I’m getting married in a few months and we want to buy our first home, likely a condo. Is buying a condo any different from buying a house?

First of all, congratulations on your upcoming nuptials! It is a milestone event in your lives, as is buying your first home together.

Buying a condo is much like buying a house in that your decision will depend on such factors as your available budget, location, size, layout and condition of the dwelling. The search and transaction will also benefit from the guidance of a real estate professional.

However, condo ownership has some unique characteristics you should know about before you start your search.

For example, some condominiums are marketed as “adult lifestyle” while others are more child-friendly and have amenities for families, like playrooms or a playground.

And, unlike a house, condos usually have rules restricting the size and type of pets, noise, balcony/patio furniture, decorations and even drapes or flooring material. Not all condos have the same rules, so it’s important for you to find out what’s allowed and what’s not, and to be comfortable with those rules when you are considering a purchase.

Another unique aspect of condos is a document called the status certificate. This document contains important information about the condo corporation and the specific unit you are interested in. The condominium corporation must provide it to you (for a fee of up to $100) when you ask for it. So, when you do find a condo you like, it’s very important to make your offer conditional on a review of the status certificate by your real estate lawyer, preferably one with experience in condominium transactions.

When you review the status certificate, you will see that it contains the condominium’s Declaration, Bylaws, and Rules that you will be expected to follow. These items are enforced by the condo’s Board of Directors and can be difficult to change, so if they don’t fit your needs, expectations or lifestyle, find another condo that suits you better.

The status certificate also indicates the monthly fees for your unit for upkeep of the common areas – including building maintenance, landscaping and snow removal – and the utilities for which you will be responsible.

If the condo you’re looking at includes a parking space and/or locker, the certificate will tell you whether you own the space yourself, or whether it’s a common element owned and assigned by the condo corporation.  Be sure to review the Declaration documents with your lawyer to ensure that the numbers assigned to the unit, parking spot and locker (if any) correspond to the numbers stated on the Agreement of Purchase and Sale.

And finally, the certificate also contains the financial records for the condo corporation, the most recent budget and the balance in the corporation’s reserve fund.  This is important information because if there is insufficient cash in the reserve fund to cover costly future repairs, your monthly condo fees could go up or you may have to pay a special assessment.

It’s always a good idea to have your real estate representative and lawyer review the status certificate with you. If you include a properly drafted condition with your offer and then you see something in the status certificate that gives you pause (for example, if it reveals a significant deficiency in the reserve fund) you may be able to walk away from the deal with your deposit.

Consumer Protection Ontario has more information about the rights and responsibilities of condo ownership on its website.

Joseph Richer is Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). He is in charge of the administration and enforcement of all rules that govern real estate professionals in Ontario. You can find more tips at reco.on.ca, follow on Twitter @RECOhelps or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/RECOhelps.

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