Choosing a Condo Versus a Home

Conventional wisdom says that people buy condominiums as "starter homes" and upgrade to a detached house later. Somehow, there is this idea that a condo isn't a "real" house. But what if the condo is really the right choice for you?

A condo is a unique kind of property ownership. Wikipedia says that a condominium is a kind of joint arrangement where a group of owners hold a piece of real property or real estate. In most condos, there are parts of the property that are commonly owned (and usually called "common elements") and part which is individually owned (which is generally the interior of the home or unit). Common elements will include (but aren't limited to) the structure of the building or buildings, parking spaces or large parking garages, and the actual land on which the condominium corporation stands. 

Let me say, as someone who lived in a condo for over a decade, I don't think that a condo isn't a "real" house. I renovated, painted and made that place my own! I also built equity in the housing market. Depending on the type of condominium unit that you purchase, you can even have your own little patch of grass as an exclusive use common element (which means that it's "yours" even though the condominium corporation technically owns the patch of grass). You can often modify your back or front yard with gardening and other enhancements -- although you may have to ask for permission from your condominium board.

Perhaps this is the biggest single challenge for many who might otherwise buy a condo and be very happy with it: in a condominium complex, you are required to follow a set of rules that generally govern and restrict what kinds of changes you can make to your unit (or any exclusive use common elements) as well as your actions in relationship to the community. This kind of "communal" living can stretch the patience of those who want to do things their own way, and don't like rules. The kind of tension generated by the rules (and the breaking of them) can create bad feelings between neighbours.

Frankly, in my case, noise was a big factor in what finally drove me out of my unit. When I first bought it, my unit was a lovely, light-filled refuge from the busy world of my day job -- business consulting. My neighbours were generally quiet sorts, so I didn't have to worry when I worked late hours. I always got my sleep. However, you can't control your neighbours , and suddenly the unit next door was sold to a family where both partners worked afternoons. They would get home from work at 11 or 12, and crank up the tv.

Add to that the arrival of Number 1 son. We were busting at the seems in my (previously) spacious 2 bedroom condo. We moved.

Now that I work largely from my kitchen table and live in a lovely detached home, I can tell you that there are a lot of advantages to a condo. Unfortunately, even detached homes can have noisy or obnoxious neighbours! While the price of your condo fees can seem like money down the drain, you don't have to worry about many maintenance items for your home. That can mean everything from not worrying when the roof needs to be replaced, to not having to lift a shovel in the wintertime.

In most condominiums, you are getting a really good deal by paying for maintenance as a group. When I need my roof repaired now, I'll foot the total bill. Also, despite my best intentions, the "home maintenance fund" never seems to be allocated money on a regular basis. In a condo corporation, you are on a forced saving plan for your maintenance, so it's never missed. When we bought our house, I also had to buy all that lawn equipment that I'd never owned before. The cost of the lawn mower, the grass trimmer and the watering gear all came out of my pocket! The financial outlay was significant -- and not something I ever thought about.

As a consultant, I loved that I didn't have to worry about my place looking "lived in" when I had to travel for work, because someone else was cutting the grass.

Many condos can boast high-end amenities from work out facilities to pools. This can be a significant benefit. How much is the cost of a fitness club membership? If you don't have to pay that membership fee, and you can work out when it fits in your schedule, it can be a real advantage.

When is a condo the right choice for you? Well, consider your lifestyle. Do you like to travel? Do you travel frequently? Are you a senior who no longer has any interest in mowing the lawn? Are you a busy career single who wants the flexibility of no yard work and in-house physical fitness? Are you a busy family that needs more hours in your life or likes the urban lifestyle? All of these reasons point to a condo.

When buying a condo, be sure to calculate in your condo maintenance fees! Otherwise, you can find that your mortgage loan and your condo fees may eat up more of your paycheque than you planned. This can put you behind the eight ball -- especially if you have a ARM that adjusts up, increasing your overall monthly costs.

Michael Chantrel 

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