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Be a Smart Condo Shopper

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By : Adam Robinson    99 or more times read
This article is not meant to bash condominium living. Condos have their place as an effective, low maintenance form of housing in an urban setting. However, this is one form of real estate that has consistently delivered a high level of customer dissatisfaction upon delivery. Buyers need to be prepared and understand what to look for when purchasing a new condominium.

Let's start at the beginning, back when the new condo is being displayed as a scale model with futuristic drawings of mirrored glass buildings, gorgeous views and happy families milling around the impeccably landscaped grounds.

According to Charles Hayes, "The best advice I can give anyone contemplating a condo purchase is to believe nothing you hear and about half of what you see."

These are strong words coming from a man nicknamed 'King Cobra' who used to sell condos full time. He claims the marketing strategy for this type of real estate hasn't changed for 30 years because it's so effective. The basic premise is to create a sense of urgency, get people in and get the building sold quickly.

This is certainly something we've seen time and again in large urban projects. Developers create a buying frenzy by advertising for early bird buyers who are certain to get first dibs on the choicest suites. People line up by the hundreds, some even camping out to be among the first buyers. In the meantime, developers have been quietly selling units for weeks.

Model Suites

Once again Charles Hayes warns, "Condos are all about selling a dream – even if they can't deliver."

Keep this in mind as you tour the model suites with their stainless steel appliances, top of the line furnishings and elegant decorating touches. Proceed to give yourself a slap and remember this is just a dream. What might be a 19 foot bedroom in the model suite, may actually be only 13 feet on the actual plan. The stainless steel appliances may be upgrades and not standard amenities.

These are just perceived renditions by the developer to give buyers an idea of what could be, and certainly not reality. They have taken artistic liberties on everything from the sizes of the rooms, to the view and even the floor plan.

Tommy and Jenny bought what they thought was a bedroom with ensuite, walk in closet and good sized den that they planned on turning into a nursery. What they actually got was a bedroom with a $40 closet organizer and a den the size of a small walk in closet.

When they looked back at their contract it stated "vendor may make from time to time at his discretion changes to plans and specifications."

If it isn't written in the contract, do not assume it's included. The dotted line on your kitchen floorplan that you assume is a breakfast bar, may be nothing more than chicken scratch if it's not labeled as such.

In the case of Tommy and Jenny, the developer offered their money back, but in the meantime the condo had increased in value. He would have been able to re-sell it for more money and they would have been priced out of the market.

When viewing model suites make sure you get what you are sold. Take a tape measure with you and measure each room to compare with the plan in your contract. In fact in many cases, the floorplan provided in your contract has no measurements or square footage listed.

If stainless steel appliances are included make sure it's in writing. However, if you read the contract, the developer has probably covered himself by stating they can deliver any color if the one you chose isn't available. In fact, many buyers claim their contracts have over 20 pages of clauses protecting the developer – everything is subject to change.

Danny in Penticton BC was sold a secure parking spot with his condo. What he received was a remote for the garage door, but the spot was located outside the garage, completely open to the street and definitely not secure. A common contract provision states that the vendor could relocate your parking spot to another location.


It may be the stunning view that was the selling point for your condo unit, but think again. Check for the clause that states you won't object to re-zoning. Which means in another year they could erect another building right next to yours, blocking that lovely ocean view.

Time Frame

Developers also have a lot of room when it comes to delivery dates. Your condo may be advertised with a 2010 delivery date, but upon reading the contract you may find a clause that provides the move in date can be extended 2 years and the final closing and de-registration another 2 years.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Don't be pressured into buying.

  2. Take an agent with you. Clients who purchase without an agent for protection often get sold the "dog suites" or the least appealing units.

  3. Have your contract reviewed by your lawyer.

  4. Research the developer's track record by speaking to residents in other buildings built by the same company.

  5. Go shopping with a tape measure and compare room sizes in the model suite to your actual plans.

  6. Your offer or plans should spell out exactly what you're getting.

  7. Have a flexible time frame for delivery.
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