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February 16, 2006

Kid friendly condo

Mother and daughter feel right at home in their new condo

L. Sara Bysterveld

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Angela, mom to three-year-old Julia, was renting an apartment in Marda Loop. She knew that buying a condo was the smart choice, but was faced with the challenge of finding a location that lived up to her standards, was close to quality, available, childcare, not too far from her full-time job, and in her price range.

Soon after her daughter was born, Angela realized that, given their monthly budget, she could actually afford to buy a higher quality home than what she could afford to rent. She began saving for the purchase, and, in late 2004, started shopping for the perfect condo for herself and her daughter.

Pre-owned turned out to be the right choice for Angela for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that condo fees were already established. After about eight months of shopping, including three of serious shopping, she and Julia decided on a previously owned two-bedroom plus den condo, located in the northwest community of Arbour Lake.

“They’re pretty well-known,” she says of the builder, explaining that this gave her confidence in their quality. She adds that she has been pleased with the management company, because they deal with concerns quickly.

Angela advises that if you are planning to buy a pre-owned condo, you do adequate research into the developer and the standards of the building, as well as the management company. You should also obtain a statement of past improvements to the building from the condo association. Educate yourself on what has been done and what may need to be done in the near future. For instance, does the roof or the boiler need to be replaced? Needed maintenance such as this may translate into rising condo fees if there is not an adequate reserve fund to cover the costs.

As a single mom, sticking to a specific budget was crucial for Angela. She learned, during the shopping process, that if you find a building you like but can’t afford the specific unit you are looking at, it is smart to look at other condos in the same building. Because of differences in interiors, views, location in the building and size, prices on similar condos in the same building can vary quite widely.

To create a realistic budget when shopping for a condo, Angela points out that it is also important to take into account all the fees that pop up when buying a home. “People really need to be aware of the costs involved,” she says, listing property taxes and lawyer fees as two of the expenses buyers may overlook.  For the projected monthly budget once you have moved in, she has the smart tip of leaving a bit of extra space for changes in condo fees, just in case.

She also discovered that it is important to make sure that your realtor gets all the rules of the building in writing from the condo association, since it can sometimes take a long time to receive this information from your lawyer. It is helpful to know, in advance, where to park, as well as the rules for moving in and use of the elevator.

Mother and daughter moved into their new home in August, and after putting some elbow grease into cleaning and painting the condo, are now settling nicely.

“I would recommend that people give themselves a couple of weeks to move in,” she advises. Because she took possession of the condo on the same day that she had to move out of their previous home, there was no cushion of time to clean and paint.

“I have found myself with Julia, working full-time and trying to paint. I would say if you’re really short on time moving in, it makes for a lot of stress.” Allowing a few days to deal with unexpected surprises cuts down on the stress of moving, as Angela points out that unlike moving into a rental property, there is no landlord to approve the previous tenant’s cleaning efforts.

Angela explains that the location of her condo is a major plus. She works only a few blocks away, and was lucky to find quality childcare for Julia in the neighbourhood.

“If you need childcare, you really need to look at what’s available. I found that a lot of the places in the northwest are full,” she says. Luckily she managed to find a day home near their condo that she is very happy with. The impending opening of a new public middle school across the road was another big draw.

As for finding a child-friendly condo building, she explains that it was actually easier to find than a child-friendly rental property. “I found that I had more trouble shopping for an apartment building that was kid friendly. A lot of them just don’t want kids because they’re harder on the appearance (of the apartment).”

Their condo definitely welcomes children, with two playgrounds right onsite. Three-year-old Julia seems to be adjusting just fine to the new home and, when asked, confirms that she is very happy there with her mom.   CL

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