Thinking of Buying a Condo? Here’s What You Need to Know

This post is sponsored by RECO. All views and opinions expressed represent my own.

When my husband and I were looking to buy a place in Toronto this time last year, we always had it in our minds that we would buy a house instead of a condo. We liked the idea of owning land — even if it was the tiniest sliver of land imaginable.

Having rented our entire adult lives, we became fixated on the idea of owning property that had only our names on it.

Well, that may have been a pipe dream, especially after realizing that our budget of $500,000 couldn’t even afford us a gut-job in Toronto’s east end. After looking at dozens of homes and even getting into an emotional bidding war over one particular house, in the end we decided to take a break and continue living in our one-bedroom apartment rental.

Having had a year to reflect on our experience, I honestly don’t think that my husband and I’s first home will be a house with the way housing prices are going. We don’t want to rent forever, so we’ve started to weigh the pros and cons of owning a condo.

Condo-Living Can Mean More Rules & Restrictions

One of the biggest differences between being a condo owner and a house owner is that there can be more rules and restrictions that come with condo-living. When you own a house, you can paint the walls whatever colour you want, you can knock down walls or put up new ones, and you don’t have to worry about having pets.

In many condo buildings, there are a number of restrictions you must abide by such as not being allowed to sublet your suite, not being allowed to have pets, noise-levels, balcony furniture, even restrictions on changing your drapes.

To make sure you have all the facts before making one of the biggest purchases of your life, make sure to check out the condo’s status certificate. This certificate should include:

  • The current condo owner’s status on paying condo fees (are they behind in their payments?).
  • The condo corporation’s financial status (what is the current budget, and are their major repairs planned in the future?).
  • The condo declaration, outlining the percentage of ownership each unit has in the property and how much each owner must pay in condo fees.
  • A complete list of the condo’s by-laws, rules and restrictions.

You Could Be Held Financially Responsible for Big Repairs & Renovations

It can be expensive renovating a whole house, but don’t think you’re off the hook just because you live in a condo. The leaky condo crisis of the 1990s is a huge example of this. There was a big condo-boom in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland from the 1980s-1990s, and because of this a lot of corners were cut to get these buildings up quickly.

Since the climate in these areas is heavy with rain, the condos started to leak water, causing billions of dollars in damages — and it was the condo owners who largely had to pay the price.

Although this is an extreme case, you should definitely find out if a reserve fund study has been taken for the condo you are considering buying and make sure that it is not underfunded. If it is underfunded, and for instance the roof needs to be replaced on the building, the condo owners have to pay the difference.

Don’t Forget the Condo Fees

When you own a condo you are required to also pay condo fees (also known as maintenance fees). These fees go towards paying for general building maintenance and repairs, operation costs associated with gyms, party rooms and swimming pools, and any building staff such as a concierge or security guards.

Condo fees can also include utilities (e.g. heating, hot water, Internet), but since every building is different, it’s important to find out what exactly is included in your condo fees.

It’s just as important to find out how much those fees are, how much they have historically increased, what the plans are for them to increase in the future and how they are calculated. For instance, last year I remember looking at a few condos online, and what I found out was that older buildings with more square footage had much higher condo fees than newer, smaller units.

Sometimes condo fees are higher for older buildings because they require more maintenance and repairs, and sometimes it’s determined on a square footage basis.

Additional Things Consider

When you buy a condo, you aren’t just buying a suite in a building — you’re buying into a community. Although your unit is yours, it’s part of a bigger community of other condo owners in the same building. Make sure that it’s the type of community you want to live in, because once you buy a condo, it’s not as easy to re-sell it and move unlike renting.

Another thing to consider is parking. Currently my husband rents a parking spot in our building for an extra $35/month. When you purchase a condo, sometimes you can also purchase a parking spot in that building, or you are assigned a parking spot that is still owned by the condo corporation.

