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Be mindful of the differences between buying a condo versus a house

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My New Year’s resolution is to buy a condo. I’ve never bought property before — how do I get started?

Happy New Year! Buying a first home is a milestone event for most people, so I hope you find a place that suits your lifestyle.

Buying a condo means purchasing shares in the condo corp. that relate to your suite.
Buying a condo means purchasing shares in the condo corp. that relate to your suite.  (Dreamstime)

To make your resolution a reality, you should probably start by thinking carefully about both your needs and your finances. Talk to your lender about getting a pre-approval if you’re going to need a mortgage. Pre-approval does not guarantee that mortgage funds will be advanced, but it does give you an idea of the amount you may be able to borrow.

Remember that you’ll have to provide both a deposit and a down payment out of your own pocket. When you’re ready to begin the process, I recommend following these four must-do tips:

1) Interview at least three registered real estate salespeople to find one with experience buying and selling condos, and who understands your needs and finances.

2) Look them up on the Real Estate Council of Ontario’s website to ensure they’re registered to trade, and review their history of discipline.

3) Read and understand any documents you’re asked to sign.

4) Be an active participant in the buying process.

Buying a condo is a bit different than buying a detached or semi-detached property in the sense that you’re only purchasing shares in the condominium corporation that relate to a unit — yours — within a building. You’re not obtaining ownership of the land it’s on but you will have the right to use the common areas outside your suite, such as the hallways, gardens and other amenities.

You’re also expected to pay monthly condo fees for services such as security and maintenance, and to follow the condominium corporation’s bylaws. The bylaws may prevent you from smoking in your unit, owning a pet, hanging your preferred window coverings, renting the unit out to another tenant, or renovating without permission from the condo board. So it’s important to read them thoroughly before you sign. Admittedly, I was surprised at the restrictions when I bought my first condo.

You will need a lawyer who is insured to practise real estate law in order to close the transaction. It’s a good idea to hire one early in the process to review both the bylaws, and the condo’s status certificate, which contains information about the physical and financial state of the building. This is a crucial document. If the previous owner wasn’t up to date on their condo fees, you could find yourself responsible for any outstanding debts. Similarly, if the building needs major repairs or the condo corporation is experiencing financial issues, your monthly fees may increase. The cost of a status certificate is limited by law to $100.

If you have a question for Joe about the home buying or selling process, please email askjoe@reco.on.ca.

Joe Richer is registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) and contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @RECOhelps

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Ideas abound at IDS2019 as exhibitors showcase their cutting-edge interior designs

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With kilometres to cover, and hundreds of exhibits to see, this year’s 20th annual Interior Design Show may seem overwhelming. Especially for those with firm home renovation goals.

But IDS19, billed the Power of Design, is the ideal place to start, says celeb designer Brian Gluckstein, himself a show fixture since its start in 1999.

Designer Brian Gluckstein and Lynda Reeves, of House & Home magazine, discuss elements of home design at last year’s Interior Design show.
Designer Brian Gluckstein and Lynda Reeves, of House & Home magazine, discuss elements of home design at last year’s Interior Design show.  (Arash Moallemi / TBD)

“Everything is handy under one roof, no running all over the city to see what’s available in terms of products. Plus, company reps who staff the booths want to speak with you and answer questions. That’s what they’re there for.”

Taking place this year in the south building at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the show kicks off with an opening night party at 7 p.m. on Thursday, and then is open to the public Saturday, Jan. 19 and Sunday, Jan. 20 until 6 p.m. Along with over 200 exhibits and booths are 10 public seminars, including a sit-down with Roots’ frontman (and creative force at large) Questlove at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

Before you go, hatch an idea of “what you need and want, such as how many bedrooms, baths, whether you need a bigger kitchen, a dug-out basement. That comes before the architects or designers,” Gluckstein says.

“What I do is quickly walk up and down the aisles taking pictures of booths I want to see again. Then I take a break, sit down, go through the images on my phone and edit where I want to investigate more thoroughly.”

Consider these key areas:

Engineered flooring, on view at this weekend's show, allows for extra-wide, long, plank flooring.
Engineered flooring, on view at this weekend’s show, allows for extra-wide, long, plank flooring.

Flooring: The lowly floor is an unsung hero in the property values equation. Hardwood is beautiful and enduring but not always ideal: the concrete subfloors of a condo, for example, as well as basements and cottages are better suited to laminate.

