Condominium Living

 

Peter Kirkham: 27 Apr 11

I would think that at our ages, it is better to rent than to buy.
 
Some factors:
1. Toronto is expensive, with a goodly supply of condos available.
It is easy to get in, for a price, but more difficult to get out, if you
change your mind, on location, condo style, or whatever.
 
2. in terms of cost, if you bought a middle of the road condo, in Toronto,
it would probably cost you $500k.
Expenses would look like the following:
a. mortgage $300k at 5%                          $15k
b. taxes                                                       $5k
c. condo fees                                               $5k
d. opportunity cost on investment return on
$200k down payment, at 7% investment
return                                                          $14k
e. insurance                                                  $2k
 
Total                                                           $41k per year
 
Without considering real estate fees, lawyer fees, etc.
 
Further, if you don't like your choice of either location,
or type of condo, or your neighbors in the building,
you can move without hassle.
 
Then there is the ease of liquidating the real estate
when we reach the end of the line.
 
All in all, at our age, unless one has money to burn,
and we don't care about spending it, I think the most
realistic avenue of choice is "rental".
 
For what it is worth.

 


Bill Lynn: 26 Apr 11

Having lived in the same 1000 sq ft bungalow in Lachine since 1965 (we did add a 200 sq ft sunroom in 1989), Marg and I have started to consider accommodation with less upkeep responsibility. Also, our family live in Toronto, so we are thinking about moving there - quite daunting, since we think of Toronto as a hectic (and expensive) zoo compared to Lachine.
 
Since an objective is reduced upkeep responsibility, I don't know whether to think condo or rental apartment, especially after reading some of the condo upkeep concerns on your web site (and your decision to go back to a house!).
 
We are thinking of an area in the triangle bounded by Broadview at Queen (son), Sherwood Avenue (sister), and Bowmanville (Marg's brother). (London England (daughter) is not in the equation.) Something gives me the impression that Ray Cutler lives in a condo within that area. If I have that right, could you please send me his email address so I can pick his brain if required?

WIH: 07 June 10

In answer to Emil's observation, although not discussed on this page, I think we all consider the orientation of a house. Eleanor & I visited the empty lot several times at different times of the day to check on the position of the sun before we decided to build here. Eleanor always wants a bright kitchen, something she had in the condo and we have here. It's our living room windows that face approximately north. The family room/kitchen area is open with windows that face south and west, overlooking a park to the south, and a bit of a view of the snow-capped Beaufort Range. The west-facing windows are partially shaded by a neighbour's dogwood and a conifer, but the south are not at all shaded. The two windows of the master bedroom also face south but that was necessary to provide a separation from the guest bedroom and bathroom. That means dark shades in the master bedroom since the summer sun is an early riser at 50 degrees north (even more so at Emil's latitude in Edmonton).

Many new homes in this area have heat pumps, a system well suited to the temperate climate here on the Island. The technology of heat pumps has improved considerably since we purchased our first, a Carrier, in 1983. Our present Lennox is the fourth we've had. The only knock I would give heat pumps is the inadequacy of the warranty. 10 years on the compressor sounds good but that's parts only. You'll pay to ship the unit from Texas and the labour to install it as we did with our last one. Also the motor and compressor are unitized; if one fails, you must buy both. Although the energy efficiency for heating runs about 3 to 1, the cost of service and repairs will probably eat up your energy savings. The real value of a heat pump is its ability to both heat and cool. One caveat; check on the reputation of the dealer/installer. Sizing is critical. Too big and the unit may freeze on AC; too small and it may not heat adequately.

Emil mentions triple glazing for windows. In my several trips to Sweden I found that was the norm in new homes. Also, the code restricted the amount of glass surface that could be installed in a new home. Swedish visitors to our home in Prince George were fascinated by the diversity of the homes in our area.

Emil mentions the value of large windows that face south. We had that in Sechelt for 12 years. Although glass cuts UV considerably, we found the UV rotted out materials in a sofa and a chair that were exposed to the large south-facing windows.


Emil Bizon: 7 June 10

I have not been reading the section on condos as it was not of direct interest. Your last entry caught my eye and I then noticed your note about moving to a bungalow for stated reasons, which I agree with. Good luck and enjoy your new home.
 
While looking at other entries, some dealing with reasons for going to a condo which, I think, are quite personal and others stating the factors to consider when choosing one, I also noted items on the need for room air conditioners.
 
At this point it became evident that the most serious factor in choosing a home was not mentioned and leads to the emphasis on air conditioning units. I am talking about the orientation of a home in relation to the sun. The factor of solar heat gain is not recognized by the general population but one would assume some of our technically minded classmates would be cognizant of this.
 
So to restate the obvious, the solar gain is a function of the angle of incidence of the sun's  rays to a window. This is an approximate sinusoidal relationship; at right angles almost all of the suns energy- 1400 watts/m˛ passes through. At smaller angles an increasing portion is reflected back. The angle to be considered is the combination of azimuth and elevation. Thus at noon in the summer, the high elevation of the sun results in little transmission into the interior. As the sun either rises in the morning or sets in the afternoon, it will be close to normal to the window surface for a long time as the azimuth angle traverses through ninety degrees and heat pours in for six or more hours in either case.
 
In the winter when some free heat is welcome. A south facing window will provide it because now the elevation of the sun is very low and mid-day significant energy passes into the interior. West and east facing glass sees the sun at a very oblique angle and the energy is reflected outwards.
 
The best choice for big windows is, therefore, south facing, with some roof overhang. Second best is north facing which provides no free heat in the winter but no solar gain of significance in the summer. The worst is a west window because heat gain is high on top of an already warm space. East facing is not much better because, as any one experiencing it knows, one gets up to an already overheated space.
 
I would, as a personal choice, not accept windows that do not open, partly for the inevitable claustrophobic feeling I get is such spaces.
 
It will be stated by some that the new heat reflecting glass now available will mitigate these effects. The benefit is real but not huge and I would suspect that most condo builders use the cheapest available windows. In our Alberta climate triple glass with argon should be in the building code but is not and many people end up replacing contractor's windows.