One final thought, and honestly this has always been a deal-breaker in my books, how sound-proof is the unit? In my current apartment building, it’s built out of concrete so it is relatively quiet compared to some of the wood builds I’ve lived in previously. That being said, our door isn’t properly hung and there’s a big space between the floor and the door that lets a lot of sound from the hallway in. If I were to buy a condo, I’d want to make sure my unit was almost completely sound-proof.

How RECO Can Help

The bottom line is, before you purchase a home there is a lot to learn and the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) has tons of resources for first-time home buyers.

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Showing 82 comments
  • Lisa Brown
    Reply

    I think buying a condo is great. I tend to like a house better, that is what I am holding out for 🙂

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Thanks Lisa!

  • Carol Lane
    Reply

    I think it’s a great idea if it suits your needs. I’m single and don’t really have a desire to own anything yet, but I’m sure the day will come. Good luck!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Thanks Carol!

  • Nat
    Reply

    I think a buying a condo can be a great idea, as long as you think carefully about your needs to make sure you don’t need to move again within a few years…

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      We definitely don’t have plans to have a family any time soon which is why we think a condo as opposed to a house might be a good choice for us. Thanks Nat!

  • Reply

    That seems to be the biggest debate among young adults these days. So many of my friends are buying homes/condos and I just don’t know if I’m willing to buy a condo. All of the points you’ve mentioned above are very on point. We are currently living in a condo-style, street level townhome, which I think is the perfect compromise because it feels as if you own your own land but you still have to remember condo fees which can be really annoying. Anyways, insightful article!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Totally! I’d love to be in a townhouse because it’s that in-between, but there aren’t that many in Toronto unfortunately. But if we end up moving back to Vancouver (though really the suburbs), that’s probably what we’d buy.

  • Casey
    Reply

    I have been a condo owner in Toronto for 6+ years, and I’m currently on my 2nd place. I really like condo living, but I know it isn’t for everyone (FYI- my current place is so quiet, which is nice because both my boyfriend and my neighbour play the electric guitar!).

    I feel so lucky in my current place as I got an amazing price on it because it was pretty dirty and unstaged. My old place was fairly new and sparkly and I overpaid in a bidding war and it really didn’t appreciate much over 5 years. My new place probably appreciated $10K just from cleaning it!

    And yes, dont just rely on your lawyer reading your status certificate (and get a lawyer who knows condos so they can assess the reserve fund and finances!), read it your self. Read the rules of the building. Read the finances. Talk to people in the building. Join the board, if you can, after moving in! You can also use the status certificate as a bargaining tool, if it isnt perfect. I negotiated a slightly lower price because the maintenance fees were off from the listing and there were pending repairs on the status certificate for my parking spot (which is in the building next door, my actual condo unit’s certificate was clean).

    Ah! I can say so much about condos! I will stop 🙂

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      That’s awesome! Honestly one of the big things with us is noise. My husband mixes music all day and we’re lucky in our current apartment that it’s totally concert and we’re right next to I think a maintenance room so no one can here. He works from home so that’s a deal-breaker. Those are some great tips Casey, I’ll keep them in mind!

  • Allison Leigh
    Reply

    Great post! When I got my first teaching job, I knew I wanted to buy and not own. I lived at home with my parents for my first year of teaching and saved like crazy to afford 20% down on a condo outside the city.

    My suggestion is to look into buying a pre-construction condo! Once it’s built, landscaped and beautiful it will typically swell in value big time! Huge return on investment! And since it’s brand new the condo fees are much less expensive (mine started at $189 and have gone up to $218 over 4 years).

    Good luck in your search! I hope there is much less discouragement in this adventure!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Thanks Allison!

  • Michelle Li
    Reply

    Just get into the real estate market, whether its a condo or a house. its worth it.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      That’s what people keep saying to me haha 😉

  • Erica B
    Reply

    I have always equated condos with apartment type living. It is true a house requires a lot of maintenance, but you have a lot more flexibility too. I would hold out!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      We don’t mind apartment living, and honestly the only reason we wanted a house wasn’t to have more space but because owning land was such a good longterm investment. We’ll see what we end up doing though.

