What is a Strata?

Most people think of a townhouse or condominium when they think of strata but more and more strata-titled properties are appearing in the Cowichan Valley that includes Bare Land Strata (single detached homes in a Strata development where residents share a common septic treatment system and/or maintenance of a common road) and Duplexes (normally a detached building comprised of 2 individual dwellings with a separate title to each 1/2).

Title & Ownership

When you purchase a strata-titled property, you purchase and have title to your individual unit as well as share in the ownership of the land and other common property with all the other unit owners.  The type of common property varies depending on the type of strata.  Examples could include hallways, swimming pools, parking lots, and more.

Strata is a specific form of ownership and does not describe a type of building.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Owning a Strata

Lifestyle is a big consideration.  For professionals, snowbirds & retirees, a condo may be a great choice. In the winter there’s no worry of a driveway to clear & in summer the grass will be cut.  There are no exterior painting projects or fence repairs to look after. For first-time buyers, a townhouse or condo is generally less expensive than a single-detached home.

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of strata ownership:

Advantages

  • monthly cost of owning is often less than renting
  • easy financing
  • wide range of property types, prices, locations, sizes, and amenities available
  • availability of amenities such as swimming pool, tennis courts, hot tubs, saunas,  whirlpools, exercise facilities, health spas, sun decks, community rooms (the cost of  which may otherwise not be affordable)
  • you are investing in your own home and building equity
  • appreciation of the capital value
  • pride of ownership
  • freedom to make interior changes and enhancements to your unit
  • enhanced security and peace of mind when leaving unit unattended
  • maintenance and upkeep is minimal or eliminated
  • cost is often less than a single-family home
  • very marketable
  • wide range of prices depending on features, luxury and location
  • an elevated sense of community and social activity
  • developments often geared to a specific lifestyle (Adult only, Family-friendly, rentals  not allowed etc.)
  • participation of owners in operation of development including budgeting, decision making, determination of rules, and by-laws

Disadvantages

  • restrictions due to rules and by-laws e.g. type of pets allowed, right to rent or alter unit etc.
  • due to a larger concentration of people, you may experience problems with the “5  p’s”,  pets, parties, parking, personality, and people.
  • you may be paying for amenities you never use
  • boards of directors vary in terms of skill and effectiveness

Strata Fees

As a unit owner, you will be responsible for your share of expenses known as strata fees. These are set out in strata bylaws & can be equal or unequal in cases where they are based on the comparative size of the units.

Strata fees will generally cover expenses related to the maintenance of the exterior and common area, insurance costs, management fees & more. The fees are usually paid monthly in accordance with the budgeted expenses. Of course, if your condo has more amenities such as a swimming pool, on-site security personnel etc. your fees will reflect the extra services.

Reserve Fund

Reserve or contingency funds are set up by the condominium corporation to cover major or unexpected expenses. The developer of a new condominium usually sets up a fund which is then turned over to the Strata Corporation to manage. The fund becomes an asset of the corporation and each year the unit owners decide on what the level should be. The individual owner does not have any rights to the Reserve Fund.

Questions You Should Ask When Buying a Strata

Pricing

  • Is the unit comparatively prices with recent sales of similar units?
  • Have you taken into account the amenities offered?
  • What is the resale potential?
  • Have the units appreciated?
  • Are other unit owners in your financial bracket? If higher they may vote for services you can not afford, if lower they may vote down changes you would like to see.

Security

Security may need to be a consideration. The types of security will vary depending on the type of Strata you choose, from gated communities to secured buildings. If Security is a specific requirement for you here are some factors to consider:

  • Parking – how is access controlled? Electronically?
  • Intercom – is there a good working system?
  • Lighting – is property well lit in all areas – hallways, parking, fire escapes entrances, and exits?
  • Balconies – are they accessible from the ground or adjacent units?
  • Mailbox – are numbers different from apartment and parking spaces?
  • Alarms – is there wiring for home security alarms in every unit or suite?
  • If possible check on the condo’s record for break-ins and vandalism by asking local authorities or current residents.

Strata Fees and Facilities

  • What amenities are offered, what are the hours of use, is there an additional cost?
  • How much is the Strata fee and what is included? History of increases?
  • Are there any exclusive use areas that are the common property (storage unit, parking stall, etc)?

Parking and Storage Facilities

  • What is included? Some parking and storage may be separate common property &  subject to allocation or assignment by the Strata Council or parking/storage may be specifically allocated to your particular unit.
  • Is additional parking/storage available to rent or buy if you need it (ie. if only one  parking space is specifically allocated to the unit and you have 2 vehicles)
  • Is there visitor parking available?

Expenses

  • What will be your monthly operating cost?
  • Have there been any special assessments in the last two years and are any planned?
  • Which utilities are common and which are individually metered?
  • What are the property taxes?
  • What insurance do you need and what is covered by the corporation?

Additional Considerations

  • Unit size – is it adequate space for your family?  Will room sizes accommodate your belongings?
  • How many units are owner-occupied vs. tenant occupied? Is there a maximum? Are there rental policies and what are they?
  • Is development managed by a professional company, resident manager, or self-managed?
  • How well has the building been maintained?
  • Is a Depreciation Report available (estimate of the remaining life of the various  components, cost of replacement, and contributions needed to ensure funds are available  for anticipated repairs and replacements, etc)
  • Does it fit your personality/lifestyle?

Restrictions

  • Always ask for a copy of the Rules and Bylaws for the development.  Are there any restrictions you require/don’t want – pets, children, age, number of people per suite,  carrying on business in a suite? Most strata developments have a long list of rules and regulations by which you’ll have to agree to abide if you purchase in the development.  These rules may limit the number, type, and weight of pets; how many visitors you can have at any one time; how often – and for how long – you can rent out your unit (if at all); when and how you can reserve common facilities like the party room; when you can have work done in your unit; what day you can move & much more.
  • Also ask to see the past two years’ worth of Strata council meeting minutes, as well as the last two years of budgets and the current year’s projected budget.
  • Are there any large-scale improvement projects planned? How much will they cost and how are they to be funded?
  • Has there been a review of the reserve fund to ensure it is adequate? Is the building fiscally responsible? Are any fees/owners in arrears?

Strata-titled properties can be a great investment if you investigate thoroughly before you buy.  Your Johannsen Group agent will be happy to assist you!