Fro Renaud: 01 June 10

I have lived in a Condo since 1990 and the adaptation was relatively easy at that age and having already moved from a house in Montreal to a much smaller one in Kelowna in 1980, everything was "deja vu all over again."
 
I am now in my third Condo as I am still a working stiff , and our tastes have become more expensive with the years. I cannot emphasize enough Location, location, location. Balcony or Balconies are a must. A great view is also well worth it as you will spend time looking out. A good view from your computer room is also a great asset.  A relatively new Condo is a good idea as strata fees will not be hit too hard by needed repairs. A Brand New Condo, particularly one under construction, should be avoided as I know a lot of my retired clients who have had regrets as the building either did not turn out to be well managed or was very different from the plans. A mature Condo with have a track record, easy to check out.
 
Please ensure most of all you have a QUIET location. Stay away from Highways or busy streets. They will keep you awake.
 
Size: Having tried different ones, I recommend not less that 1100 square feet, but not more than 1500 as the maintenance gets to be more problematic over that size. I believe Jeep Fortier would probably also give you good advice, as I found his just excellent.
 
At our age Exercise and Bicycle Rooms are must, more that a Hot Tub or a swimming pool.

WIH: 01 Jun 10

Bill Campbell raises the issue of "stuff" in the process of downsizing. Eleanor and I are frequently amused as we walk in the evening to see numerous double garages with vehicles parked in the driveway because the garage is one big storage room. When the door is open, it's not difficult to conclude that much of the "stuff" is not worth saving. To allow a wife to decide what a husband should discard and vice versa might work but the marriage might not survive.

To "save it for the children" is often misguided because they too often reside in a constrained area. And the old styles are often simply not wanted, particularly if they take up a lot of space  or are simply dust collecting "collectables".  The flea markets and mall sales tables are full of "collectables" that nobody wants. Having been executor and cleaned up a couple of estates, I'm determined not to leave that kind of mess behind for our children.


Bill Campbell: 14 Apr 10

Why make the transition from a 3000 sq. ft. two or three storey home with a full basement and a nice garden and lawn to a 1500 to 2000 sq. ft. box in the sky with a small storage area in the basement?

1.      We are not getting any younger and the inevitability of the aging process guarantees that, sooner or later, we and our spouses will not be able to safely navigate stairs, shovel snow and navigate icy sidewalks. Even driving an automobile will someday present a challenge.

2.      The longer the transition is delayed the harder it will be to initiate and accomplish it. In fact it may come to the point that you are unable to do the work involved in downsizing. Impediments could be: 1) physical ability to lift, twist and bend, 2) vision problems that come with age, e.g. macular degeneration, 3) catastrophic illness striking like stroke or heart disease

The hardest part of this transition is the actual downsizing process. It takes hours and hours to sift through the “stuff” that you have lovingly accumulated over the years and to decide what moves with you, what can be given to the kids, and what must be disposed of. Even though you know for years that this task must someday be done the reality of procrastination and lack of self discipline means that very little will be accomplished until you have a deadline for moving out. Then the real work begins. Of course it is hard to know what to keep until you have picked your dream condo.

What should you look for in your condo?

The first issue is whether to buy a brand new condo that is still on the drawing board – or buy a “mature” unit with a view to making changes or renovations to suit your needs.

1.      A new condo has a few uncertainties about it: When will it be ready for moving into? Will the new group of residents create an effective condo board? What surprises will there be?

2.      Renovating a mature condo also has the uncertainty of when it will be ready for moving in and the cost of the renovation may become much larger than what you budgeted for. However an established condo board with a proven track record and a comfortable reserve fund is a big plus for the new condo owner. There is likely less uncertainty with a mature unit concerning the planned date to move in.

What features should you consider in your condo?

Location, location, location. With and eye on the day that you will not be able to drive - buy in a community that has all the amenities for living within walking distance. i.e. grocery shopping, liquor and beer stores, bank, general shopping, farmers market, restaurants, galleries, access to public paths for walking and cycling and public transport.

1.   Go for the largest space you can afford and have it on one level only – your storage unit may have to be an exception.

2.  Have a balcony that will enable you to still cook on the Weber grill

3.  Be sure your building has a pool, exercise room, bicycle storage room and a party room.

4.  24/7 security or concierge service is a big plus. Newspapers get delivered to your door, someone will sign for your FedEx parcels, and there is someone there to call if there is a problem. Of course there will be some effect on the condo fees.

5.   Wheel-chair access for “aging-in-place”. If you do a major renovation seriously consider this feature. It may add years to your ability to live reasonably comfortably in your condo.

6.   Make sure your condo choice has a good management company, an effective condominium board and that there are no internal divisions in your new “Vertical Village”.  Check out the health of the reserve fund. Is it sufficient given the age of the building and the general condition of the common areas? If you are moving into a brand new building are you prepared to play a leadership role in getting the new condo board up and running?

Three years ago we moved into the 23rd floor of the St. George, a condo in the Byward Market in downtown Ottawa. It is an older building, 21 years to be exact. We did a complete renovation, i.e. every interior wall but one was torn out and replaced with an open design that has the entrance, and the master bedroom suite wheel-chair accessible. It took longer than we had expected and cost more than we planned. However we are thoroughly pleased with our decision to move to where we are now and to do the renovations we did. The place gets a “Wow!” from those coming into our home for the first time.  The only lack is the building does not have a party room so we use the lobby for condo social gatherings. We worked with a contractor who also had a resident designer so we did not pay extra for designer fees. 

If you are contemplating downsizing – “Do It Now!” At our age the longer you wait the harder it will be to accomplish.


WIH: 21 Oct 09

I know this is an old discussion but I thought I should explain why Eleanor and I now plan to return to a single family dwelling in April, 2010.

Our decision to abandon condo living does not reflect on Marina Place nor the residents who live here, but on a combination of factors.
 