  • Hyacinthe Raimbault
    Reply

    I’m a happy renter… Even though in New Brunswick, it could make sense to buy… I’ll keep renting until I’m able to plan not moving abroad every 2-3 year lol

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Totally understand, and I think that’s a big reason we haven’t taken the plunge yet. We’ve been in Toronto almost 3 years but I know I don’t want to stay here forever. We might end up moving back home in a few more years, and then it might not be such a good idea to buy after all if we have to sell.

  • Julie
    Reply

    This is a great post – very informative! Thank you:)

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Thanks Julie!

  • Katelynne
    Reply

    If you guys go condo, I highly recommend walk-up or small story count. As you get into higher stories, the politics, the fees, the problems etc. always compound upon themselves. It’s frustrating. But I guess that moves you out of the concrete game unless it’s newer and in the 6ish storey range usually. Also , a condo doc reviewer to make sure that everything is in order with the management of the building is worth every penny. Good luck!!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Great advice Katelynne!

  • Leticia
    Reply

    Great post Jessica. 🙂

    Regarding leaky condos and having to pay for the repair out of pocket. Try to find the insurance company your condo building has. The insurance company will know exactly at what point the building is insured and responsible for repairs. They can work with you to ensure you have appropriate coverage.

    Agreed Condos are crazy in Toronto and so are houses. There are small pockets around the city if you are willing to be taking a 10 minute bus ride to the subway where you can get a standing house that might need some cosmetic work for the $500,000 mark. If there is value add construction; CMHC can help you get the construction mortgage necessary to turn that house into a dream.

    Love the blog and podcast. 🙂

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Thanks Leticia, and great advice on the insurance company for condos!

  • Connie
    Reply

    I owed a condo for 11 years. After being part of the condo board I knew I had to get out of there. The board wanted to spend the condo fees for landscaping instead of making structural repairs. As soon as the market improved I bought a house, which I love.

    Like you it was the only way I could get a place I could own. I’m glad I did, since it made home ownership possible. All the rules didn’t seem so bad until I was on the board. I viewed condo as a stepping stone to home ownership. Good luck!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      That’s definitely what we’d view it as too, a stepping stone to eventual home ownership. And ya I think I’d want to be on the board of a condo we bought just so I could have a say in what went on.

  • Vanessa
    Reply

    We were in a condo for a while and the condo fees went up nearly $100/month in 2014. We jumped ship and bought in the GTHA just before prices went up and totally lucked out on a house that needed some renos. We LoVe our house. Have you thought about commuting?

    I think the good thing with any real estate is that it helps get you that much closer to your dream home, it’s a good investment, even it if is just a condo you will own for 3-5 years!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      I think if we stay in Toronto, then we’ll stay in the city. Our bigger plans are to eventually move back to BC and live in the burb to raise a family. But since we’re kidless and all our friends are in the city, and we don’t have any family here, I’d find it really isolating to move to a suburb here. I know we could afford a house if we moved a bit farther out, but I just don’t think I could do it.

  • Jessica
    Reply

    Great post! Like you, we were priced out of the Toronto housing market, so we purchased a condo instead. We got lucky because the sellers were looking for a quick sale and we grabbed it after a clean pass on our home inspection.

    My recommendations for condo hunting is to look at a variety of condos, even if they don’t fit your list of needs or if you are not a fan of a few of the features. Seeing everything in person makes a big difference and can change your perspective. I remember being in love with the price and photos of a small 2-bedroom condo, but it wasn’t until we actually saw it that I realized the layout was horrible and there was no closet storage at all.

    Pre-construction can also be tempting, but nothing beats walking into the actual space you are looking to buy and not just the mocked up showroom. Plus, construction delays can be a nightmare and you have to be prepared to wait months or even years to move into your space.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Ya, I’ve heard some horror stories about construction delays, yikes!

