Condo living - it's terrific!

Condo living can be full of wonderful surprises. There’s also a lot worth knowing that will be new to traditional home owners. Here are some of the ins and outs.

If you’re contemplating the big change from homeowner to condo owner, check out what your friends who have made the move have to say. If your friends are like mine, almost all of them will tell you, “I wish I had done it sooner!”

That’s my story too.

You’re part of a community

My wife and I made the transition gradually, selling our home and buying a condo townhouse. About nine years later, we made the move to an apartment condo. Our trepidations about living in a large building for the first time in our life disappeared even before we moved in.

We were lucky to have access to our unit a couple of days before our official move-in. It made it a lot easier to repaint the place and change the carpeting. Well, on my first elevator trip, one of the residents greeted me with a warm hello and, “You’re new here, aren’t you? Welcome!”

And that’s the way it’s been in the six and half years that we’ve been in our condo. For, literally, the first time in my life I feel like I live in a community, where folks know who you are and kind of look out for you.

Here’s an example. I work out in the condo gym that overlooks the indoor swimming pool. I’m a regular in the gym. And my wife’s a regular in the pool. For a period of time, my wife wasn’t feeling well and skipped her swimming routine. One day, a woman who usually is on a treadmill and knows who my wife is asked, “How is your wife? I haven’t seen her for a few weeks.”

Here’s another example: during our first year at our place, my wife and I attended several of the periodic buffet dinners the social committee puts on. We thought it would give us a sense of who our neighbours are. And it would have shown good intentions on our part as newcomers. At one of those dinners a bridge group centred in the other building in our development invited my wife to join.

These little touches of warmth actually are a big deal. There’s so much inevitable contact with neighbours in the elevator, the gym, the recreation centre, the mailroom, the garage. They happen more frequently than they ever did when we lived in a free-standing house.

In the elevator one day I admired a plate of homemade halvah a Persian neighbour who I had never met was taking to a friend in another apartment. She asked me which unit I lived in and turned up at my door the next day with a plate of halvah for my wife and me.

Wow! In all of the years that we lived in a single detached home, no one ever turned up at the door with delicious homemade treats!

It’s a positive experience, not an intrusive one. You’ll never feel truly alone, which you might as you grow older in a free-standing house. That’s coming from a guy who is not known as “Mr. Sociability.”

That’s the human side of condo living for seniors. What about the nuts and bolts?

One of the prime benefits of condo living is that you no longer have to do the maintenance yourself – no more shoveling snow and cutting the grass and raking leaves.

Another is that a range of amenities is just an elevator ride away. Believe me, when I can leave my condo in gym shorts on a January day, work out and come back up to our unit, all without stepping outside, I don’t miss driving to a gym for a minute.

And, of course, any time you vacation, you pretty much just lock the door and go. But the overall experience does bring some new considerations into your life.

Before you buy, read up. Understand how condos work – there is a significant difference from being a traditional home owner. And be sure to see the books.

Except for city by-laws, you pretty much write the rules in a free-standing house. In a condo, you and your fellow owners live by a hierarchy of other rules:

  1. The Ontario Condominium Act
  2. The condominium Declaration
  3. The condominium By-laws
  4. The condominium Rules.

This isn’t the place to get into the details. But it’s critical that you see, read, question and understand the Declaration, the condo corporation’s By-laws and the Rules. They exist to protect owners’ enjoyment of their home, maintain the value of the commonly owned property and define how the condo corporation is run. As an owner, you’ll be eligible to run for Board of Directors.

Did I mention, see the books? Yes. Because as a potential buyer, you have the right to see the corporation’s minutes and its financials. That’s the only way you can determine how sound the condo corporations finances are, how much money is in the reserve fund to take care of future maintenance (such as roof repair, elevator repair, garage refurbishing because of salt damage, window replacement and more). You may have to pay a fee for copies.

Just to give you a sense of how significant this is, the window contractor who is replacing windows in our two 30-year-old buildings told me recently that he was almost finished the job – some 2700 windows! In a well-managed condo (such as ours), that’s a planned maintenance cost, the funds for which have been saved in the reserve.

If the reserve had not been properly funded, condo unit owners could have been in for a nasty maintenance fee hike to cover the cost.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has a terrific section on their website devoted to what they call Condominium Basics. It’s worth a look.

As you may know, if you’ve read some of my previous posts, I was diagnosed with heart failure a few years back. The fact that we live in a single-level unit as opposed to our previous multi-level townhouse condo was a huge benefit as I worked to recover from my hospitalization. It’s also reduced the stress on my creaky knees and lowered our risk of falls (see my post on Medical alert devices like Philips lifeline and the Apple Watch series 4)  

I could go on and on about location, older or new construction, unit size, the worth of various amenities – but that’s for you and a real estate agent to discuss. It sometimes just comes down to: downsizing means less housecleaning. Me, I wish we had done it sooner.

This has been just a taste of how condo living for seniors, is different

For my wife and me, it’s been a life-changing experience. If you’re thinking about making the move to a condo, talk to your friends who’ve made the move, go to a few open houses and keep an open mind. Condo living is different from living in your own single-family home, but it can be a very positive difference!

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