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Condos. Who needs them? That's what many prospective purchasers are saying when considering the purchase of their first home. I've talked to a number of developers and real estate agents on this matter and almost to the one, the downturn in the overall real estate market is a distant second reason buyers are avoiding a condo. Unemployment is down, prices are down, and interest rates are down. Consumer spending on retail goods is holding its own. People have money to spend and enough money in most cases to carry a mortgage payment that is usually equal to what they are currently paying in rent. So what's the problem? It's the leaky condo problem. It has tainted the condo market.

In fact, according to the latest statistics from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, construction of single family detached housing in British Columbia rose by a seasonally adjusted 4.2% in October. However, construction for multi-family residential buildings declined dramatically causing an overall decline of 17% in the province.

How bad is the leaky condo problem in British Columbia? Well, let me state that there are a number of buildings (too many) that should never have been built the way that they have been. No owner should be faced with having to consider replacing the entire building envelope (ie, the exterior skin) after two years, five years, or ten years. As long as the place is built right and regular maintenance occurs, there is no reason that today's housing shouldn't last as long as those built even fifteen years ago. A lot of the problems are also blamed on the National Building Code requiring tighter homes that don't allow moisture to escape out once it enters. And yet others put the blame solely on construction companies that hire trades that are not skilled enough to build but cheap enough to employ. While we're at it, why don't we also add architects and management companies to the blame list as well. While there is truth on a case by case basis to blame any of these parties, how can you explain all the complexes that were, and are, being built properly? You can't. Even if there is a problem in a generally well constructed complex, a reputable construction company and/or developer will stand by their work. Those that don't are already facing a consumer revolt where their reputation is getting tarnished to the point where they will soon be lucky if anyone buys a model house built out of toothpicks from them. Unfortunately, what the leaky condo issue has done is unfairly taint the entire condominium market with the same brush. The demand for them has also fallen. For every leaky condo out there, there are at least seven that are not suffering from "water ingress", "leakage", or "building envelope" problems.

But don't stop at just being on the look out for a leaky condo. Are there other issues mentioned in the minutes that could be a cause of concern (security, noise, equipment failures or ? ). In fact, a large number of my colleagues in property management have told me that more and more prospective purchasers are requesting that their building inspectors have access to the roof, mechanical room, and parkade to look for existing or potential problems. This rarely used to happen. Buyers should also check the bylaws to see that they can, in fact, have Fido or Whiskers live with them, whether renting their suite or townhouse is allowed, and do they have to put up the same colour window covering as everyone else. Some strata corporations have very strict bylaws. Check if you can live with them. Claiming ignorance after the fact is only going to get you a warning letter to cease and desist and usually a threat of a fine that will accumulate for every month you don't.

I have just scratched the surface of what a condominium buyer should look for in a condominium. Just don't lose sight of the fact that there are a number of good condominium complexes out there and they out number the problem ones. Take a look at the whole picture. What the leaky condo issue has done is bring back to the forefront the principle of caveat emptor when dealing with real estate. Prospective buyers have learned this lesson for free. Don't let the price paid by those in problem buildings be wasted.

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