I talked about buying strata properties in a previous column. After a few recent escapades with condo purchases I think I’d like to talk about it again.

Strata properties can offer the convenience of shared maintenance costs, security, benefits like pools and workout rooms, and in some cases a more attractive price point. For people with busy schedules that don’t have the desire to spend time on yard work (or shoveling!) strata properties can be a great fit.

Strata properties are managed by strata councils. There are legal requirements with respect to meetings, finances and insurance, record keeping, maintenance and upkeep, as well as bylaws and rules.

Not all strata properties are created equal. People don’t realize the importance of taking the time to read through the strata documents when they are considering buying a strata property.

From a financing perspective there are several pieces that lenders look for.Lenders and insurers (CMHC, Genworth, Canada Guaranty) will read through strata documents, particularly meeting minutes, financials, and depreciation reports. They are looking to see if the building(s) have been well maintained, and if there are adequate funds in the strata’s contingency reserve fund (CRF) to cover any upcoming projects or unexpected issues.

They will look to see if the strata has planned and budgeted for ongoing maintenance and updates to ensure the buildings stay in marketable condition.

Lenders look to see if there is a rental pool or if there are rental restrictions. They are looking to see if there are any age restrictions.

So how does this affect you as a potential buyer?

If buildings have not been properly maintained or have had significant structural issues, they are sometimes flagged by mortgage default insurers. This means that those insurers won’t cover new mortgages for people trying to build into the complexes until those issues have been rectified or remediated.

If the building has been flagged, it can mean that you are unable to find mortgage financing to purchase a unit in that building.

This can also mean increased strata fees to cover big repairs. This may also lead to special assessments. Special assessments are used by stratas to raise significant funds relatively quickly to deal with major expenses.

Over the last year I’ve talked to clients that have had to deal with special assessments of $23,000 and $10,000 respectively. Neither of these clients were in the position to come up with the cash, so they are both on payment plans. In both situations this additional monthly payment has created financial distress.

Increased strata fees and special assessments can happen in any strata complex, but if you are looking at purchasing a unit in a complex that has ongoing issues or minimal funds in the contingency reserve fund you need to think about what that may look like down the road for your finances.

Having said that, just because a building has had issues in the past does not mean you should cross it off your list of potential purchases.

Do your homework. Check to see if the strata has dealt with any outstanding issues, and if they have documentation to confirm that.

We were recently able to obtain approval in a complex that the insurers had flagged.

For over two years the building had been flagged due to maintenance issues. In this case any units that sold were sold to cash buyers as lenders wouldn’t touch the complex.

Major work was done and an engineer’s report was ordered to confirm the damage had been dealt with.

Both the lender and the insurer went through all of the documents and approved the financing because all issues had been dealt with and the strata has taken steps to rebuild their contingency fund and ensure necessary maintenance is planned for in the future.

Condo insurance is the other issue that has been in the news recently. It seems like insurance premiums have gone up dramatically over the last year. My own home insurance policy just came up for renewal with an increase of almost thirty per cent. I’ve never made any claims.

For buildings that have had significant claims, the increased premiums have a significant on the strata’s financial position.

It will be interesting to see how lenders address this issue moving forward.

This felt a bit cautionary. The intent of this information is not to scare you off of purchasing a specific property, but rather to encourage you to do your homework and learn about the strata you are buying into. Your realtor will be able to help you find answers to your questions, and it is important to have your lawyer or notary review the

Is a strata property the right fit for you?

strata documents before you move forward with your purchase.

The spring market feels to be picking up. If you are looking to get into the housing market, a strata property might be the ideal fit!