First is the uncertainty factor. We've been fortunate that the woman who owns the unit above us visits only about 12 days/year, so our unit is deadly quiet. But that could change if the unit above is sold. Also, it would take only one bad apple to destroy the convivial environment that exists among the residents, and there have been one or two here before our time.
 
Condo living is becoming increasingly complicated. Recently I read through a 26-page document from the Office of the Information Privacy Commissioner that dictates that all stratas must appoint an Information Privacy Officer who will collect only the information allowed under the act and will ensure that it is securely stored and used only for the allowed purposes. There's also the Human Right's Act and a whole set of new regulations to flow from Bill 8, recently passed amendments to the BC Strata Property Act. A small strata like this one (16 units) simply cannot afford a lot of management service, so it falls to the Strata Council, and more particularly to its president who happens to be me, to look after all this administration. I also shovel snow, sweep the driveway and garage, move the recycle barrels to the curb, organize needed inspections for fire protection and building envelope integrity, etc., etc. As one of my classmates correctly warned earlier in this discussion, this could become a way of life. Only one other resident has offered help. Admittedly, several are too old and frail to do so, but i can't even get sufficient resident owners to serve on council.
 
Finally, although we have one of the best units in the complex and, at 1485 sq. ft., it's considered a fairly large condo, we have felt cramped. Our hall takes up a lot of the area and we lack adequate storage for the junk we still refuse to chuck.

So we have agreed to have a rancher built to our specification and the completion date is set for 15 Apr 10. Does anyone have a pickup I may borrow?


WIH: 06 Oct 08

At the expense of adding to Tom Drummond's negative views of condo living, I'm posting a tongue-in-cheek account of a typical day in retirement in a senior's condo development. It did not come from a classmate but from a friend who is older than I am but does not live in a condo.

A TYPICAL DAY IN RETIREMENT IN FLORIDA

We get up at 5:00 am, have a quick breakfast and join the early morning Walk and Talk Club. There are about 30 of us. Rain or shine we walk around the streets, all talking at once. After a nimble walk avoiding irate drivers out to make us road kill, we go back home, shower and change for the next activity.

My wife goes directly to the pool for her under water Pilates class, followed by gasping for breath and CPR. I put on my 'Ask me about my Grandchildren' T-shirt, my mid-calf shorts, my socks and sandals and go to the club house lobby for a nice nap.

Before you know it it's time for lunch. We go to Costco to partake of the many tasty samples dispensed by ladies in white hair nets. All free! After a filling lunch, if we don't have any doctor appointments, we might go to the flea market to buy a Rolex watch for $2.00.

We're usually back home by 2 PM to get ready for dinner. People start lining up for the early bird about 3 PM, but we get there by 3:45 because we are late eaters. The dinners are very popular because of the large portions they serve. You can take home enough food for the next day's lunch and dinner, including
extra bread, crackers, sweet-and-low packets and mints.

At 5:30 pm we're home ready to watch the 6 o'clock news. By 6:30 we're fast asleep. Then we get up and make 5 or 6 trips to the bathroom during the night and it's time to get up and start a new day all over again.

Doctor related activities will eat up most of your retirement time. I enjoy reading old magazines in sub zero temperatures in the waiting room, so I don't mind. Calling for test results also help the days fly by. It takes at least half an hour just getting through the doctor's phone menu. Then there is the hold time until you are connected to the right party. Sometimes they forget you are holding, and the whole office goes to lunch.

Many of the receptionists are quite rude. They keep you standing at that dopey little, closed glass window, totally ignoring you. After 1/2 an hour, I ignore the 'Do not tap on the window' sign and tap on the window. This always drives them nuts. If you do, they put down their Egg McMuffin or their copy of the Enquirer, and fling open the window, ready for a fight. I lie, explaining I tapped on the window accidentally because I have Parkinson's.

They claim they are required to keep the window closed because of the privacy law but I don't believe it. Are they afraid if I were to overhear Sol Lipshitz has hemorrhoids, that I would blackmail him or sell the information to a foreign government? In Florida everyone has hemorrhoids!

Choosing a development with suitable amenities is an important decision. The various clubs in these communities provide most of the activities. Our development has over 300 clubs. There's something for everyone. Clubs like the kidney donating club, the Taliban Club, the East meets West club, not to be confused with the West meets East club, etc. A truly active community is one where the ambulance is there several times a day and is part of the Travel Club.

Mostly, it's important to choose a development with an impressive name. Italian names are very popular in Florida. They convey... world traveler, uppity sophistication and wealth. Where would you rather live... Murray's Condo's or the Lakes Of Venice? There is no difference. They are both owned by Murray who happens to be a cheap SOB.

I hope this material has been of some help to you future retirees. If I can be of any further assistance, please look me up when you're in Florida. I live in 'The Leaning Condos of Pisa,' in Boynton Beach.


 

View from the Nearby Seawalk      22 Sep 08


WIH: 14 Sep 08

Tom Drummond & I had a side discussion about air conditioners that can be used in condos where central A/C does not exist and window units are either unsuitable or verboten. Tom had the last word with the following.

"Just to finish up on the portable air conditioner topic, I found a 12000 BTU single hose unit, a Kenmore #35712. It will cool a space of 700 sq. ft.   The portables are generally quite pricey, and the regular price for this was $799. At the moment they are clearing this year's stock for $599. The smaller units, say 9000 BTU run about $499. My daughter Sue just ordered a 12000 unit on-line from Sears with no hassle, and it will be delivered next Friday.
 
The water from the cooling/dehumidifying process is evaporated and dumped out with the exhaust air, so emptying water receptacles is not required. The unit also has a remote control. If you want to see the specs go on-line to Sears and look at unit #35712.
 
The cost for replacing window screens with acrylic sheets with 4" hose adapters is about 40-50 dollars each. The plastics company does all the drilling and cutting for that price, depending on size."

WIH: 12 Sep 08

One conclusion I'm drawing from all of this discussion is that an increase in the number of units in a strata does not increase efficiency and thereby reduce costs. There seems to be a "tipping" point where the operation requires professional management and the bureaucracy that goes with it; property manager, office manager, security personnel, etc. The "mom & pop shop" arrangement we have becomes a real corporation. I wonder where that "tipping" point is?

