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Buying guide: Condominiums

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Buying guide: Condominiums

Condos can be an urbanite's go-to living choice for various compelling reasons. First-time buyers often find condos more affordable than houses. Busy career folks like the fact that maintenance is taken care of by building management. Hipsters love the fact that condo buildings are often located downtown near all the action. Single women may prefer them for peace-of-mind amenities like security and concierge service. But amid fears of a softening real estate market, are condos still a smart investment? Here are three things to consider before buying.

Price range
You know the old real estate adage: location, location, location. Condo prices vary across provinces, cities, and neighbourhoods. Here are the average sticker prices for resale condos in six major cities. While they’re indicative of the big picture, remember that prices diverge greatly depending on location.

Montreal: $188,000
Toronto: $360,125
Winnipeg: $184,836
Edmonton: $260,837
Calgary:  $311,816
Vancouver: $387,032

NOTE: Prices reflect April or May 2008 average purchase prices for resale properties defined as condos within the Metropolitan areas, except where noted. Montreal price reflects median, not average price. Toronto figure is for the downtown region. Sources: Greater Montreal Real Estate Board, Toronto Real Estate Board, Winnipeg Realtors, Realtors Association of Edmonton, Calgary Real Estate Board, The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

Maintenance fees
You’ll never have to worry about replacing the pavers on the rooftop patio, mowing the lawn in front of your townhouse, or replacing light bulbs in the garage while you live in a condo. But convenience comes with a price, of course, in this case: monthly condo fees.

When you buy into a condo, you own the inside of your unit. The outside of your unit and the land surrounding all the units is owned collectively by you and all the other condo owners. The general maintenance and insurance for these “common elements” are covered by everyone's monthly fees, as are utilities (most of the time). The more amenities your condo development boasts – concierge? extensive fitness centre? landscaped green space? – the more you’ll pay in fees. In Toronto, typical condo fees average 40 to 55 cents per square foot of your condo."Freehold" townhouses, meanwhile, don’t have maintenance fees. When you buy a freehold townhouse, you own your property indoors and out, and you alone are responsible for its maintenance.

Resale considerations
Remember that single-family houses remain the housing stock of choice for the majority of buyers, so if you’re approaching your purchase as an investment foremost, and can afford the cost and maintenance of a house, that may be the smarter long-term choice.

However, if you’re looking for a great place to call home, especially if you don’t have kids or want to avoid the hassles of house maintenance, a condo is probably right for you, right now. Some smart upgrades to enjoy today – and help you sell later – include:

• Stainless-steel appliances and deluxe countertops (granite, limestone, marble, Corian or Silestone) in the kitchen

• Hardwood, or eco-friendly cork or bamboo flooring throughout the unit

• Quality lighting (ditch the builder’s basics that came with the unit) throughout the unit. Add function with potlights, flair with chandeliers or other pendant-style lights – and put everything on dimmer switches

• Sleek glass or neutral stone-clad floors and backsplash in the bathroom, high-end hardware (faucets, hooks, towel rods etc)

Remember, most condos are at their best when conveying a feeling of expansiveness (especially those on the tiny size!) and modernity, so plenty of natural light, neutral wall colours, gleaming floors and tasteful, on-trend accents will make yours attractive to potential buyers once you’re ready to move on – whether to a house or another condo.


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Buying guide: Condominiums