The challenge of buying a condo in Vancouver is that no two condo buildings are alike. Even when architectural styles are similar, there are many components that set one condo building apart from another. From financial management to maintenance philosophy, the reputation and actions of a strata should be investigated ahead of time so you can avoid unpleasant surprises.
Here are a few questions that you should consider about your prospective condo purchase.
What does my maintenance fee cover?
Condo owners are responsible to pay monthly maintenance fees to their strata. The strata uses these funds to handle general operating expenses (routine maintenance, cleaning, etc.) and build up a contingency reserve fund (for emergencies and bigger ticket repairs).
Before you purchase a condo, find out what costs the strata have deemed to be “operating expenses.” While common area maintenance is typically covered by strata fees, some stratas also administer other items such as gas, snow removal, heat, concierge, and amenities. Make sure you know what is and what is not included in your strata fees.
Does my new condo come with a storage locker?
New condo owners often discover that they could use a bit more storage space. It can be hard to store larger items (like bicycles) and seasonal decorations. Fortunately, some developers anticipate this challenge and built storage lockers during construction.
These lockers are typically allocated to specific units. So, if you find out that your prospective condo building has lockers, ask if there’s one for the unit you’re looking to buy. Even better, ask to see it in person so you can see just how much extra space you’ll get.
Does the strata have a healthy contingency reserve fund (CRF)?
Prudent stratas understand that their CRF is a “rainy day” savings account. When major issues unexpectedly arise, a healthy CRF lessens the financial impact of special levies. Some stratas even use the CRF to save for and then fund significant projects.
Inquire about the current state of the strata’s CRF. If it’s healthy and regularly topped up, it’s a good sign that the strata you’re considering is responsible. Stratas that pay careful attention to their CRF typically protect the value of their investment in other ways, too.
Does the strata have a depreciation report?
British Columbia’s Strata Property Act dictates that stratas with five or more strata lots must obtain a depreciation report. However, some stratas choose not to get this report. They can legally waive this requirement if this decision passes an annual 3/4 vote.
Depreciation reports are used primarily to evaluate the strata’s CRF in comparison to predicted building expenditures. Proactive stratas use this data to plan and budget for large maintenance projects that are required for the health and upkeep of the property. As such, the decision not to get a depreciation report should be considered a red flag.
Has the strata recently proposed or approved a special levy?
The last thing you want to do is buy a condo and then find out that you’re on the hook for a special levy proposed prior to your purchase. Experienced realtors will raise this question and make sure that levies approved prior to your completion date are the responsibility of the current owner. But don’t assume: find out for yourself.
It’s also a good idea to find out what kind of special levies have been proposed and approved within the last five years. This information will give you valuable insight into the strata’s financial habits and approach to building maintenance.
How old is the roof?
Roof replacement is one of the costliest repairs that building owners face. It’s wise, then, to find out when this project was last completed. Typically, a roof will last between twenty and twenty-five years. Discovering the current roof’s age will give you a good idea of how long it will be before that expense becomes necessary again.
Where does my hot water come from?
Some condo buildings were constructed with boiler systems. In this case, a centralized boiler heats and distributes hot water to the strata units. Your hot water is then a common property issue that is paid for by your monthly maintenance fees.
In other instances, each condo has its own hot water tank and individual owners are responsible to maintain and (eventually) replace these tanks. If the condo you’re looking at falls in this boat, find out the age of its tank. Since hot water tanks typically last 10 years, you’ll want to find out if it’s coming due in the near future and account for that in your purchase price.
What does the strata insurance cover and how much is its deductible?
Insurance coverage varies from strata to strata. Protect yourself by getting a copy of the strata’s insurance note. You can share this with your insurance agent, who can help you figure out what your personal unit policy should include.
As part of this process, make sure you note the strata’s deductible amount. In some cases these deductibles are prohibitively high. Having this knowledge will equip you to make the best decision about your personal unit insurance.
What do’s and don’ts are laid out in the strata bylaws?
All stratas are governed by bylaws that dictate what you can and cannot do with your unit. And since these rules vary from strata to strata, you’d do well to carefully review the guidelines that pertain to this condo building.
Some stratas forbid unit rentals. Others have banned pets or imposed size and/or breed restrictions. And still others have strict rules about what kinds of renovations you can make to your condo. Familiarizing yourself with these rules ahead of time might keep you from buying into a condo community that doesn’t suit your lifestyle.
Has the strata been involved in past or present litigation?
Stratas get tied up in lawsuits and litigation for a variety of reasons. Whatever the case, you’ll want to know if that’s ever happened – or is currently occurring – with the condo building you’re looking at. Legal matters are usually expensive, and you want to avoid those costly surprises.
What amenities does this condo building offer?
One of the perks of living in a condo is ready access to amenities. It’s not uncommon for stratas to have an on-site gym and gathering room. Some even have a pool and a hot tub. Get the full scope beforehand so you know what conveniences will be at your fingertips.
Of course, take note that these amenities aren’t free. Whether they incur an additional cost or are covered your maintenance fee, you’ll be paying for them in some way. Moreover, be aware that they will add to your strata’s insurance liability and maintenance expenses.
Has the building been rainscreened?
This question is vital if you’re looking to buy into an older building. Vancouver’s infamous “leaky condo” scandals sparked an overhaul of British Columbia’s building envelope construction practices, to make sure that condo buildings are built to withstand the Lower Mainland’s rainforest environment. Newer buildings are built with these systems in place, but some older buildings (i.e. pre-2000) have not yet been upgraded.
Not all buildings will require an overhaul. However, if you want assurance that you’re not increasing the risk of dealing with future water damage, do your due diligence and get the details about its building construction.
What is the reputation of the building’s property manager?
Strata property managers are intergral to the health and function of a condo building. They serve as guides, providing expertise to strata councils and handling questions pertaining to the strata. In addition, they’ll have a trusted set of contractors, which helps the strata council find reputable trades to perform maintenance and repairs.
While the property manager does not make decisions on the strata’s behalf, their performance heavily influences the building’s operation. Don’t be shy to inquire about this particular property manager’s reputation or find out how long they’ve been serving this particular strata. That will tell you a lot about the day-to-day service the strata is receiving.
Who is going to be living above, below, and/or beside me?
While most people don’t get to choose their neighbours, this question is particularly important for condo owners to consider. You’ll be sharing walls and hallways with your neighbours, which means it’s outside of your control when you’ll run into and/or hear them.
Whether you’re a shift worker or just someone who values their privacy, you won’t regret finding out more about your potential community. It’s worth some extra effort to confirm that you’re a mutually good fit, for both your peace and theirs.
If you’re thinking about buying a condo in Vancouver, you may have other important questions as you navigate this process. Don’t let them get in your way: instead, contact Rick Clarke and the Real Estate Valley team. Whatever your question, we have the expertise and experience to get you the answers today. Reach out today, so we can help you find the right condo for your needs.Posted by Rick Clarke on