(As an aside, I must relate that Eleanor and I visited an open house for a new 12-unit condo [6 unsold, 1800 sq. ft., priced at ~$600k] built over the new Comox library about two blocks from our condo. A lot of effort was put into the interiors. One unit had a completely tiled shower about the size of a small den. There were two standpipes and eight nozzles. I'd say it could comfortably accommodate two couples; not my idea of a senior's building.)


Peter Kirkham: 12 Sep 08

Ray's summary could be used to describe our situation also, except Terry and I  have 2 parking places (owned), and our monthly fees do not include cable TV. Our building consists of 124 units, of 1850 square ft each, on 16 floors. We have all of the recreational, and other facilities, identified by Ray, except they service  only one building.

In terms of Ontario, because of the reserve fund legislation that states each condo association must have a "30 year reserve plan" and a "30 year financial plan" to support the reserve plan, there can be little ambiguity about how much must be contributed to the reserve plan each month, and the total amount that must be contributed over a 30 year period. The reserve fund cannot be in deficit. The only potential discrepancies are the "time profile" of the contributions, and a "total amount discrepancy" that could arise if the association ,deliberately or unintentionally,  undervalues the cost of the major repairs and replacements. (this situation would elicit "special assessments" from the owners to cover the deficits).

In our case, we pay approximately 40 cents per square foot per month for condo fees. Of this, we are contributing 13 cents to the reserve fund per month.

Cost per square foot, is the common "metric" for comparing buildings, monthly fees, and adequacy of reserve funds.

In those provinces that do not have specific legislation, I would think a persuasive  argument could be made to the board members, and owners, that a "home made plan", embodying the above principles, was a practical approach to their situation. The "time period" need not be 30 years, but should reflect the age of the building and its physical state. I would think that one needs at least a 10 year period for the plan, rolling it over each year. Such a time frame should give residents sufficient time to plan both their equipment repairs and replacements, and time to assemble the funds, through monthly contributions, to pay for such work and equipment.


Ray Cutler: 12 Sep 08

..... Sorry I missed your call. I had just gone out to take some more pine bugs off my car. It was parked at the marina for 10 days and picked up a lot of white spots backed with pine tar. It took a while to find out what could remove this stuff. Then it was a lot of work to get it off. After softening the spots the best device was my finger nail.

Diane said you would like a memo on Condo living for the Web site. I have attached a brief write-up or our experience. If anyone in Ontario wants a chat about this type of living they could give me a call or an e-mail.  (Contact info will be sent on request...WIH)

I hope you and Eleanor are still being as active as ever and that you had a good summer. While the weather wasn't as good as past summers we had a good
time. It was a painting one for me as I painted the steps leading down to the dock and did the ceilings inside the cottage. The weather was good for that. We are now engaged in our Fall  and winter activities. The new building that I oversee a bit of is going to be complete this Fall and we hope to move the residents from the old building to the new in December......

Living in Condos in Ontario

 

Reason for the Move from a House to a Condo:

·         Getting older

Did not want to maintain a cottage and a house

·         Convenience to have other people do all the outside maintenance

·         Sense of security especially when on trips or holidays

·         Availability of tennis courts, pools, carpenter shop, exercise room etc.

·         Shopping center you can walk to.

·         Secure property

 

Personal Experience

            We have lived in our condo for 20 years and have enjoyed the experience. Our place is about 1800 sq. ft. and has a living-dining room, eat-in kitchen, den, bedroom with wash-room, laundry area, small storage area, master bedroom with ensuite including a walk-in closet. Our unit also includes a large sun-room the width of  the unit. Our unit is on the 7th floor. We have a parking space and rent another one. We do not have a storage locker and don’t miss one. There are a number of social groups that one can join (bridge, tennis, golf, music, exercise etc.) so that you can always find something to do. Our maintenance fee is $640 a month (36 cents /sq. ft.) and includes water, hydro, gas and cable TV. Computer and telephone costs are not included.

Condo Operation

                    I joined the Board about 10 years ago and have been President for the last 4 years.

Our Condo consists of 269 units on 23 floors and we share a common recreation center with a sister building. Both condos share in the running of this center. Our board consists of 5 members who meet once a month except in the summer. We employ a professional condo management firm and the Board oversees their management of the complex. We do not do the work ourselves. We hire directly the building superintendent but the Management firm hires the full-time office manager. Our operating budget is about 1.5 million with a reserve fund of currently $500,000 and growing. The building is 25 years old so there is a lot of maintaining to do.

Thinks to look for in going into a Condo


Tom Drummond: 28 Aug 08

The discussion on condominium living has been very interesting. I was surprised however that I was the only participant that was not already living in a condo. For me, the whole aspect of downsizing, adjusting to a new type of residency, and the risks and pitfalls of a move and significant change in lifestyle are indeed somewhat daunting. For most of us, this upheaval probably has to occur sometime while we still have our faculties and control of our own lives, rather than waiting until we are so incapable that someone makes these decisions for us, and not necessarily to our liking.

The information provided on condo costs, fees, etc. was very helpful, as was the organization, management and administration involved in condo living. Also, there were helpful inputs on facilities, security and options available (condo vs. townhouse for example). Many thanks to those who passed on their experience to a novice like me.

Naturally, in the past, I have visited friends and relatives in their condo/townhouse residences, but I always came away with the thought of the old adage “ it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t like to live there”. The main hurdle that we “large house/large property” folks have to get through our heads is that most of us (not all) HAVE to pull the plug at some point. The question of when is the big issue. There is certainly no magic formula that fits all. Our individual interests, needs and lifestyle all are different. For example, for me, living in a high-rise condo would be like having my residence in NDHQ, and saying good morning to Frank and Ralph every morning in the elevator.

