What you Need to Know Before Buying a Condo in Greater Victoria
The Pros and Cons of Condominium “Strata Ownership”
Purchasing a condominium (what is called a “strata” in BC) is a decision made every day by British Columbians of all ages, from young adults who are weighing the pros and cons of owning a condo as opposed to renting an apartment, to empty nesters and seniors who have lived in single-family homes all their lives and are considering downsizing or wanting to spend less time on home maintenance.
What is a Strata?
In British Columbia, the term “strata” or “condominium”, refers to a property where an owner typically owns their individual strata lot, along with an interest in the common property and assets of the strata. A strata lot can take many forms and includes properties as diverse as strata duplexes, townhomes, conversions of old homes and high-rise buildings. It also includes bare land stratas, but we will save that for another article. Common property and assets of a strata includes things like the land, the exterior of the building, the mechanicals of the building and the hallways common areas. It can also include things like a gym, pool, meeting room, etc.
So, if you are thinking Condo vs House, townhome vs house, or duplex vs house; here are some of the pros and cons of strata living in Greater Victoria, BC:
Pros of Living in a Condo or Strata
For those folks who have lived in single- family homes all their lives, condominium living provides freedom from repairs and maintenance of all those outside tasks such as mowing the lawn, gardening and painting.
In some buildings, you will have access to amenities such as games rooms, swimming pools, workshops and even guest rooms for visiting family – which you may not be able to otherwise afford or want to maintain.
Condo complexes often have recreational and social activities organized for the residents. This can be particularly attractive to seniors whose social circle may have shrunk over the years.
Being able to “lock and leave” to travel knowing that your neighbours are nearby is a big plus for many strata owners.
Major replacement and repairs are shared by all the owners, whether these expenses come from the contingency reserve fund or by way of special levy or special assessment.
CUSTOMIZING YOUR OWN SPACE
Single-family homeowners often find the costs of renovating a condo more affordable than renovating an entire family home. Most condo complexes have no problem with you painting, updating bathrooms, kitchens and even opening up the space by removing a non-bearing wall provided you get the appropriate approvals, which are designed to protect the building.
Normally condominiums will be a more affordable option than single-family homes and they can even be more affordable than renting, particularly given the current low interests.
If you want to be near downtown Victoria or Oak Bay for easy access to work or amenities such as restaurants, theatres etc., condos may be your most affordable option. Some Victoria, Vic West, Oak Bay, Saanich and Sidney condos also offer great water views and ocean front locations that would cost significantly more if you were buying a single-family house.
Cons of Condo Ownership
STRATA RULES AND RESTRICTIONS
Most condominiums have restrictions on what you can do in the complex and in your own unit. The restrictions or bylaws include such things as noise levels, rentals, pets and smoking. As your Realtors, we review the Bylaws and Rules of a townhome or condo with you to ensure it’s a good fit. In addition, most renovations in your own unit will have to go through a process of approval by the strata council, although most of our clients have had no problems doing significant renovations to their strata units and increasing the value of their condo.
LIMITED CONTROL OF REPAIRS, ETC
You will have limited control over when maintenance and repairs get done to the building. Day-to-day decisions on these matters are made by the strata council and major decisions on repairs and maintenance are made by all the owners. If you want to take the time to sit on the strata council, you can often have more of a voice in these matters. Some condo buildings are more proactive with maintenance than others. If you are considering a specific building in Victoria, Oak Bay, Sidney or Saanich – we can help ensure that the building you are considering has been well maintained and has a maintenance approach you are comfortable with.
COSTS FOR UNUSED AMENITIES
You will normally pay your share of the cost of the amenities in the building, such as swimming pools, gyms, gardens, and meeting rooms – even if you don’t use those amenities.
There can be less privacy in a condo building or townhome complex than in a single-family home and sometimes a bit more noise. Buildings that are steel and concrete, or are newer, often have little sound infiltration from other units. You may have more interaction with your neighbours on route to the elevator or when picking-up your mail – this can be a plus or minus.
When you go to sell your condo, you will be compared to other similar units in the building. Single-family homes in the same area are more unique than condos in the same building, so there is a greater likelihood of being able to distinguish your home from other homes than there is a case of a condominium. If you are considering doing expensive updates to your condo or townhome and selling in the not-too-distant future, contact us and we can help you decide whether or not you’ll be able to recoup your investment.
MONTHLY STRATA FEES
Monthly strata fees will be charged in most buildings (strata duplexes being the one notable exception). Strata fees pay for the ongoing operation of the building (e.g., cleaning and maintenance of public spaces and amenities, gardening, any shared utilities, insurance, etc.). A portion of the strata payments is also put into the contingency reserve fund, which is normally used for major repairs and replacements (e.g., roof, elevator, changing the flooring in the hallways, etc.). Even if you pay off your mortgage, you will still have to pay the monthly strata fees. If you have owned a single-family home, you know there are many maintenance costs, whether it’s more regular things like gardening or less frequent costs like fixing the roof or changing your hot water tank. Many of our clients who have made the transition to condo living have found there is very little difference in what they spent on maintaining a single-family home (in time and money) versus what they are paying on a monthly strata fee.
SPECIAL ASSESSMENTS/SPECIAL LEVIES
Even though the condominium owners may have done prudent budgeting, there is always a possibility that a large unforeseen expense can arise. Special levies are sometimes required and each of the owners has to pay their share. When working with our clients we do a comprehensive review of the strata documents, which includes minutes of the meetings, financials and the strata’s depreciation report, which can provide good insight into potential special levies.
PROXIMITY OF NEIGHBOURS
Although anyone living in a single-family home can have bad neighbours, in a condo, you are more likely to see your neighbours more often. While everyone has heard bad neighbour stories, like anything, we tend to share “bad news” more often than good news. Overall, we’ve never had a client, who has purchased a condo, townhome or duplex end-up in an untenable situation with a strata neighbour.
REPAIRS IN YOUR UNIT
While you no longer have to worry about tending the garden, roof, or exterior of your condo, similar to living in a single-family home, you will still need to maintain the area contained within your unit including the appliances, the floors and bathroom/kitchen fixtures. If you’re comparing renting and owning a condo, condo ownership means that you are now responsible for any repairs or replacements required in your unit.
OTHER PEOPLE’S MISTAKES
In a condominium building you can be responsible for other peoples’ mistakes. For example, if someone damages the carpet in the lobby and it has to be replaced, you’ll usually be paying your share of that replacement, unless the culprit can be found and made to pay.
If, after having considered the pros and cons of strata living, you decide a condo, townhome or duplex is right for you, we can help you find a great place that is a perfect fit. But of equal importance, we will help with the necessary investigations including strata document review and ensuring your contract to buy the condo or townhome protects your interests.
Buying a condominium definitely involves different considerations, than the purchase of a single-family home.
If you’d like to discuss condominium living in more detail, or have any questions of condo, townhome, duplex or other types of strata ownership in British Columbia – please Contact us
TOGETHER, Hal Decter, LL.B. and Audra Poole bring a unique level of knowledge, experience and service that is hard to find.
For eleven years, Hal Decter was a practicing real estate lawyer and partner with one of Canada’s top law firms. His client experience ranges from some of the country’s largest corporations to individuals and couples starting their first businesses or buying their first homes.
Audra Poole brings her research acumen and luxury marketing and sales talents to the team. She is a highly respected marketing and public relations executive with more than twenty years of local, regional and international experience.
Whether you are looking to buy or sell a home in Victoria, Oak Bay, Sidney or Saanich – we’ll be on your side and make the process as stress free and seamless as possible.