I got my start in the housing market by buying a condo approximately eight years ago.  I was very excited to own my own “home” – no more landlords telling me what colours I can or can’t paint, no one arbitrarily raising my rent, or coming into my place without notice (trust me, this happens more often than you’d like to think!).  I was very fortunate to buy just before prices in Victoria skyrocketed, so if I remember correctly, I paid just under $150,000.  It wasn’t long before prices did shoot up — to over $200,000.  I feel very lucky to have purchased when I did.  As a result, five years later, I was able to sell my condo and purchase a house!  Yay, yard work!?

I hear a lot of debate today about whether or not to buy a condo.  What are the pros and cons?  Personally, I mostly liked my condo experience.  I met some really great people in my building.  There were dinners with neighbours, and drinks at our local watering hole.  There was often someone to say hello to in the entry lobby.  I also met some not so great people.  Memories of the swat team storming the building to break into a 3rd story condo to search for drugs and weapons come to mind.  The owner was a steroid pumped meathead who dumped masses of cigarette butts off his balcony onto the grass below, and left his poor dog on the balcony for hours and hours at a time.  I certainly don’t miss that!   Nor the renter that was turning tricks out of the condo she was renting.  But those, of course, are things you can run into with neighbours in single family homes as well, and is not exclusive to the condo environment.

What really scares the hell out of me is the fact that repairs cost a king’s ransom if something goes wrong to the building or the surrounding property.  In my home, it cost me approximately $1200 to rebuild my deck.  Yet, an acquaintance informed me that at her condo, replacing the balconies was going to cost each owner around $8000 – what????  In my condo, repairs to the foundation on one side of the building ended up costing each owner upward of $15,000, and we were expected to come up with funds in short order.  If you weren’t able to pay the amount, the strata could sell your condo to pay the repair bill.  It was a struggle, but I was able to borrow the money to pay this massive bill.  It would seem that getting any repairs at a strata building requires bids from big construction companies, and the strata then accepts the best bid.  However, many large companies are too busy to even submit bids, so often a strata ends up with 2 or perhaps 3 companies willing to submit bids.  The strata is then stuck accepting one of these bids and proceeding with repairs.  Engineers need to be involved to provide engineering reports to provide proof for future buyers that the repairs were done adequately.  Cha-ching.  If landscaping needs to be done, a landscaping company will be brought in.  Cha-ching, cha-ching.  What if it’s determined that trees far away from the building need to be replaced as part of the project, and they are property of the city?  That’s right; the owners are on the hook to pay for new trees to replace the ones that were torn down.  And these trees need to be mature enough to ensure they will take root and survive, because if they don’t, the owners are once again expected to fork out to replace them again with more mature and more expensive trees.  Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching….

The bill for our foundation repair wasn’t originally quoted at nearly $15,000 each — it grew as the repair went on.  Apparently the property management company completely bungled the budget for the repairs and the bill continued to grow.  After having to come up with extra funds a third time, I was sufficiently freaked out to consider my options at this point – such as the possibility of buying a house.  I would then be in control of my property, my repairs, and when and how they happened.  The appeal was great.

I was on strata council at my condo.  There were a lot of complaints that would roll in.  Some were very valid.  Some were questionable.  I found I resented spending my free time discussing complaints such as that the blinds in all the individual condos weren’t all white and matching, and it apparently made our building look like an apartment building.  Horrors!  To make it even worse, some people didn’t even have blinds, having chosen curtains instead.  And I just happened to have been one of the offenders, with my gorgeous ruby curtains that covered my balcony doors.  <sigh>

I work in a doctor’s office, and I recently happened to overhear a patient talking about selling his condo here in Victoria.  “If I’m going to be treated like a renter, damn it, I’m going to become a renter”, he said emphatically.  My ears perked up immediately with curiosity.   Apparently, this gentleman tells me, the strata in his building had passed a bylaw that stated any changes to the inside of an owner’s condo had to receive approval from the strata council before it could proceed.  So, if you wanted to replace your kitchen cupboards, you had to receive strata approval first.  If you wanted to replace the toilet, you needed strata approval.  If you want to change the lighting fixtures, you need strata approval.  I was gobsmacked.  What was the point of owning your own condo if you needed approval for even the most minor changes?  It seemed bad enough that a strata could dictate if you could have a pet or not.  This seemed too much.  I could completely understand this gentleman’s frustration, and his decision to go back to renting.  When you take away all the advantages of “owning” an apartment, why not just rent? – you then don’t have the responsibility of repairs, and no strata fees to pay every month.

Of course, if you’ve been watching the news lately, you’ve seen the story of the washing machines in condos and townhouses that malfunctioned and flooded multiple floors.   How scary to think if that happens in your condo, you could be on the hook for so much money that you could lose your condo?

I have now been in my house for almost three years.  It hasn’t been easy.  It is A LOT of work.  There is always something to do – something to repair, yard work, deck steps rotting, renovations … it never ends.  But, I do it on my schedule, I choose who does the work, and I have the ability to get the work done in the most cost-effective manner available to me.  I have had a break in at my house, which I never had in my condo (I lived on the 2nd floor and there was controlled entry).  On the other hand, I don’t have to worry about the chain-smoking drunk down the hall falling asleep with a lit cigarette and burning down my condo, along with his.

I have had a colleague tell me repeatedly how lucky I am to be out of my condo, as she was slapped with yet another massive bill for thousands of dollars for repairs to the building she lives in.   When I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with the responsibility of my home, I remember her words, and do feel grateful.

Yet, condos are being built at an expeditious rate.  It is clearly considered to be the housing solution of the future, providing maximum housing density on a plot of land.  We live in Victoria, and at current market prices, single family homes are insanely priced and a condo could be the only opportunity to own a home for many people.

So, do you condo or condon’t?  For me, the answer is clear.  For now, despite all the work involved, owning a home is the way to go for me.  But it certainly doesn’t suit everyone or the lifestyle they wish to pursue.  So, pick your poison, and choose well.  Your home is truly your sanctuary and you have to feel 100% at home and happy with your choice.