I have had discussions with Bill, our venerable webmaster, on the importance of making lists of our priorities, needs and bottom-lines before venturing into the real estate world. To that end, Terry and I looked at a few local new town houses in our area, to get some idea of what we could expect. Frankly, it was a terrible shock. The predominant issue was the matter of size. The units (actually single homes not linked) were in the range of 1400-1600 sq. ft. There was a unit on either side, and another on the back - each a few meters away. The “private garden” was more like a dog run for a three-legged Chihuahua.

On the inside it was an “open concept”, and indeed it did give the impression of more space than the square footage would suggest. The entrance way, hallway, kitchen, dining area and living room seemed quite good except when you looked at the tiny kitchen cupboard space and small eating and living room area. The overly large entranceway and hall came at a terrible price. The illusion of open space quickly vanished when you entered a bedroom, bathroom or den. Also, even for a single story unit, there were a few steps to negotiate either front or back. It would be easy to install a wheelchair ramp however, if needed.

A very important factor not yet discussed is the realization that re-furnishing to some significant degree is going to be required. It would have been impossible to get our existing bedroom furniture into the master bedroom of the townhouse. Many of the pieces are just too large (king-size, etc.) We would have to dispose of much of our existing furniture and replace it, at some considerable cost. The same holds true for the other rooms.

So, where do we stand at the moment. We will continue to investigate other properties as they come forward. However, we WILL NOT be in a rush to move. At the moment we are able to manage a large home and property, both physically and financially. Where we need upkeep help, we will hire it. I just can’t cash-in my enjoyable lifestyle, hobbies and interests to replace it with an unsatisfactory property unless the right opportunity comes along.

Are there ANY others out there who feel as I do?

Thomas:

Just a couple of quick replies. First, I think it's better to act a little too soon than a little too late. And consider the almost inevitable, when one of you will live alone. Secondly, to contradict an old saying, you must learn to think inside the box. Gone are our big desks in separate offices. Gone are the dedicated guest rooms. Our guest bedroom now has a wall-length unit that contains a double wall bed that, in the raised position, reveals a fold-down table. On both sides of the bed are desks, bookshelves and drawers. Our computers are now wireless laptops. With most needs now within walking distance, the Volvo and Forester have been replaced by a new Murano with memory-controlled pedals, mirrors and seat to conveniently accommodate our different sizes. Our driving has dropped from 20k km/year to <10k. Remember, live long enough and one day you will not be able to drive.

Like you, Eleanor and I looked at other strata variants such as town houses and patio homes. We did not look at high rises because they do not (yet?) exist in the Comox Valley or Campbell River. In a 16-unit condo such as ours you seldom meet anyone on the elevator or in the halls. And, with a 55+ by-law for residents, it becomes a rather pleasant little community. Yes, I too would reject a high-rise. I would also reject a condo that had mixed commercial and residential ownership; it complicates management and tends to be dominated by the commercial element.

Get a record of sales for a strata; it's a measure of satisfaction. In Campbell River there's a 2-building condominium complex of about 50 units that has 10 "For Sale" signs hanging out front. Here we still have a few residents who bought from the developer in 1990, and there have been no sales or listings since we bought in May, 2007.

Finally, management here is wonderful! After all, I'm president of council, or the chief "condo Nazi" to use your phrase.


Don Lefroy: 31 July 08

Your addition of Condo living and the input from several ex-Cadets is getting quite interesting and informative.  I also live in a waterfront condo in Kingston - have been in touch with Peter Kirkham. He was most gracious and supplied me with info regarding Board meetings and financial "stuff".  Since Don Gregory has also implied that he would be disposed to help out if one needed information, can you please send me his e-mail address - for me - the Condominium Act is not so easy to decipher - need a few clarifications.

When there is an exchange of information as Don has requested I hope that it will be shared with the class through this thread. Most classmates live in Ontario where, as we've seen below, the Strata Property Act differs from B.C, so Don is looking in the right place for information.

Shortly after I became president of our strata council, I attended a seminar, one of several regional seminars organized by CHOA (Condo Home Owners Association of BC). Most attendees were, like me, relatively new to their strata councils. But I was still surprised by how little many of them knew about what they had taken on. Bear in mind that there are no monster condos in our region and there is usually a distinct menopausal hue among the residents. So council elections normally consist of strong-arming three or four bodies to form the required council.

I strongly recommend the very well written articles in the Condo Smarts link near the bottom of this page. The articles are written in answer to questions from condo owners and most of the material is applicable to condos of any size in any province. For example, this week's column dealt with the need to respect Human Rights Legislation.   WIH


WIH: 16 July 08

Ian is the first to suggest the possibility of an attitude change because of the coming Boomer surge, that they're more affluent and tend to be more socially distant than our generation.

I agree that the affluence is prevalent but there is also increased spending. "Saving for a rainy day" seems to have died with our generation. Also, I suspect, fewer of them have the defined benefit retirement plans that were part of our employment benefits.

Social distance may just be a function of age rather than generation. When we're retired, we tend to draw closer to family and have more time to socialize. Also, as Ian has described, the "vertical" living and shared facilities of a condo tend to bring people together. The single family dwelling tends to keep residents separated because they share so little.


Tom Drummond: 15 Jul 08

I also called our local home security company to find out what I could about the problem. He said that many of the newer keyed locks can't be bumped because they are fitted with mushroom pins as opposed to cylindrical pins. We have Schlage locks under ten years old, and they are OK. Further, they can't be picked. If we lose our keys the lock would have to be destroyed to gain entry.
 
I asked what make of lock was most vulnerable, and he said Wieser could still be bumped.
 
In your capacity as condo committee chairman, it might be a good idea to get a locksmith over to examine the existing building locks before investing is total replacements. Some makes which were vulnerable in the past have been improved in later models, so you have to know what model you have.

