Looking to make a move to something a little smaller, newer and easier to maintain?
You should weigh the pros and cons of condo living — and what you should know before jumping into the condominium ownership.

You’ll meet all kinds of people at condominium open houses: first time buyers looking to get into the market, investors and, of course, baby boomers wanting to downsize their space and responsibilities.

The Condo at Windham Place is a main floor building with 3 units that have two stories. Its a refurbished building with a brand new interior and modern mechanical equipment and such and very energy efficient.

What makes condos different from freehold houses is that you own your unit but you also share ownership of the land, building and common areas. You share costs with fellow members of your condo association, and the board of directors or a property management company makes the big decisions.

The benefits of condo living

– Someone else handles the outside work. One of the biggest draws of condo ownership is freedom from maintenance you might not have the time, desire or ability to tackle — like shoveling snow, mowing the lawn or repairing outside structures. Your monthly condo fees cover these services.

– Many major costs are shared. By law, a portion of those condo fees goes into a reserve fund. When the property is well managed, this fund covers major repairs like replacing windows and roofing without additional costs to owners. Even when the reserve fund falls short, you’re not in it alone — a “special assessment” will be done and costs will be shared equally among owners.

– Lifestyle. If you prefer to live on one floor or in a one- or two-bedroom home, condos allow you to own your own space rather than rent. Common areas like pools and recreation rooms offer opportunities to socialize with neighbours. Many condo developments cater to specific groups — like young professionals, families and older adults.

– Amenities. Some condos offer benefits you won’t see in the average home or apartment building.

– Customization. Unlike renting, you’re free to paint the walls, put up pictures and renovate.

– Price. Depending on where you live, some condos are more affordable than owning a freehold home — and a mortgage plus condo fees may be equivalent to rent.

– Security. Marketers say condos offer greater security than a free hold home or renting. For one thing, people are more likely to take better care of property they own, and some buildings offer a secure entrance or a doorman. You might feel safer with neighbours on either side, and worry less if you frequently travel.

The potential pitfalls

Any form of home ownership has its risks and limitations, and condos are no exception.

– Price. Depending on where you live, the purchase price of condos can exceed that of a freehold property. Moving to a condo doesn’t necessarily mean downsizing to a cheaper home — especially if you’re upsizing the luxury.

– Condo fees. Like other types of homeownership, the costs don’t disappear when you pay off your mortgage. Monthly condo fees can range from $140 to $600 depending on where you live, what’s included in the fees and what amenities you have. Perks like swimming pools and elevators can drive up the costs, and older buildings generally need more repairs and maintenance.

Like most expenses, condo fees increase over time and aren’t likely to go down again, warns Huddleston. High fees can make your home less appealing to future buyers and ultimately cut into your profit.

– Special assessments. When your condo board goes over budget, the costs will be passed to you. For example, if your condo fees include water but your fellow condo owners collectively spent $3000 over the amount budgeted, you have to pay your equal share of the shortfall. When some owners use more of a common element than others, everyone pays.

Likewise, if major repairs are needed that the reserve fund can’t cover, you’re required by law to pay up. In buildings with more units, there are more people to cover the costs — or incur them.

“A member of the Board can literally show up at your door anytime and tell you you’re on the hook for thousands of dollars,” warns Huddleston. “And it is legal.”

– You’re responsible for everything within your walls. Unlike renting, you can paint the walls and make renovations — but you’re also responsible for repairs inside your unit, replacing appliances and insuring your unit and belongings. Before you buy, you should have a clear understanding of what you’re responsible for, says the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

– You’re responsible for other people’s problems too. Sharing costs can be a boon, but the downside is you pay your share for problems too — like if someone damages a common area. If your association is involved in a lawsuit — such as suing the developer over building faults — you’ll be sharing to cost of legal fees too.

– There are rules and bylaws. Noise restrictions may be in place after a certain hour, for example. Things like parking, pets, garbage disposal and outdoor fixtures (like satellite dishes) may be established by the condo corporation. You’ll want to know the rules — including who sets them and how they’re enforced.

– You have limited control outside your unit. You have the final say within your own walls — but you might not get a choice when it comes to decisions like redecorating the lobby or what colour to paint everyone’s front doors. It’s up to someone else when work gets done — like when your windows will get replaced.

Ultimately, there are risks and rewards to any type of dwelling — it all boils down to what you want and what limits you can accept.

Tips for first time condo buyers

– Get some expert help. A real estate agent and lawyer who have expertise and experience with condos can help you navigate the market — and minimize your risks.

– Get to know the legislation in your province. Every province has different regulations regarding condos. (You can often find the Condo Act through your province’s website.)

– Compare condo fees. The number doesn’t tell the whole story — you’ll want to know what is and isn’t covered when looking at your monthly budget.

– Learn the rules, bylaws and regulations. As we mentioned before, you should know the rules and how they will be enforced. Remember, they can work in your favour — like sparing you a neighbour’s late night party.