  • Lynn G
    Reply

    Depends on how much the condo fees are? I have pets so condos aren’t my “cup of tea”
    But it’s better to own a property than keep on renting and throwing your hard earned cash down the drain! Of course a house would be my first pick, but it depends if you need car parking or not? I used to live in a condo, but I just wanted to step out onto my patio/grass and enjoy the sunlight and fresh air!
    If the condo fees are reasonable and parking your vehicles is included it might be worth it, but make a Plus and Minus list alway help and crunch those Numbers to see the best bang for your buck!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Omg I know, condo fees can be crazy. I mean especially in Toronto where I’ve seen $800/month condo fees! That’s just insane to me!

  • Andrea
    Reply

    I think one of the biggest benefits of condo-living is a simplified lifestyle. And I am all about simplifying. Although I now own a house, I have serious condo-envy. I say go for it!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      The other big reason I want to stay in a smaller place (besides the price tag) is because I don’t want to feel like I have to buy a bunch of stuff to fill up a bunch of rooms. Simplicity and minimalism all the way!

  • AM
    Reply

    I think you made some excellent points in your article, especially when it comes to neighbours and the condo corporation. In a lot of cases, the condo corporation governs your actions even more heavily than a landlord would which can make renting and saving the more desirable option. While I can understand your eagerness to become a homeowner, buying and selling a property is a lot of work. The advantage to buying a condo now is that you’ll build some equity. The legal fees involved and the hassle of selling the condo later to buy your forever home might not be worth it. Keep saving so that homeownership is a joy not a frustration.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Very good points, thanks AM!

  • Jenna
    Reply

    I’d like to buy a house someday, but for now I’m renting until I know where I want to live long-term and have enough money saved up for a decent down payment. Good luck with your search!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      That’s another reason we’re delaying buying anything. We don’t have longterm plans to stay in Toronto, but then again we don’t have plans to leave in the next year or two either.

  • Heather
    Reply

    That’s exciting you’re thinking about buying a condo! I bought a co-op in NY a few years ago and so happy I did! You’re right, there are drawbacks to buying a condo or co-op, but each place is different. I don’t have restrictions as to my drapes and wall color, for example. There are some benefits too. For me, it’s a nice stepping stone to buying a home. You start building up equity, which can help you to be able to afford a house sooner, and there’s less responsibility owning a condo so it sort of helps you prepare for owning a home later on without all of the responsibility right away.

    It can be a difficult process, so my advice is to trust your gut, and ask a lot of questions. Ask multiple people too if something doesn’t feel right during the process. I ran into massive problems, by ignoring the voice in my head saying “Hmm, that seems odd.” and “Will that be a problem?” – I posed those questions to my laywer, real estate agent, and banker only once. They all said it would be fine, and lo and behold it wasn’t.

    I’m not trying to scare you though! 🙂 I’m so so happy I did it. I just wish I had learned to trust myself before that. Would have saved me mountains of trouble.

    Good luck!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Trust your gut, the best advice. That’s what told me not to buy a house because it just wouldn’t have been a good investment for me. Thanks Heather!

  • Lindsay O
    Reply

    I think it depends on what you’re looking for in a home. Do you plan on having children? Do you want space for friends/family to be able to stay when they’re in town? Do you want a backyard? I also think with the amount of money you save buying a condo over a house means you have more expendable income for things like travel. This is a decision that can only be made by you two.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Children, not for the foreseeable future. Don’t need space for friends/family to stay when their in town. Don’t really care about a backyard. So I think a condo might be a good option. Plus I do like the flexibility of not being house poor but still owning something.

  • Brenda Witherspoon-Bedard
    Reply

    buying a condo might be a good way for you to break into the housing market – I dont have any personal experience with condo’s though.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Ya, it’s really hard to say. Condos definitely don’t seem to go up in value as much as houses, but I’m not willing to pay a million bucks just to get a house.

