Buying a condominium

In many ways buying a condominium unit is like buying a house, with brand-new and resale options.  But purchasing a condo does differ in several key ways.

When you buy a condominium unit, you:Couple is being handed keys to their new condo

  • buy a share of the property's common elements.
  • are responsible for a portion of thecommon expenses.
  • have the right to examine the corporation's records.

Understanding these condominium-specific facts enables you to better shop for the condominium that best fits your needs. Consider this list of tips.

  • Tour the condominium property to see all it has to offer.
  • Ask whether the unit you want to buy includes title to a parking spot, storage locker, and other assets outside the unit (you might need to rent these).
  • Do you own a pet? Many condos place limits on the number of pets and their size.
  • If you want to pay less in maintenance fees, look for condominiums with fewer amenities, like recreation centres and landscaped grounds.
  • Consider your total cost of living. A condominium that includes amenities, like a pool and gym, for instance, can cost you less overall than if you were to take out a membership at a fitness centre outside the condominium and pay common element fees.
  • Review the condominium corporation's status certificate for important information about the financial health of the corporation.

What is a status certificate?

Before you buy a resale condominium, you should get a status certificate. A status certificate contains important information about the unit you want to buy and the condominium corporation. 

Common expenses fee payment status

The current owner is responsible for paying the common expenses fee. The status certificate will tell you the amount of the common expenses fee for the unit. It will also tell you if the owner is up-to-date with the payments. If the owner is in arrears, you may owe these fees to the corporation if you buy the unit.

Condominium corporation financial status

The status certificate also provides information about the corporation's financial health. This information comes in several documents, including:

  • the condominium declaration stating what is part of your unit; specifies the common elements; shows the percentage of ownership each unit has in the common elements; and how much each owner pays in common expenses fees
  • restrictions on renting
  • the amount of common expenses
  • defaults in the status certificate itself
  • condominium by-laws and rules (these explain how the corporation runs and any limitations on owners)
  • the budget for the current fiscal year
  • the most recent audited financial report
  • the current status of the reserve fund
  • any special assessments currently in place
  • whether the corporation knows of any factors, such as upcoming repairs or renovations, that may result in future common expenses fee increases.

Examine the status certificate carefully. If you have difficulty understanding it, consult a lawyer and an accountant. 

The information in the status certificate may make you change your buying decision. That's why you can make your offer conditional on review of this certificate. If you find information that troubles you, you can back out of the purchase. 

In a newly-built condominium, this information is part of the disclosure statement.

Pre-construction or resale: What's right for you?

You can buy any type of home, including a condominium, either pre-construction (brand new) or as a resale.

Which is right for you? Consider the pros and cons of both:

Pre-construction

Pre-construction pros

  • Pre-construction units may feature lower prices than resale units (depending on market conditions).
  • You may have a greater choice of units within a building (if applicable).
  • You will enjoy upgrade choices (e.g. flooring, cabinetry, appliances).
  • You’ll face a lower likelihood of costly renovations before you move in.
  • You will have new home warranty protection.

Pre-construction cons

  • You can’t inspect the unit before you buy it.
  • Your initial deposit may be “tied up” for several years during construction.
  • If you occupy the unit as soon as possible, you must pay the builder rent until the builder (or declarant) registers the condominium corporation.
  • You may be required to move into a unit before you get title to your unit. Until the condominium corporation is registered, it cannot give you title to your unit. You may be required to pay occupancy fees for the unit until the title is transferred to you. This is sometimes also called "occupancy rent".
  • You may want to move into your unit while nearby units are under construction. 
  • If you move in while nearby units are under construction, noise and dust may be disruptive or affect your ability to work from home.
  • Any unforeseen delays during construction could postpone the date you take ownership of your unit.
  • It might be difficult to get a mortgage for a condominium that has not yet been registered.

Resale

Resale pros

  • You can inspect the unit you want to buy.
  • Getting a mortgage should be easier.
  • Older condominiums often feature larger units.
  • You should not have to wait long to occupy your unit.
  • You can request a status certificate. The certificate indicates whether the corporation is well-run.
  • You need a lower deposit for resale units.

Resale cons

  • Older units may have higher maintenance fees. (As a building ages, more things need to be repaired or replaced.)
  • Older buildings may not be as energy-efficient as newer buildings.
  • Fewer units are available to choose from in a building you might like.

Assignment: Another way to buy a pre-construction condominium

People generally buy new condominiums from the builder. You can also buy a pre-construction unit from someone who bought the unit from the builder but whose deal has not yet closed. This type of sale is called assignment.

An assignment is not straightforward for several reasons:

  • It is difficult to determine a fair price for a unit, and each case can be different.
  • The seller will want to both recoup all deposits and earn a profit on the sale.
  • There may be legal implications to consider. Always consult a qualified mortgage lawyer.