(Our exterior locks were all 18-year-old Weisers. I had them replaced with the patented Abloy. Only a dealer can give you a key and you must present the ownership card you received when you bought the locks in order to purchase a duplicate key.  BTW, it wasn't necessary to change the entire lockset, just the cylinder.   WIH)


Ian Isbester: 15 July 08

A number of interesting points have been made and most of them I can probably endorse to some extent. I have been living the condo life now for some 28 years, having moved into a condo in 1980. It is a 314 unit condo based on a 25 storey high rise and 16 low rise town house style accommodations, on the edge of the Ottawa River with beautiful views over the river and Gatineau hills. It has a pool, party room, 360 car underground garage, exercise room, workshop, tuck shop, central laundry, guest suites, squash court as well as about 40 visitor parking spots. I have also spent 16 years on the Board of Directors and 13 of those years as the President. If you allow it, it can become a full time job. Last fall I made it clear that I had had enough and stood down from the Board at the AGM.

While I think I could probably write a book on the topic by now I think that I would simply note that a well run management company and a well qualified property manager make all the difference in whether the building is successfully run or moves from catastrophe to tragedy. In my experiences in Ottawa over these 28 years I have seem both, but fortunately never in our condo.

Reflecting back, it may be recalled that condo living, in the early days, was seen as a bit of utopia. You bought in and there were no more expenses! Well maybe some minor expenses but nothing like the cost of maintaining a single family home. As some have noted, this turned out not to be true. Condo fees in our condo run in the order of 50 cents per square foot ($5.00 per sq m for those who are up to understanding this conversion) per month and property taxes are almost in lockstep with condo fees. The fees include all utilities, except telephone. It has been our experience that there is a three way split of the money. One third to Reserve Fund, one third to utilities and the remaining third to operations.

Latterly, with the third revision to the condo law in Ontario now as our guide, I have been pushing that the Board should stop trying to manage the condo and leave that to the manager. The Board should focus on the management of the services provided by the management company and should focus on policies, plans and expectations of the community and the assessment of the performance of the management company in meeting these policies etc. This will provide consistency in management as membership on the Board changes.

A vertical village was mentioned and this is one of the real features of condo living. There are always lively chats (the Senators blew it again) on the elevators and there are such things as bridge, euchre, pot lucks, BBQs, coffee gatherings, etc which serve to really integrate a large portion of the residents. Sure, there are rules but they must be passed by the community as a whole and the Act requires (without being specific) that they must be reasonable.

The biggest change I foresee in condo living is the developing influx of Baby Boomers. This will inevitably mean changes to the condo common elements and facilities as their decor expectations are different than the older generation and they do seem to have a bit more loose change to spend. They also tend to be more distant than the older generation.  Time will tell.

Feel free to edit this all you want.  I do tend to go on as it has been a major focus of mine over the last 28 years.

(Ian's contribution has not been edited for content (how could I edit such an experienced voice?), but one spelling mistake was corrected. Tch. Ian may not be ready to write a book but I hope he feels free to offer further advice on condo management.)


WIH: 14 July 08

Thomas, in spite of the opinion of lawyers that you expressed below, I hope that you will have a look at this link to The Canadian Bar Association's web site. http://www.cba.org/BC/public_media/housing/401.aspx  Admittedly, it's only a basic primer on strata ownership but it's a start.


Tom Drummond: 14 July 08

It occurs to me that our brethren in the have-not East may be confused as to the jargon of "Strata". Frankly, I don't know too much about it myself, except for some exposure in the disposal of my deceased mother-in-law's estate. I don't know whether other parts of Canada have such a daft thing, so you might wish to provide a brief definition in the Discussion. I do know that Strata is used in Australia as well as here in the land of the fruits and nuts.
 
My own cynical thoughts are that it provides yet another dimension for our blood-sucking lawyers and maybe provincial government to get into our pockets.

Don Gregory: 14 July 08

Since Peter Kirkham spoke of me in reference to condo living, I thought I might add a few words to the discussion.  Yes, I live in a condo - 28 floors, 218 apartments, age 30 years, location backing on the Western Parkway in Ottawa.  I am presently the president of the Board of Directors (7 people) and am kept quite busy trying to keep the place going and, hopefully, keep the residents happy.  This is difficult right now because we are undergoing an incredibly noisy major balcony renovation - $2.3 million over two summers.  This is a refurbishing that has been needed for some time and was delayed, (put off, forgotten) by a number of previous Boards and we have had to assess $2.0 million to pay for it.  This plus many other smaller projects one would expect in a building of this age eat up the moneys collected.  We spend, by the way, about $1.2 million per year including the utilities, which are included in the condo fees.

For those who are considering this type of move into a condo there are a number of factors to consider; many of which have been covered by others.  My math has always been terrible so I won't attempt to give you any exact numbers.  What I will say at the outset is that one should not believe one's real estate agent or lawyer completely when they say the building is in good shape.  The figures that I was given relating to the financial health of the reserve fund were inaccurate in that the reserve fund study that was being utilized had been done by someone under the influence of a hallucinogen.   E.g. a roof replacement contract which
was projected at $168,000 came in at $345,000 .  The lawyer nor the agent probably could not have known this but it happened.  The status certificate (or estoppel in old terms) contains only what is known but does not have to say what might be on the horizon.  There are a number of other things that I have learned but I will leave it that if someone has a specific question they can e-mail me and I will attempt to answer.

On the social side, one needs to look at the demographics of the building.  How many renters in the population, how long have folks lived in the building, the general age group and one I found that was certainly important to me is: do they say hello to you on the elevators.  A high rise condo is ,as one of my friends says, a vertical village and it is nicer if people talk to each other and have a number of social activities to gather them together each week or month.  If you are
interested in a building, find an older resident and pump them for this kind of information.

Enough for now.  If anyone wants a further dissertation on a special area, I would be happy to comply.  I leave the stats to our more capable classmates but I have had to learn a great deal about condos since joining the Board 2 years ago.  I can quote sections of the Condominium Act of Ontario 1998 and am getting familiar with some legal issues.  This has been a real education for me.


Tom Drummond: 13 July 08

I very much appreciated that tip on the lock bumping technique. This is required reading.