  • Carolyn R
    Reply

    Great article! I have always rented also and love the idea of owning a small piece of property & house that I can call my own…I am definitely not very knowledgeable on the subject, and it totally depends on your lifestyle, but if it was me I think I would hold out for what I truly wanted, and what would make me the most happy down the road 🙂 Maybe even consider relocating to a more affordable area..I have friends who moved from Toronto to Costa Rica to do just that! (although I know thats not the solution for everyone) 😉

    Good Luck whatever you guys decide!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      I would love to move to Costa Rica. That’s sort of my retirement dream 🙂

      • Carolyn R
        Reply

        Me too! 🙂

  • Stephanie D
    Reply

    I think buying a condo would be a great idea. It has definite perks – in my experience soundproofing has been good, and gym/pool is always a plus. One thing to really look at is how many elevators the building has, and how well they are maintained. I lived for a bit in a condo on the 14th floor, and while the building had 3 elevators, two were always down. It took up to 20 min in the am for the elevator to come.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Very good point. The apartment we live in has 19 floors and 3 elevators, and one always seems to be broken!

  • Robyn Bellefleur
    Reply

    We live in a house and if you can hold out, I would suggest to do so. My backyard is my sanctuary and I don’t know what I would do with a tiny balcony of a condo. And a backyard makes for great entertaining during the warmer months.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      I haven’t had a greenspace in ages! I would love to have a backyard one day. Though the view from our apartment balcony is pretty cool.

  • Jenness M
    Reply

    I’m debating whether to go condo or house also for my first purchase. I’m leaning toward condo due to less upkeep but you have to weigh the pros and cons of each.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      It’s a tough decision isn’t it?

  • carol clark
    Reply

    id hold out for a house but a condo you have neighbors and things you wont be able to have if you buy a home so its a toss id myself would love to live in a condo cause im lonely out at my house but a house is no bills but your house note and bills to the house thats why im here

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      It’s a tricky decision that’s for sure.

  • Danielle
    Reply

    The thing is, condo shopping is just as tricky in Toronto as house hunting. My friends had a budget of almost $500,000 and still spent over 6-7 months looking and bidding and being outbid and having condos sold out from under them until they got theirs last fall. And now we’re starting a soft-look ourselves and testing out areas and it’s looking prettttyyyy competitive. Good luck! To us all.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      I swear the condo market wasn’t as crazy a year ago. Like there were a lot of people and the few viewings we did, but I never heard of condo bidding wars. It’s insane here in Toronto!

  • Frank Facts
    Reply

    I know there are some pitfalls of condos, but I personally wouldn’t mind some of them. Mowing a lawn and doing outdoor repairs isn’t exactly my favorite thing in the world. 🙂

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Same here, I tend to forget with a house comes so many more chores!

  • Jenn Erin
    Reply

    Sorry, I don’t have much experience on this topic – I’m still a renter – but I would hold out for a home because we plan on having more kids. With that being said, I think buying a condo could be great as well!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      I think if you’re planning for a family, holding out for a home or looking for a townhouse would be a better idea. I certainly can’t see myself raising kids in a condo. Plus I really loved growing up in a house with a yard. It wasn’t even a big house and I always had to share a room with one of my sisters, but it was nice having that privacy from our neighbours and playing in our yard whenever we wanted.

  • Andrea Amy
    Reply

    That would be up to you, what you’re looking for, what your family dynamic is. I’m a renter unfortunately, but if I was in the position to buy a home there is no way I would personally live in a condo. Its way too much like apartment living to me, and not the same privacy as a single family home. I did my apartment days and my townhouse days (side by sides) and I hated every second of it. I also have 5 children, and we need a full house with a yard.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      I think the big thing is if we want to stay in the city we can only afford a condo, but if we want a house and see ourselves living in the area longterm, we’ll have to find a house outside the city (which means longer commutes for both of us). I’d say at this point in our lives a condo makes the most sense, but it’s also hard to predict what the next few years could bring!

