Just over five years ago, we bought our first home. We chose a townhouse condo, and we figured it was perfect. Two stories, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a gas fireplace. It was tucked away from the busy main street, but close to highway access. It was on the lower end of our budget; a decision we made purposefully in order to be able to afford the upgrades we wanted to do (Redo the floors upstairs, reno the kitchen, update the bathrooms). We’d be responsible for tending to the backyard, but the front lawn and other landscaping came included with our condo fees. Past-me figured we were making a safe venture into first-time home ownership. Man, was Past-me naive. Don’t get me wrong. Our condo has been the perfect place to get our feet wet when it comes to the ins and outs of being a home owner and it’s so much easier now that I understand the ins and outs of owning a condo. Here are some things I wish I’d known before buying a condo.
- Condo Board Rules: Your condo board (I think they’re called Homeowners Associations in the US) has more impact on your life than you think. It’s important to have realistic, savvy, smart people on your condo board. Get to know your board members and feel them out about what they feel is important when it comes to the rules, regulations and where to spend the funds when it comes to maintaining the common elements of your condos. When we first moved in, our condo board was more concerned that everyone’s front doors were painted the same colour, over dealing with the fact that there was a pest-control problem or ensuring the right contractors were hired to do major renovations — like replacing the roof. So what if the condos had leaky roofs and were mouse-infested, so long as EVERYONE HAD A WHITE FRONT DOOR. These people are the decision makers, so choose them carefully.
- Quality of your property management company is key: The property management company is the business hired by your condo board to manage the day-to-day of your condos, so just like ensuring you have effective and quality people on your condo board, it’s important that your condo is run by an effective, quality property management company. Research the company your potential condo board uses so you’ll be prepared.
- Review the Rules: The bylaws laid out by your condo board are different from board to board. There are some pretty standard ones (like typically the condo board/property management are responsible for the structural bits of your unit, while the homeowner is responsible for the interior), but it’s a good idea to review the rules so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Some condo board rules can be pretty strict and have rules that range from landscaping standards, to paint colours, to noise levels, to permissions required when you’re renovating, to how many pets you’re allowed to have. With our condo, we’re basically allowed to do anything we want in the backyard, except when it comes to sheds. The board lays out that sheds should be white. Our rebellious grey shed (erected by a past owner) is the bane of our board’s existence.
- Definitions matter: Just because you think you know what the definition of ‘common area’ versus ‘your unit’, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your definition of these things jives with that of your condo bylaws, rules and regulations. Same goes when you’re talking about a major renovation versus a minor one. And pay special attention, because these definitions can change. Nor do they always follow the rules of common sense. Make sure you read up on what things mean and watch for changes made to these definitions at condo board meetings.
- Know thy neighbour: While scoring good neighbours is really just the luck of the draw, and it’s pretty common to not really get to know your neighbours anymore, when you’re living in a condo, ignoring your neighbours isn’t really an option. It’s not just because you live so closely to your neighbours, but also because they belong to the Condo Corporation as well and will have a voice in decisions made by the corporation. It’s good to know where they stand on issues that effect the corporation and it never hurts to have some connections if you’re interested in lobbying to get some changes made. I’m not saying that you have to go all Aaron Eckhart from ‘Thank You for Smoking’ on your neighbours. But if you’re going to be living so close to them, it’s nice to have some friends close by.