(Ummm .. please remember that my objective was to thwart it, not to have it used for personal gain...WIH)


Peter Kirkham: 13 July 08

(Peter and Terry live in a luxury high rise condo on downtown waterfront in Kingston .. WIH)

Last year a widow from Kingston was moving to Toronto and was thinking about buying a condo, but knew nothing about condos or the condo market. I put a
couple of notes together for her to at least get her started. Attached is a general note on some of the factors that one needs to be aware of and consider in any condo purchase. condo facts and observations

This same lady thought condo fees were high. I put together the attached cost comparison, to show her how she could compare the condo fees with the expense of maintaining a house. The attached example is actually our costs in our building for 2007.This attachment is also helpful in comparing condo fees between different condos. The only way to compare the monthly costs of different condos is to reduce the costs to a monthly cost per square foot, and then compare. Different condos will have different cost elements included in their condo fees, so it is important to identify what is included in costs, and what is excluded. In the example everything is included ,including heat and electricity.  Different amenities, like heated swimming pools, etc., can have a major impact also. The rule is "if you  are not going to use the amenities you should look for a building without them", because you will be paying for them in any event if they are there. Also, it is important to note how much of the monthly condo fees are going to building the "reserve fund". As a rule of thumb, condo fees seem to run from about 30 cents per square foot per month (in a building with few amenities) , to 50 cents or 60 cents in Toronto when one includes a concierge, etc.

Hope this info will be helpful.

(Peter provided another of his studies on Excel which refuses to covert to hypertext without losing its page structure. I could print and convert it to jpeg but, with print big enough to be read, it  would mean constant scrolling in both directions. Once again I'll summarize and add to Peter's figures. WIH

  Kingston Comox
Type (both examples are waterfront or semi-waterfront with views) High Rise - High Living -118 units Low Rise - Low Brow -16 Units
Annual Service, Maintenance, Labour, Utilities, Common Area Taxes, Reserve Fund Allocation, Contingency, Financial/Legal/Audit, etc. $973,515 $36,200
Cost per unit per year $8,250 $2,263
Square Footage (typical) 1850 1485
Cost per sq. ft. per year $4.46 $1.52
Monthly Fees (typical) $688 $189
Property Taxes per unit per year (typical) $5,600 $1,926
Purchase Costs $600K $325K
 

As a result of our conversation, I would suggest that we might add that out of the $688 monthly fee in our building, $240 goes into  the reserve fund, which is a capital fund required for building maintenance and repair.. This may be an important observation given your comment that many jurisdictions do not have legislation that requires "pre-funding" maintenance and equipment replacement in buildings.

As I observed, in Ontario, provincial legislation requires all condo associations to have a "reserve study plan" for maintenance and replacement of all major repairs and equipment, for a planned period of 30 years into the future. In addition, there must be an existing  "financial plan" in place that documents how the "reserve plan" is going to be financed.
It is in this context that the $240 monthly fee, designated for the reserve fund, fits into the scheme of things. Peter

I spoke to Don Gregory yesterday ( at the Ottawa golf tournament). He is, like you, the head of their condo association. He told me he has lots of information he can share, that would be very helpful to people who were thinking of making the transition from a house to a condo.

(Ray Cutler also heads his association in Scarborough. We could start a club!  WIH)


WIH: 12 July 08

Well now, Thomas, if privacy is at the top of your relocation "must" list, I understand there's a fine collection of caves somewhere behind Comox Lake.

A lot of the issues you raise can be overcome with careful shopping. In our case, we live on level 2, which confuses strangers because it's the entry level for both vehicles and pedestrians. We have no need to use stairs or the elevator. Yet, because the building was constructed on a rise, our living area is indeed on the second story, with the accompanying view. As for safety, the drop from our balcony would probably not break any bones and there's also a trellis that could be used as a ladder.

As for security, one of local papers lists the B&E's each week and the main targets seem to fall into two categories, businesses, and newly-built townhouses in Courtenay where  owners  have not yet learned to "peg" their sliding doors. On the topic of security, one of my first acts was to change our building's exterior locks to Abloy because they cannot be "bumped". For those unfamiliar with "bumping", please see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwTVBWCijEQ&NR=1 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xkkS2p7SuQ

The comments I make on these pages do not apply to high-rises. It's not an issue in Comox because we don't have any. All condos here have frame construction and are almost entirely three stories high. In our case there are 4 levels, but not more than three at any one spot because of the rise in ground level.


Tom Drummond: 12 July 08

Additional to the previous discussion, there many more considerations to think about.

An alternative to the multi-storied condominium complex (and the one I prefer by far) is the town house variety having one story and no basement (therefore no stairs), with units having a common wall with their neighbours. Such an option generally provides more privacy, less aggravation from noisy neighbours and a much closer configuration to the single home that you have moved from. Further, the town house generally has a small private patio for a tiny garden, a set of outdoor furniture, and a barbecue.

Also, it allows me to have a private garage that serves other functions than just a more secure place to keep a car. I can have a small workshop, and a more convenient and secure storage area than that of the common cage cubicle area in the basement of the condo.

It is easier to get out of the townhouse in an emergency, when a condo’s elevators are probably shut down.

The town house has some of the same benefits as the condo, in that the complex management looks after the grounds maintenance. It also has a number of benefits superior to the condo. When I venture outside, I don’t want to be forced to share a common space with others, as much as I might like my neighbours, and be restrained in what I am allowed to drink or not drink outside in this common area. If I want company I’ll invite neighbours over.

Multi storied condo? - Never!


WIH: 10 July 08

Tom raises a number of issues on this subject.

He's right about strata councils; they function as a fourth level of government and have fewer restraints than other levels of government when it comes to transparency. But this is probably a larger problem in large condos. When, like us, you live in a 16-unit building, it becomes more of a community where everyone knows everyone and problems tend to be sorted out well short of a strata council session. That said, be careful whom you elect to council. It takes only one twit to ruin the mix. Currently I'm president of our council, probably because I'm the youngest resident male owner, so I think we have a wonderful council. (Hopefully I don't fit Tom's description of a "condo Nazi".)

