As a Realtor in the Ottawa area since the mid-1980s, one of the biggest changes I’ve witnessed is the growth in popularity of condominium ownership.
In the early years of my career, condo ownership was rare. Today, it seems, there is a new condo project on almost every corner, from high-rise buildings to townhouses.
While the sales of traditional houses still outnumber condo sales in our area by about three to one, more and more buyers are choosing condo living.
First-time buyers are often drawn by the prices, which can be hundreds of thousands of dollars lower than the price of an average house.
I also work with retirement-age buyers who no longer need a large house and are tired of gardening and shovelling snow. In most condos, those chores are handled as part of your monthly fees.
But condo ownership isn’t for everyone, and it’s important to understand how it’s different from buying a traditional house.
I have first-hand knowledge. In addition to helping hundreds of clients buy and sell condo units, I’ve owned and lived in several condo apartments myself, as well as a traditional house. I can share the benefits and drawbacks of both.
Keep an open mind. I’ve had clients who’ve told me they’re not interested in a condo, only to change their minds after seeing a unit that impressed them and having their condo questions answered.
Here are a few pros and cons of condo living to consider to help you decide:
First-time buyers often opt for a condo as an affordable way to enter the real estate market.
In the first seven months of 2021, the average sale price for a condominium unit in Ottawa was $422,339.
The average price of a residential-class (non-condo) property in that period was $728,107.
With a condo, however, you will have monthly condo fees on top of your mortgage payments. These fees range widely, but lenders will consider the condo fees when they assess how much to lend you.
You should ensure you could handle an increase in fees. Condo fees can increase if sudden repairs emerge or a budget review finds a need for a larger reserve fund to handle upcoming maintenance.
But keep in mind that when you purchase a house, you can also face sudden expenses, and you need to ensure you can handle those comfortably as well.
Turnkey Living: With most condo projects, you are responsible only for the upkeep of the interior of your unit.
Maintenance of common areas, such as the lobby, halls, entrance, parking lot and grounds, are done by others. With most condos, you never need to handle a snow shovel or lawn mower. For many buyers, this is a big draw.
When you purchase a house, you take on the responsibility for chores like raking leaves, mowing the lawn, removing snow and staining your deck.
Amenities: Many buyers like the amenities that some condos include.
These can include gyms, pools, movie rooms, social activity rooms, pet-washing stations, car-washing areas and concierges.
Walkability: Many condo buyers like being able to live without a car.
If you choose a condo project downtown or something close to an LRT station, you can be a short walk or transit ride to shopping, museums and other destinations.
The savings when you’re not paying car expenses (gas, insurance, maintenance, parking) often add up to more than you pay in condo fees.
Smaller Square Footage: With lower prices, most condo units have smaller living space than a traditional house.
For many first buyers and for older buyers who don’t need a large house, that’s fine. Many condo buyers pare down and de-clutter, and many say they live comfortably with less.
If you need more space, there are larger condo units on the market. Recently constructed units tend to be smaller, while older projects and former apartment buildings that were converted into condos often feature larger rooms.
Condo fees: When you own a condo unit, you pay monthly association fees for upkeep of the common areas, building insurance and a reserve fund to pay for long-term expenses and repairs.
The fees are regulated by provincial laws. They help to protect your investment by ensuring there are sufficient funds to cover building repairs and upkeep.
Condo fees sometimes scare potential buyers who have not owned a condo unit before.
But remember that if you purchase a traditional house, while you don’t have condo fees, financial experts recommend you should set aside funds each month for repairs and upkeep. You want to have funds for a new furnace or windows when needed.
Condominiums have certain rules that the board of directors (made up of owners who are voted to the board) have created.
These can include limits on things like how many people can live in your unit, whether you can park a boat or trailer in your parking spot and the size of dog you are permitted to have. All condos have their own rules, so it’s important to check them before making an offer. We can also make it part of the search. For example, if you have a dog, we would only look at condos that allow dogs.
As well, while you as an owner can vote on many decisions and on who will represent you on the board, (and you can run for a board position yourself), there may be times when the board makes a decision about spending or repairs that you don’t agree with.
This is something most condo owners learn to accept as part of condo life. But if you need to make all decisions yourself, then a traditional house will suit you better.
If you’re considering buying or selling property in the Ottawa area, I’d be happy to answer any questions about condo ownership and fill you in on the current market.
You can read more on my site, www.nancybenson.com Feel free to give me a call, at 613-747-4747.
For more detailed information, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has an excellent condominium buyer’s guide on its site. It includes buying tips, an explanation of how condos are governed and points to consider to decide if condo living is right for you.