  • Ann Li
    Reply

    Aside from the condo fees, I don’t see much downside in owning a condo vs a house. I do however recommend going over Garth Turner’s 90 Rule when it comes to buying real estate, investing too much of your $ into one single item is risky, but if you and your husband are allocating your money properly / in a balanced fashion, I believe it can be a great investment. 🙂

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      I’m gonna have to check that out, I’ve never heard of Garth Turner’s 90 Rule. Thanks Ann!

  • Revanche
    Reply

    As you know, we’re in the SF Bay area which is astoundingly expensive too and settled for a condo a while back. I hated the idea of HOA fees, and restrictions, but over the years, I’ve realized that it’s an ok trade-off for the responsibilities of a single family home. We’re raising our little family in a small place and while it’s a tight fit sometimes, there are a few more benefits than we realized now that we’re in the Mobile Kid stage.

    (I got enthusiastic and entered the giveaway until I remembered it’s good for CA only 😉 Oops, feel free to delete those entries!)

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      That’s encouraging to hear that it’s not so bad raising a small family in a condo! Thanks Revanche!

  • Devin
    Reply

    I sounds like your heart is set on a house, my advice it to hold out.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      It definitely was a year ago, but now I’m not so sure.

  • Souda
    Reply

    The Toronto housing market is quite unfortunate at the moment. I have a few friends that started off renting in the downtown core and eventually moved out to further, either to the East End or North York in order to afford a detached single family home. Even still their houses were complete gut jobs and still way over the half a million mark. It’s good that you are considering your options and although condos are not for everyone, maybe it can be something great for you guys at this moment in your lives. It’s all about what is perfect for your lifestyle. Buying your first home is a huge decision and is an exciting time, no need to rush it.

  • Heather S
    Reply

    Purchasing is so individual! I held out for a house, but whatever meets your needs is the BEST for you! 🙂 xoxo

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Thanks Heather!

  • Katrina
    Reply

    I think it’s crazy that we pay so much interest on homes, paying multiple times over what the cost of the house is! Banks have to make money somehow I guess. The thing is, when you take out a long loan, you usually end up updating or having to replace things (flooring, faucets, paint, windows, etc) before you actually end up paying for them on the mortgage!

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      That’s very true, I always forget about those extra costs you get dinged with as a homeowner. I remember when my parents had to replace their water heater after 10 years, that was several thousand dollars. Then several more thousand dollars to update two bathrooms. Yikes!

  • gene d
    Reply

    you mentioned BC in one of your replies – I would move there in a heartbeat – but only on the island. I would move there asap and get away from Ontario. It’s a sinking ship.
    Good Luck whatever you do.

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      Sinking ship you say? I guess it depends on what you mean. When it comes to more job opportunities, Toronto far surpasses Vancouver and even Vancouver Island (Victoria, Nanaimo…). But I do miss BC a ton and hope to move back there eventually once my husband and I’s careers are a bit more established.

  • Maggie
    Reply

    I think the condo is a great idea – if you love the place, go for it! =)

    • Jessica Moorhouse
      Reply

      So far I haven’t seen a condo I absolutely love, but who knows, we’ll see what happens. 🙂

  • Tammy Dalley
    Reply

    Id hold out for the house but everyone is different, follow your heart 🙂

  • margaux retrophiliac
    Reply

    it really depends where you live. I calculated buying vs renting and renting in the long term, for us, will be cheaper.

  • Lisa
    Reply

    My hubby and I bought a condo before getting a house. The thought of buying a house was very overwhelming. Buying a condo first definitely got us somewhat prepared with the financial aspects of buying something of that nature. Also the condo life was a good fit for us at the time. No regrets!

  • Jonnie
    Reply

    I think if you’re young and childless, a condo is the perfect way to get into the real estate market and start building equity. We rented for many years while we saved for a house and we regret not buying a condo instead of renting because it feels like we threw away all that rent money!

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