If your plans include a basement, PurParket floors offers laminates that are not “entry level price,” says Daniela Zaremba, the firm’s creative director, “because they are 100 per cent waterproof and have no formaldehyde. And since they have a semi-rigid core, they can be put down without levelling the floor.”

For condos, engineered woods have come a long way — particularly with wide, long, plank-style — that homeowners also consider them, Zaremba says. One reason is the plank design: wood isn’t stable past the 4.25-inch width, she says.

If hardwood is your goal, Zaremba suggests researching its origin and manufacture; for instance, white oak is denser and more durable when grown in the Pacific northwest than in the southern U.S. There’s also on-site vs. pre-finish to consider; medium finishes show dirt and dust much less than dark tones. And, she adds, texture is very popular — hand-scraped and wire-brushed, in particular — which are durable and conceal scratches.

  • Which rooms? Kitchen and bath renos translate into top resale investments. They’re also a focus for homeowners who want to stay put and make their homes more functional. Sandra Mendes, senior projects designer for AyA Kitchens, recommends starting with “a look at your needs. Do you have a large cookbook collection? Are you wine drinkers? Are you interested in ergonomics? Do you need a baking counter?”

The design show has a selection of experts for discussing what will work best for you. Mendes says space constraints and aging in place are currently the top issues.

Finishes, she notes, are trending toward light tones — white and pale colours, and light-stained wood. The same goes for bathrooms, she says, with a lot of white and natural stone.

  • Appliances: In the kitchen, says Kelly Lam, vice-president of marketing for Miele Canada, a renovation is about “considering needs. That is, whether you have a large family, what your shopping habits are, whether you buy in bulk or shop frequently at local stores, even whether you buy large jugs of milk or juice and need shelves to handle that.”

Another reno consideration is where to locate the laundry room, Lam says. And since space is always an issue, especially in condos, European manufacturer Miele has a history of making every inch count. The company has a new dryer that doesn’t require venting and plugs into a regular 120V receptacle, which means it can be placed in a hall closet. Its new heat-pump technology also renders the dryer Energy-Star efficiency — something previously not possible.

Aqua Moonlights, by AMStudio, offers a design for some subtle overhead bling.
Aqua Moonlights, by AMStudio, offers a design for some subtle overhead bling.
  • Lighting: It’s the first thing noticed but often left off the list for home renovations.

Orly Meyer, lighting designer and owner of AM Studio, recommends focusing on the kitchen island because it “truly is the centre of the house, and you need to determine how to illuminate the kitchen.”

Some spaces call out for artistry. “Dining is an art form in itself, and since there are often no walls for art, this is your chance to get colour and drama in that space. The same goes for the staircase.”

Wall sconces, adds Orley, are a space-saving way to add much-needed light — and atmosphere.

  • Cutting edge: Studio North features emerging designers and architects with work still in the concept stage — “young risk-takers,” says Taylor Jantzi, a show co-ordinator. Another section, called Maker, features talented artists who have graduated from Studio North and have begun small-batch production.

Alex Newman is a Toronto-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her at alexnewman@rogers.com

The Re-Wrk space is designed for a modern office.
The Re-Wrk space is designed for a modern office.  (Steve Tsai)

Space, the newest frontier

New to the show this year is Re-Space, with four areas demonstrating technology’s influence on our physical world. Sponsored by Microsoft and Giant Containers, the four areas are:

1) Re-Ply, designed by Harrison Fae, “reimagines the idea of your inner child” using elements of a child’s playhouse.

2) Re-Liv, designed by Polymetis, focuses on a retreat from the busy world with two rooms: the Forest, a lush horizontal space and the Clearing a light vertical space.

3) Re-Wrk, by SDI principles Noam Hazan and Joanne Chan, looks at an ideal environment for a new generation of office workers.

4) Re-Lrn, by Studio AC designer Andrew Hill, was created to consider how “living, working, playing and learning … are changed by the digital world we live in.” The area includes single, double and multiple areas that allow visitors — via computers, tablets and screens — to access others, showing how individual actions using technology affects the greater group.

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Cottage in a box? This company will ship your new cabin in a flat-pack

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A cottage in a box? See it to believe it at IDS2019 this weekend.

