The Concept Of Condo “Lifestyle” Is A Great One, But Reality Is That We Missed The Mark On Condo Life

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I fortunately stumbled into the condo business in the late 1970’s.  The government had just changed real estate laws to allow developers to sell the “space above the land” as real estate and that opened the doors to “the condo lifestyle“.

And what a lifestyle condos allegedly introduced.  You couldn’t afford a swimming pool for your house but collectively owners in a condo could enjoy their own fitness facility including saunas, swimming pools, elaborate health clubs, private dining rooms and meeting facilities all for a small monthly fee that also covered building insurance, water, and a 24 hour concierge.

Unfortunately, the “24 hour concierge” ended up a security guard (this is still misrepresented into today’s condo marketing material), all those glitzy amenities are overwhelmed by renters and legitimate condo owners got pushed aside for the rental income potential afforded investors who could no buy one unit and rent it out and become a landlord enjoying rental income.

And for the owners, well you all get to cover the costs.

In the almost four decades of my being actively involved in the day to day business of Toronto condos, the Building Code has not changed.

The Condo Act is great if you are a developer or property manager but failed miserably to protect legitimate buyers.  And the Tarion Warranty Program, (originally “The Ontario New Home Warranty Program”) continues today as an insult to buyers affording them only minimal protections.

Condos are set up with ridiculous payment schemes for property managers.  Budgets reflect excessive compensation packages for property managers.  Most condo development budgets show payments to property management companies at over a quarter million dollars a year to manage a single building!

At College Park, for example, for one tower owners pay over $250,000.00 a year for property management.  Same at Minto Plaza (where the property managers on two different occasions have been caught stealing money from owners, first with an efficiency toilet replacement program that was somehow paid for but no toilets delivered and most recently a complete wardrobe purchased unlawfully by the property manger for himself) yet, no-one has gone to jail!

In condos you share not only the amenities and common areas, you also share your walls, ceilings and floors with strangers, many of whom don’t own or have ever owned and totally lack the concept of “pride of ownership” that usually accompanies the purchase of a home.

Internal politics, neighbour infighting and power struggles within condo boards.  The best and most qualified condo owners seldom volunteer to sit on boards thus you end up having your destiny governed frequently by less-than qualified candidates with nothing better to do or no other identity than “being president of the condo board“.

And frequently these board members have their own agenda, much like property managers who have their own agendas.  Not only are property management companies overpaid (their compensation is set by the developer) but their side-line cash in the way of kickbacks can significantly increase their compensation package.

Frequently we see board members, with nothing else going on in their lives, pursuing their own little “fiefdoms”.  They’ve never had any power in their lives and now, by volunteering to sit on the board of their condo building, they have “Power”.

It has long been said the “power corrupts and absolute power absolutely corrupts” and you can see this roll out in pretty much every condo board out there.

And in Ontario we don’t have a “Sunshine Law” (in Florida boards cannot meet and discuss condo business without properly notifying all owners through a formal Notice posted at least 3 days prior to any meeting).  All owners have the right to attend any meeting and to speak at that meeting on topic being discussed (providing they sign in and specify that they intend to speak at the meeting).

In Ontario board meetings are closed door events!

There is a historic saying that “good fences make for good neighbours” but in condos that no longer applies as you have to walk by a “problem neighbour” simply to get to the elevator or throw out your garbage!

To show you the shift in Canadian housing from detached homes to condos, I would point out that back in 1981 condos made up less than 10% of all homes built in Canada’s top 10 cities.

Today, condos equate to about 33% of home built with over 1.6 million Canadians living in them.

The real plague underpinning the condo industry is that such a high percentage of condos are sold to investors.  The entire sales and marketing process in Ontario is built on inviting speculators into “hysteria buying sessions“, falsely promoted as “Insider Sales Events where developers offer discounts on early selections of suites“.

When investors show up the end up finding a limited inventory of suites being offered and are limited to buying whatever suites the developer is offering (legitimate home owners wouldn’t buy this way) under the guise of everything having been “already sold out”.

No-one ever seems to question how all those other suites could have been sold when this “Special Pre-Launch Event” was supposed to be a “pre-launch event“!

It is almost comical if it was so tragic that people can be tricked into buying “dog suites” under the pretense of getting “the best selection of suites at the best price possible“!

Condo corporations today are run more like mini-governments than businesses!  It is very difficult to introduce meaningful changes in condos in Toronto as the majority of owners do not attend the Annual General Meeting and changes require massive percentages for there to be any changes made.

If you get a couple board members who don’t even live in the building but want to make sure their units are always rented out, you will see elaborate spending on fitness facilities and amenities.  This is clear at College Park II in Toronto where you’ll find fitness facilities that compete with any commercial gym in the city!

More common than neighbour on neighbour disputes are conflicts between boards and owners over the expansion of the Rules of the condo.  Usually you will find 2 or 3 pages of Rules introduced by the developers in the Disclosure Statements.  Once the condo is Registered and turned over to the owners these Rules can swell to upwards of 50 pages (owners don’t get to vote on rule changes, boards can do that all by themselves)!

I personally do not like high rise condo living.  I don’t like having to exchange pleasantries every time I come or go with a security guard who, is not addressed in the manner by which they expect, takes on an “attitude“.

You’ll see rules like “no bicycles on the elevators” and you’ll hear from occupants constantly their opposition to leaving that $3,500 state-of-the-art bike sitting out in an open area of the condo.  I personally would agree with the “no bikes on the elevators” policy if I had to ride elevators and see the mess caused by dirty bike wheels on and off of the elevators and streaming across hall carpets.

I feel that owners should be recognized differently from renters which is also not the case.

Many rules introduced by board members can actually negatively affect property values.

I personally like rules as they limit the “Jed Klampets” of “Beverley Hillbillies” fame from destroying the integrity of your property.

I live in a townhouse in College Park Condos and don’t use elevators other than to attend the exercise facilities each morning for about an hour but this limited expose to renters gives me sufficient cause for concern.

I’ve got them entering the swimming pool area with taking a shower!  The locker room has large clearly stated signs telling everyone that a shower is required but these people obviously refuse to co-operate.

The gym equipment is abused horrifically with machines constantly (as well as elevators) continually out of service.  Trash is flung everywhere, rules are disregarded (even by some owners) and thus, the entire concept of the “condo lifestyle” is lost.

The reality in Toronto is that unless you have millions of dollars to spend you will not be buying a detached home as prices have literally gone through the roof over the past decade or so!

So, most will be buying into and living in a condo.  Are there good condos out there?  Absolutely!

How do you find them?

Well, that’s where I come in.  I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years and I intimately know each and every condo in the downtown core.  I do venture out of the core infrequently when I have a client interested in something out of the core but the greatest majority of my transactions over the past years have been lited to a small piece of real estate between the lake and Eglinton Avenue to the north and Yonge Street to about Spadina.

The good news is that, when you work with me as your Buyer’s Agent you will know which condos are the “good”, the “bad” and the “downright ugly”!

And my services are absolutely FREE to you.

I’m Charles

 

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