10 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Condo

22 Jun 2024

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Darius Dominczak

Buying a condo is an exciting milestone but has its share of potential risks and uncertainties. The complexity of the process can leave many feeling overwhelmed. The fear of making a poor investment, dealing with high maintenance fees, or being bound by restrictive condo association rules can quickly turn the excitement into stress.

However, these problems can be mitigated with proper preparation and the right information. Prospective condo buyers can gain clarity and confidence by asking the right questions before buying. Knowledge is power, and understanding what to look for and what to ask can make the difference between a regretful purchase and a wise investment.

In this article, you will find the essential questions guiding you through the condo-buying process. These questions will help you uncover crucial details about the property, the community, and the financial implications of your purchase. Read on to equip yourself with the insights you need to make an informed decision.

Special Levy Clause

Owners of strata properties are responsible for funding repairs and maintenance that exceed the strata’s contingency reserves. Both buyers and sellers must establish the responsibility for paying the levy when there is an outstanding or proposed special levy (as found in the minutes). A diligent realtor would address this issue by inserting a particular levy clause in the Contract of Purchase and Sale that would protect the Buyer in case there are any approved or proposed special levies by the strata corporation.

The clause states that if there are any outstanding or proposed special levies before the completion date (before you own the Property), the seller will have to pay them, or your lawyer will hold back the money, or it may even come off as a credit on the statement of adjustments, in essence, lowering your purchase price even if the actual work is not to be carried out on the building after the closing date.

Alterations/Additions

When purchasing a condo, many buyers may need to realize that they also take on all responsibilities for any alterations or additions made by the previous owner. Suppose these changes were not made with the necessary permits and approval. In that case, the strata corporation can impose hefty fines and/or removal orders on the new owner, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in additional expenses.

One of the most important documents to review when considering a condo purchase is the Property Condition Disclosure Statement. This document should reveal whether all modifications and improvements to the unit were made with the necessary permits and approval from the Strata Corporation. It’s your best tool for identifying any unauthorized alterations that could lead to future complications.

If the alterations or additions were made with the strata approval, it’s important to check the Form B for attachments. These attachments should include any agreements under which the new strata lot owner assumes responsibility for expenses related to the alterations of the strata lot. This is a crucial step in understanding your potential financial obligations.

A diligent realtor will consult with the strata management or the municipality if there are suspicions that modifications or additions were made without the necessary permit or strata approval. This step ensures that the buyers’ interests are protected.

Typical alterations or additions include hardwood floors, inside wall removal, wall openings, external patio decks, plumbing or electrical fixture installation, and window or door-mounted AC units.

Water Damage Deductible

Strata insurance premiums have increased significantly in British Columbia, so the underlying policy deductibles also increased. As a condo buyer, paying attention to the water damage deductible is essential. Suppose your unit causes water damage that affects another unit or common property. In that case, you may be charged the deductible of the strata corporation’s policy if a claim is made. As a homeowner, your personal strata insurance should be sufficient to cover the deductibles of the strata corporation’s policy, so you do not have to bear a significant cost.

The insurance deductibles for strata corporation policies can range from $10,000 to $250,000. The excessive insurance deductible might indicate the building has a history of water leakage or water-related issues. Carefully review the strata documents to look for clues.

Poly B Plumbing

Insurance companies have decided to stop covering damages caused by failures in Poly B plumbing. Poly B pipes, also known as polybutylene, were widely used in Vancouver homes between 1985 and 1997 and were popular due to their flexibility, affordability, and ease of use. The material was used extensively across the US and Canada, and more than 700,000 Canadian homes are estimated to have been built with Poly B pipes before they were discontinued. Unfortunately, these pipes have now been found to be prone to severe issues, which means that over 700,000 Canadian homes are at risk of experiencing problems related to their Poly B plumbing systems.

Aluminum Wiring

In BC, most houses built between 1960 and 1975 use aluminum wiring. Did you know properties built before 1972 with aluminum wiring are 55 times more likely to experience fire hazard conditions? If your home has aluminum wiring, you are at a higher risk of fire. Additionally, you may need help finding home insurance due to the increased fire risk. If you are considering buying a condo with aluminum wiring, check with your insurance provider first. Some providers will not insure homes with aluminum wiring. Others are okay with it, provided a licensed electrician has inspected and passed the electrical system.

Finished Area

Listing agents often hire professionals to measure and create a floor plan and gross square footage for marketing purposes. However, it’s important to note that these professionals may calculate larger square footage than the legal strata plan. Sometimes, a professionally measured floor plan can exceed the legal strata plan by 50 to 200 square feet. While these measurements aim to maximize usable space, they should not be used to determine the accurate market gross value. This process can lead to discrepancies in square footage information, which condo buyers should be informed about.

Suppose the actual market value in a building at a particular floor level is $1100 per square foot. In that case, a 50—to 200-square-foot difference can significantly impact the perceived market value. You should always check the advertised square footage of the property against the registered strata plan.

Pet Restrictions

When searching for a new home in a condo building, it’s important to consider whether pets are allowed. Some buildings are pet-friendly, while others have strict restrictions on the types of animals permitted. Discussing your pet with your condo realtor is crucial so they can help you find a suitable condo.

Most condo buildings allow smaller, easily controlled pets like fish and birds. Some buildings may permit smaller dogs but not larger breeds. However, exotic pets like snakes are typically discouraged in condo buildings.

Rental Restrictions

On November 24, 2022, the Government of British Columbia removed Strata Corporations’ ability to restrict rentals. Please review the Bylaws for any restrictions on short-term rentals (typically less than 30 days), such as AirBnB, as they are still in effect.

Age Restrictions

The amendment to the Strata Act passed in November 2022 removed all rental restriction bylaws except those prohibiting short-term rentals and all age restriction bylaws except those applying to “seniors only” (55-plus) buildings. However, under the new law, British Columbians living in strata properties with 55-plus age restrictions will now be allowed to have family members under that age living with them.

With over 30 years of experience in real estate, Darius brings a wealth of expertise to the table. His focus remains on delivering unparalleled service, guiding clients through a seamless and client-centric journey from the initial consultation to the successful transaction.

Darius Dominczak, YVR Real Estate Group, Remax City