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What is condominium living? If you look at sales brochures for most condominium projects, you'll see phrases such as "Enjoy the freedom of condominium living". The glossy pictures that go with this campaign will show casually dressed people laughing. No worries or problems. No need to mow the lawn or be bothered by other chores. Go enjoy life. Your suite or townhouse is your castle and that's all you need to know. This is not the true reflection of condominium living. Yes, your unit is your own, but remember, you're living with people above, below, and/or to the side of you. In this multi-family residential set-up, you're living close to people of different age groups, cultural and economic backgrounds, who may be from different parts of the world. A certain degree of tolerance, neighbourliness, and mutual respect is needed. True, you're not living with them, just near them. But you could be together for years and years.

This is what condominium living is all about. You are living in a community within a community. Think of it this way: the strata corporation (complex) is similar to a municipal government in the sense that both are responsible for its citizens. The strata corporation approves a budget each year to meet operating expenses (what your maintenance fees will be calculated from), sets policies for the better governance of its citizens, and elects members to a strata council which meets regularly to make decisions (on maintenance programs, financial issues, and matters such as by-law violations) to ensure that the complex is maintained.

It is also the truest sense of democratic government where citizens vote at Annual General Meetings and Extra-ordinary General Meetings.

So the next question is "How is condominium living different from living in a rental property? This is a question that is hard to give an in-depth answer to. The joy of ownership, building equity, and not paying rent to the dreaded landlord are enough reasons for ownership and may form part of the answer, but not the whole answer.

Go one step deeper on the meaning of "living". What will the space do for you? Will it help to define what you want for yourself? Does it give you a certain comfort level? Does it allow you to grow with it? This is why not all condominium complexes are right for all people. And for some people, condominium ownership is just not right for them. If renting serves your personal needs, and you can invest in something you feel for comfortable in, then you should stay with that. It is a personal thing.

Is this you...

Mary, a young urban professional who enjoys apartment living and the fast-paced life decides that she wants to stop "wasting rent" and buy a condominium. She looks around the suburbs and in downtown for a suitable townhouse or condo. After careful evaluation, she rejects the idea of a place in the suburbs. She doesn't want the drive in and out of the city every day, and the "loss of freedom" from "where the action is", and taking public transportation is not for Mary. The downtown search yields plenty of condos where she can put the minimum 5% down and get a 500 square foot studio condo. It's smaller than her 750 square foot one bedroom that she currently rents, but it would be her own.

First, let's give Mary credit for thinking things out and realizing that a suburban condominium does not fit her lifestyle. A downtown condo is more for her But let's also concentrate on some of the words she has used to describe her lifestyle: "Stop wasting rent...loss of freedom... and go where the action is." Is a condo even right for her. The decision goes beyond having a down payment. What about the freedom of just paying a monthly rent cheque. If you want to move, you move. No mortgage payments, no maintenance fees, no property taxes, and no swings in the real estate market to worry about. You may be getting a better deal overall by renting than you think.

However, if the desire for homeownership and stability is what you want, then a condominium should certainly be considered. Its yours, you build equity, and sooner or later it will form a major part of your retirement nest egg. That aspect of condominium ownership can't be knocked.

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