Pick the right building

A few years ago, a real estate agent told me that many condo buyers have a building in mind and want him to help them buy a unit in that building.

Buying a condo is not the same as buying a house as there are many houses in a neighbourhood that may be a good fit but that is not true for condos.

There are cases where there are two identical condo buildings sitting side-by-side that share some amenities. Yet the unit values, the monthly fees, the cleanliness of the lobbies and hallways, the percentage of units rented and the behaviour of the residents are very different. You may be happy living in one of the towers and be completely unhappy in the other.

Things to watch for
Do not buy in a building where the majority of the apartments consist of bachelor units and one-bedroom units. You will end up in a building that has 50-90% renters especially if it is downtown or along the subway lines. If you want to live in a rental building, then rent rather than buy.

What can these buildings be like? Loud parties that get way out of hand are not not common but do happen. In early June 2015, there was a shooting in the courtyard between two very large CityPlace condos. Same situation as in the Toronto Star article above; young people partying hard and the situation got out of control.

That shooting didn't make it into the news. Why? The shooter didn't hit anyone and he made a clean get-a-way. The courtyard was too dark and the video footage was too poor to give a good image.

Most likely most of the residents don't even know about it as condos are very good at keeping troubling news a secret.

When you find a building you are interested in, check the number of units listed on MLS. Are there a lot of unhappy owners trying to sell?

Ten lock boxes for a condo that has about 80 units shows that there may be a lot of owners trying to sell.

Do not buy a unit in a condo where the major banks will not give a mortgage or where CMHC will not insure mortgages. There is no "blacklist" as such, just like cops don't racial-profile young men, but in reality there is a blacklist.

Look up the street address, the condo corporation number and the property management company on the Internet and search for negative comments. Use three different search engines as Yahoo, Bing and Google may give you slightly different results.

Ask a couple of local police officers about any condo building where you are thinking of buying a unit. They know all the problem buildings. Ask the cops that are on the streets in the patrol cars. The officers in the stations may not tell you want you need to know.

If the common element fees have not risen in the last few years, do not buy. Instead of being a selling feature, a freeze in fees may mean a lot of grief down the road.

Be extremely careful if the building has a special assessment. That can be a sign of a condo that has serious maintenance or financial problems.

Direct link to the subway
A lot of people think walking to the subway without going outside is a great feature. After talking to people who live in a condo that has such a link to a busy bus terminal, I am not so sure about this being such a great idea.

When the subways shutdown for the night, the homeless get off and look for a place to spend the night. Nearby condos are ready targets.

The areas close to some subway stations and bus terminals are plagued by litter, panhandlers, trespassers and a lot of petty crime. The subway stations, and nearby restaurants, can bring mice and rats to your building.

A condo beside bars and restaurants may be an attraction for younger buyers but the late night yelling, car honking and loud music may bother seniors and those who need a good night's sleep.

Garbage trucks pick up commercial garbage late at night and restaurants have their supplies delivered as late as 4:00 am. These trucks make a lot of noise. If you are on a main street leading to a hospital or you are close to a fire station, expect to hear sirens at all hours of the day.

Buying a unit
Once you pick the condo corporation where you would like to live, then look at the unit or units that are for sale and put in a reasonable offer for the unit that you like.

If you feel that the asking price is too high, then put in an offer on another unit that is for sale or sit back and wait for new listings. You should not have to wait too long before you find a unit you like at a price you are willing to pay.

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