The 670-sq.-ft. Great Lakes Cabin, built in a modular “kit-of-parts” system and shipped in a flat-pack, will make its debut as this year’s Interior Design Show concept house. It will be open for visitors to tour at the show on Jan. 19 and 20

A pre-fab cottage in a flatpack by Backcountry Hut Co., is delivered — in this artist’s rendering — to a waiting site.
A pre-fab cottage in a flatpack by Backcountry Hut Co., is delivered — in this artist’s rendering — to a waiting site.  (Backcountry Hut Company)

“You assemble it almost like big blocks, or LEGO,” says Wilson Edgar who, with architect Michael Leckie, co-founded the Backcountry Hut Company in British Columbia in 2015. The model on display this weekend — which includes a loft sleeping area, bathroom and covered deck — is the company’s first to be flatpacked, and shipped.

“When it comes together, it’s extremely durable and has an extremely long lifespan.

The inspiration for the company’s designs, says Leckie, was to “break they myth” that custom architecture has to be highly expensive. It also allows buyers involvement in the design and build process of their projects.

“When you say ‘a flat-pack system that provides architecture, like a piece of Ikea furniture’ people immediately understand what you’re talking about,” he adds.

Read more:

Ideas abound at IDS2019 as exhibitors showcase their cutting-edge interior designs

The pre-fab cottage exterior is recyclined metal cladding.
The pre-fab cottage exterior is recyclined metal cladding.  (Backcountry Hut Company)

Manufactured in Courtenay, B.C., the three cabin models — including the Alpine Hut and the Surf Hut — are made from Douglas fir and recycled metal cladding. The 206-sq.-ft. base model, priced to start at $150 a sq. ft., comes with four posts, four beams and a roof. From there, the cabins can be customized for buyers.

“We don’t endeavour to be the cheapest prefab system in any way. Ours is a very high-quality, enduring product and we are building for permanence,” says Leckie of the structures. He notes that disposability doesn’t resonate with architects, and so their huts are very much designed to last.

“We were very sensitive towards the environment,” adds company co-founder Edgar. “So all parts of the hut and shell system are 100 per cent recyclable.”

Though IDS is the official launch of the Great Lakes cabin, the company has already scheduled five projects for this Summer, in Colorado, Oregon, Ontario, and B.C.

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Two heads may be better than one in selling the family cottage: Ask Joe

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I’m ready to sell my cottage. Can I work with both a Toronto brokerage and a local brokerage?

You can list your cottage with more than one brokerage — the arrangement you described is known as a co-listing agreement — but you may have to shop around to find two real estate brokerages who will agree to it.

If you want to sell your cottage using both a local and city-based real estate brokerage, ensure  one has experience with cottage issues.
If you want to sell your cottage using both a local and city-based real estate brokerage, ensure one has experience with cottage issues.  (Dreamstime)

It’s important that at least one of the salespeople working with you is experienced in buying and selling cottages, because there are issues that are unique to such transactions. For example, there are special considerations arising from waterfront properties.

Sellers enter co-listing agreements for a variety of reasons. Two brokerages could present different, but equally-attractive marketing strategies. Or a home may be co-listed when there are two or more owners of a property and each wants to use their own brokerage. This sometimes happens when a home is sold during divorce proceedings.

If you choose to co-list your cottage, make sure the final agreement specifies which brokerage is responsible for which service; that it’s clear how the listing brokerages are splitting the listing-side commission between themselves (the agreement may specify what that split will be, so there aren’t any disagreements later on); and that it includes the amount of commission to be paid to any co-operating brokerage that acts for the buyer.

For example, you may want the local brokerage to market the property locally, arrange showings, stage the home, manage open houses, and review the agreement, given their expertise in the local area. Meanwhile, the Toronto brokerage may market the property to prospective Toronto-area buyers. There are a variety of complimentary activities these brokerages could do to help get your property sold.

As I mentioned, there are some special considerations when you buy or sell a cottage. Here are a few questions you may ask yourself before you start the selling process:

  • Zoning: How is the property zoned? Does the municipality provide emergency services and snowplowing in the winter, and are you allowed to use it year-round?
  • Rights and access: Do you need to travel through a neighbouring property in order to access a road or a shoreline, and are there any formal agreements in place? Do you have a survey of the property’s boundaries?
  • Water: Do the tap water and well installation meet provincial standards? What’s the overall condition of the cottage’s septic system, and do you have written inspection and maintenance. I strongly recommend shopping around for a salesperson who best understands your needs and expectations and is experienced in buying and selling similar properties in the area.

If you have a question for Joe about the home buying or selling process, please email askjoe@reco.on.ca.

Joe Richer is registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) and contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @RECOhelps

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