Be mindful of the differences between buying a condo versus a house

My New Year’s resolution is to buy a condo. I’ve never bought property before — how do I get started?

Happy New Year! Buying a first home is a milestone event for most people, so I hope you find a place that suits your lifestyle.

To make your resolution a reality, you should probably start by thinking carefully about both your needs and your finances. Talk to your lender about getting a pre-approval if you’re going to need a mortgage. Pre-approval does not guarantee that mortgage funds will be advanced, but it does give you an idea of the amount you may be able to borrow.

Remember that you’ll have to provide both a deposit and a down payment out of your own pocket. When you’re ready to begin the process, I recommend following these four must-do tips:

1) Interview at least three registered real estate salespeople to find one with experience buying and selling condos, and who understands your needs and finances.

2) Look them up on the Real Estate Council of Ontario’s website to ensure they’re registered to trade, and review their history of discipline.

3) Read and understand any documents you’re asked to sign.

4) Be an active participant in the buying process.

Buying a condo is a bit different than buying a detached or semi-detached property in the sense that you’re only purchasing shares in the condominium corporation that relate to a unit — yours — within a building. You’re not obtaining ownership of the land it’s on but you will have the right to use the common areas outside your suite, such as the hallways, gardens and other amenities.

You’re also expected to pay monthly condo fees for services such as security and maintenance, and to follow the condominium corporation’s bylaws. The bylaws may prevent you from smoking in your unit, owning a pet, hanging your preferred window coverings, renting the unit out to another tenant, or renovating without permission from the condo board. So it’s important to read them thoroughly before you sign. Admittedly, I was surprised at the restrictions when I bought my first condo.

You will need a lawyer who is insured to practise real estate law in order to close the transaction. It’s a good idea to hire one early in the process to review both the bylaws, and the condo’s status certificate, which contains information about the physical and financial state of the building. This is a crucial document. If the previous owner wasn’t up to date on their condo fees, you could find yourself responsible for any outstanding debts. Similarly, if the building needs major repairs or the condo corporation is experiencing financial issues, your monthly fees may increase. The cost of a status certificate is limited by law to $100.

Written by Joe Richer