is at the mercy of utility companies, there is not much choice than to pass any increases along to the owners via condo fee increases. As well, mid or high rise buildings will tend to have much more common space to maintain. There may be hallways, lobbies, elevators, underground parking garages, craft rooms, billiard rooms, guest suites, extensive outdoor green space, BBQ pavilions and much more.
Well, the value is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re living in a high rise building with an inground pool, craft room, guest suite, billiard room and car wash but you don’t swim, craft, have guests in need of a place to stay, have no interest in playing billiards and don’t drive, well, then there is a portion of that condo fee that may hold little value for you.
Looking at a townhome with a $345 monthly fee that covers exterior maintenance, landscaping, cable TV, water and common elements, you would have to do some quick math. What do you currently pay to cut your grass, shovel your driveway, garden, replace your roof, windows and front door? Add into that your water bill and basic cable as well. Then consider the freedom or comfort value in knowing that you can walk out the door and leave on vacation or to visit family for a week and come back without worrying about that same exterior maintenance.
These could be considered as is a hybrid of the traditional condominium ownership blended with straight freehold. These ownership styles do get more complicated in terms of answering the “what do I own” question so further investigation will likely be required with your Realtor and Lawyer. They will typically include common elements shared costs while you the owner, are responsible for the bricks and mortar of your townhome or home. Quite often share costs are equal across the board rather than proportional. Examples of this type of ownership may have a common elements maintenance fee of $110 or $135 rather than the higher amount found in a traditional condo townhome.
These homes will still carry with them rules and regulations (typically) and some kind of governance that controls and clarifies what the overall physical appearance of the site will look like. For example, you may find rules that govern whether or not you can have a dog or cat or if you are allowed to paint your front door yellow or erect a fancy new gazebo on your deck.
This is essentially the report card for the corporation. Prior to buying into the condominium corporation (by purchasing a condo), you will want your lawyer to review and approve (or discuss) this document with you. A condition will (or should) be included into the purchase and sale agreement that allows time for the management company to produce the most recent version and for your lawyer to review and approve. Items contained in the status certificate include the condo declaration, reserve fund info, rules and regulations, financial statements, bylaws, board meetings, declaration with regards to any ongoing legal issues and various other important components.