When buying a condo have a plan in place that includes the bigger picture


by Todd Lewys
So you’ve been searching the MLS® listings for a condominium and now you think you’ve found, “The One.”
REALTOR® Barry Greenberg said it’s important not to get caught up in all the excitement that comes with thinking you’ve discovered your dream home.
“You’ve got to look at the bigger picture,” he said. “Buying a home, be it a single family home or condo, is likely the biggest purchase a person will make in their lifetime. For that reason, you can’t afford to get caught up in all the glitz and glamour. You need to have a plan in place that will help you choose the condo that’s right for you.”
The first order of business should be enlisting the services of a REALTOR® who knows the condominium market, Greenberg added.
“Because there are so many nuances to buying a condo, I think it’s important that you get an experienced agent who really knows the ins and outs of the condo-buying process,” he said. “An agent who’s gone through the process countless times can be a real asset.”
One of those instances where experience can be invaluable is when a unit with an affordable price tag and low condominium fees pops up in the MLS® listings. REALTOR® Bill Thiessen said condo-savvy agents can alert buyers of suspect condominium conversion projects.
“Although new condominium laws are changing things for the better, I would still be leery of condo conversions,” he said. “You still have to be very careful, especially first-time buyers who might be putting five per cent down, and who don’t have a lot of money left after paying out the down payment and closing costs. They don’t need to be hit with a $15,000 special assessment a few months after they move in. It’s happened, and it can be devastating.”
“I would be wary of recent conversion projects,” said REALTOR® Blair Sonnichsen. “In many cases, they tend to have little or no reserve fund, a fact that can be easy to gloss over when a unit’s price and condominium fees are so affordable. 
“The problem is, the building may need a new boiler or roof only months after you’ve moved in. That may lead to cash call requirements (a sudden, unexpected special assessment). Conversion projects can be easy to buy into, but hard to sell out of,” he added.
Sonnichsen said the key to avoid such costly pitfalls is to get educated about the condo buying process.
“The important question you have to ask yourself is, ‘What am I buying into?’  That’s where an experienced REALTOR® will come in. He or she will help you go in with your eyes open so you know what questions to ask.”
Greenberg agreed with his colleague, adding that you can’t be afraid to ask pointed questions.
“Ask about the reserve fund, about when the roof, boiler, parking lot or parkade was done — you’re going to be living there,” he said. “If you’re seriously interested in a unit, go there several times — in the morning, afternoon and evening to check out the environment. Is there constant traffic, plane or ambulance noise? Is there a heavy-footed person above you? What’s crime like in the area? Do the same diligence with a condo as you would with a house. Quite often, condo buyers aren’t as diligent, and it costs them.”
Other key considerations in choosing a condo include a building’s construction. Concrete and steel structures are typically much quieter than wood frame structures. Which way does the unit face, for both daylight and privacy considerations? And does the complex deliver added value in the form of a gym, library, common room, indoor parking or cable?
And, is everything included in the condo fee, or do you have to pay extra for hydro and parking? 
Pay attention to all the little details, get educated and get the right advice, and chances are you will find the condo that’s right for you.
In May, WinnipegREALTORS® reported a significant 23-per-cent increase in condo sales when compared to the same month in 2012, as well as a nine-per-cent improvement in sales over the first five months of this year when compared to the same period last year.
A substanital portion of May’s condo sales were to first-time buyers.
“Affordable listings were clearly evident,” said WinnipegREALTORS® president Richard Dettman, “with 40 per cent of all condo sales happening in the $150,000 to $199,999 price range.”