Quite frankly, we found the "rules", or bylaws, an incentive to buy here. No rentals, no fur-bearing pets, an age restriction that effectively makes it a seniors' residence were all to our liking. Of course, these bylaws depress market value because Albertans and Americans who look for vacation accommodation that can be rented in the Winter are not interested.

Yes, leaky condos are still with us and they may be found in high rises as well as smaller, frame condos. Ours has had a very checkered history. It originally had the problem stucco exterior of 1990 and leaked. About five years ago the owners completed a $1.25 million renovation (average that on 16 units!) that stripped the stucco, renewed the envelope, then applied hardi-plank, installed new windows and sliding doors on new decks and balconies, and renewed the roof. Although I'm no swivel engineer, the plans and completed work appeared to have been first class and the results have withstood winter storms for 5 years. Not all condos leak but you need to delve thoroughly into the history and structure of a building before you make an offer.

Another factor to consider is turnover; how often do the units sell. It tells you something about how satisfied the owners have been. As Eleanor and I left Campbell River this afternoon we spotted one condo with 5 "For Sale" signs; no a good sign. Here our purchase has been the only one since '06 and there are several owners who are original, who bought from the developer in 89/90 before the place was built.

Tom refers to a cross-over point. The point I worry about comes when we can no longer drive, and lack the health and the will to cope with a large home and lot. You can plan for that day and take appropriate action or you can wait until it happens, and you are then forced to make changes under duress. Distressingly, we or, more probably our wives, will almost certainly spend the final days alone. This condo is a good example, where half of the units are occupied by women who live alone, most of them elderly; the oldest is 94.

Yes, neighbours can be a problem, but the neighbourhood atmosphere that exists in a small condo is a great deterrent. Here, quiet hours are in effect from 11PM until 7AM and, besides, at our age, someone could probably throw a "wild" party and nobody would notice. We've been particularly fortunate in that the unit above is occupied by a single woman who has been there about 10 days in the year we've lived here. And our neighbor on the side lives in California and has been here even fewer days.


Tom Drummond: 10 July 08

The condo topic is very timely for many of us. The decision to downsize and locate to a more senior-friendly area is a very personal one, that will differ from one individual to another depending on health, vigour, money, need for privacy and access to needed facilities, to name just a few.

A cross-over point comes for us at some time in our life when there is a real or practical need to trade in our large house and grounds that we have so much enjoyed for something more manageable. In our case we have been putting off that decision for a few years now, and will probably do the same for a few more.

As we have aged, our abilities to look after a large home and garden have been significantly reduced. An alternative next stage is to employ someone to take on the heavier tasks of heavy cleaning, gardening and home improvement/repair in order to continue our enjoyment of the property we have. Not ever having been inclined to the role of an agricultural gentleman, I would cheerfully opt for the route of hiring a gardener for three or four times a year, although Terry loves gardening and does the household accounts, so she is not so enthusiastic of the prospect.

Now, lets look at the downside of the condo approach. Here in B.C. there are some problems; the most noteworthy of which is the “leaky condo”. In the past 20 or 30 years, B.C. slacked off on the building code for condo construction, resulting in condo residents finding the shell of the building inundated with water leaks. The solution was VERY expensive for the condo owners, and resulted in the building being covered with scaffolding and drop sheets for a year or more. It was horrifying to read in the paper the other day that it is estimated that as few as 35% of leaky condos have been identified and /or are in the process of being fixed - meaning that there is still another 65% of older condos lurking out there unidentified like a disaster waiting to happen. Let the buyer beware. Know what you’re getting into, and if possible, choose a recently built condo with an updated building code.

I have a daughter who owns a condo very similar to the one Bill is living in. Lets look at that for a moment. Her master bedroom is immediately below the tiled kitchen of the unit upstairs, occupied by a Dutch couple who wear wooden shoes (I’m serious!}. My daughter calls them the “lords of the dance”. Most of us in our younger years have had the misfortune of living in an apartment, and know the frustration of putting up with other peoples noise and different lifestyle. Not for me!! Therefore, be wary of the extent of soundproofing  used in the construction, and the sound making rules established for the units.

Life in a condo also brings with it the “rules” governing our residency. The condo committee probably has at least one “condo Nazi”, who’s main aim in life is to inflict his/her unearned authority and go off on a power romp making life miserable for most of the residents. Know what the rules are before you buy (they are different in every case). Also watch that condo committee very closely, because they can change the rules to something intolerable for you. The alternative? Move somewhere else? Again?


WIH: 10 July 08

We've now lived in a Comox condo for a year and I'm aware that several classmates, such as Cutler and Kirkham, are old hands at this style of living. Further, class postal addresses suggest that many other classmates have joined us, and conversations at our last reunion revealed that other classmates were contemplating a downsize move and were curious about the pros and cons of living in a condominium.

So, here's a new forum in which I hope those who have experienced condo living will share their knowledge and will answer questions from those who are contemplating such a move.

As the real estate agents say, location is everything. When we started to look in the Spring of '07 we wanted to locate where we could walk to most of our needed products and services. In B.C. communities, this is more easily achieved in a condo than in a single family dwelling. Another consideration at our age is proximity to family. In our case, children and grandchildren are scattered from Wellington to Markham to Prince George to Powell River. A third consideration is climate; the quantity and quality of water and the quality of air. A fourth consideration is security. Every decision will require compromise. For us the decision was Comox.

http://www.whughes.ca/MarinaPl/marinaplace.htm   This is a web site that I developed for our condo.

http://www.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/features/condosmarts/index.html  Condo Smarts is a weekly column in the Victoria Times Colonist that deals with condominium issues.

http://www.choa.bc.ca/  The Condo Home Owners Association offers many services including seminars. I attended my first seminar shortly after I became president of our strata council and it was worth the modest fee. The speakers included a hard-nosed civil engineer who was sandwiched between two waffling lawyers. Together they not only identified those issues that needed to be addressed but the best way to address them.

Okay, I've opened the subject. Let's now see if it has legs.