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Should I Buy a Condo or a House?

November 3, 2022
min read

Apart from the cost implications, the decision between buying a condo or a house can be overwhelming. Find out the main differences between purchasing a home or a condo to aid your decision making.

Considering buying a condo in Winnipeg? Buying a condo is not the same as buying a house; it is important to understand the differences.

A condo, by definition, is a multi-unit structure. When you purchase a condo unit, you buy the title to the unit itself, not the property or the entire building, as you would with a house. A condo association manages condos, and expenses related to shared living spaces and amenities in the condo building are covered by a monthly condo fee.

Condo living can be ideal for some, but the shared management of living spaces and amenities makes the discovery process incredibly important when considering a condo.

The Winnipeg Condo Market

There are many condos in Winnipeg, ranging from high-rise buildings to side-by-side structures.

“While Winnipeg is not a metropolitan city, it is certainly embracing the freedoms offered in community condo living,” says Blair Sonnichsen, a Winnipeg realtor. If you’re looking for a condo, there are many in all areas of the city, in a variety of different price ranges, making it easy to find one that meets your lifestyle needs.

According to the Winnipeg Regional Real Estate News, in June 2022, condos were 72% of listings sold. The average sales price for a condo was $278,266.

Figure Out Your Wish List

Sonnichsen recommends that those looking to buy a condo sit with their realtor and share their needs and wants. “Do you want to lock and leave? Are you looking for an elevator? Do you want amenities like a gym or pool in the building? Underground parking? There is a huge list, and condo living is all about lifestyle,” Sonnichsen says.

Your realtor can fine-tune your wish list and direct you to areas of the city that accommodates your lifestyle needs. “It’s important to address the lifestyle list first,” Sonnichsen says. “People often think that a ‘condo is a condo’ and will not be making apples-to-apples comparisons, which means they could end up over-paying for the condo they buy”.

It’s Not the Same as Buying a House

If you’ve purchased a house in the past, you might think buying a condo is the same; It is not. Sonnichsen suggests working with a realtor who understands the process.

“What a condo community offers and the costs associated with these amenities are reflected in more than just your property taxes,” he says. Do your homework and understand the lifestyle and financial differences when deciding whether to buy a house vs. a condo.

You’ll get a ‘Cooling Off’ Period

If you purchase a condo in Manitoba, you will get a seven-day cooling-off period after the offer is accepted. During this period, you will be provided disclosure documents and allowed to cancel your offer for any reason.

Take this time to carefully review the documents you receive to ensure you are comfortable with everything.

“It’s important to understand the operations of what you’re buying; when you buy a car, you get an owner’s manual, and with a condo, the reserve fund study is your manual,” Sonnichsen says.

Differences Between Buying a Home and Buying a Condo

Condo Fees

In exchange for some of the benefits of buying a condo, there are also costs in the form of monthly condo fees. Be aware of what the current monthly condo fees are and know what will be covered. When budgeting, also note that condo fees may increase over time.

Some common items included in condo fees are property insurance, property management, common area maintenance, reserve fund contributions, and water. Side-by-side condos also typically include maintenance to the exterior structure of the unit itself.

Floor Plans

Often condo buildings contain units with varying floor plans, so not every unit is equal. Depending on where it faces, you can have different levels of sunlight and heat, and your view on one side of the building will be completely different from the view on the other side.

Sonnichsen says that prospective condo-buyers frequently fail to notice things such as the amount of light in a hallway or the noise coming from outside the suite. He urges people to be mindful of these things. Make sure you are comfortable with the amount of noise and light outside your suite.

Reserve Fund Study

When buying a condo, you have access to a reserve fund study. “A reserve fund study gives you the complete performance and projection of costs that may be incurred on depreciating items of the building over the next 25 years,” Sonnichsen says.

This means you’ll be able to see a projection of when there will be major repairs. This gives you a glimpse into how much condo fees may need to increase.

“With a single-family home, you do not have access to this information; you aren’t given an estimate on how long the furnace will last or when the roof will need to be replaced,” Sonnichsen says. This means you will likely base your decision on the home inspector’s interpretation of the home’s current condition.

A condo’s reserve fund study is updated every five years, and when buying a condo, the buyer must receive the actual reserve fund total and the amount recommended by the reserve fund study.

Review the study carefully to estimate potential condo fee increases.

Condo Association

With a condo comes a condo association. If you are considering buying a condo, it is beneficial to understand the operations of the condo association as best as possible, whether through reviewing meeting notes or simply by asking the other condo owners about their experience with the association. The structure of the condo association should be outlined in the condo bylaws.

Condo Bylaws

It is also important to thoroughly review condo policies to ensure they fit your needs and lifestyle. For example, some condos are not pet friendly, which may be a deal breaker. Even pet-friendly condos sometimes have weight or size restrictions.

Planning a big renovation once you move in? Some condos have restrictions on the types of renovations. Check the bylaws to ensure you can accomplish what you want.

Other important bylaws to review include garbage, recycling, parking, snow removal and lawn care, noise restrictions and the use of common facilities like pools or meeting rooms.

Condo Insurance

Another way that condos differ from houses is in how they are insured. The condo itself typically insures the building itself, whereas the tenant insures the contents within their condo. It is important to understand the condo’s insurance policy, as you may want to supplement it with additional insurance.

An overview of what to consider is below.

Reserve Fund When you purchase a condo you get access to the reserve fund study, allowing you to get a sense of when certain things (such as the roof or boiler) need to be replaced. You might find yourself on the hook for a special assessment (i.e. additional cash outlay) if your condo reserve fund doesn’t have enough funds to cover a major repair or to comply with regulations. Carefully review the documents you receive during the cooling-off period to make sure you are comfortable with everything you learn.
Maintenance Depending on the policies of the condo, you likely do not need to worry about the maintenance of common areas or services, such as the lobby, exterior of the building, lawn care, snow removal, etc. You have limited say in the maintenance of common areas or the replacement of amenities and will have to budget for potential increases in your condo fees.
Lifestyle & Freedom Condo-living allows you to choose a home specifically tailored to your lifestyle. Don’t want to have to maintain a yard? No problem – there are many yard-free condominiums available to you in Winnipeg. Travel frequently? You can lock your condo door and leave, knowing the building is being taken care of while you are gone. You may not have the same freedom to renovate your condo as you would with a house. Other elements of your lifestyle may be limited such as the ability to have pets. Be sure to read the condo bylaws to determine what you can and cannot do.
Community You are part of your condo’s community, and many condo buildings or complexes schedule regular events for residents. Many condos are purchased as rental income properties, so your building may have frequent tenant turnover.

How does Buying a Condo Differ from Buying a House?

The mortgage approval process is the same when you are buying a condo vs. a home, with the exception that Cambrian will review the condo reserve study and the current financial statements of the condo corporation. This extra layer of due diligence is required to uncover any issues with the condo building or any material expenses for building maintenance or enhancements in the next five years. This will allow you to properly evaluate the potential costs you would need to cover in addition to the condo purchase price.

Cambrian can help finance your condo purchase, whether it is your first home, downsize home or income rental property, with our low everyday mortgage rates and personal advice.

Today’s Rates

*All rates and yields subject to change without notice.
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