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Condo Scene: The ABCs of condo living, part one


Besides number and size of bedrooms, think about where they face. Will they look out on other condos?

Trying to decide if a condo is right for you? Organizing your pros and cons into ABCs is a manageable way of sorting through them. This week we look at A to E.


If you were building a house from the ground up, you likely wouldn’t work with an architect whose work you had never seen.

Similarly, it’s important to research a condo’s architect before buying in the building. Though you might not be working directly with him or her, you’ll still want to know what their defining creative elements are, how they deal with designing smaller spaces and whether they have worked on other condos (and how those were received).


Beyond the architect, consider the overall architectural style of the building. Many buildings, particularly in Ottawa, feature floor-to-ceiling glass and modern decor, but this style does not suit everyone. If you’re more of a traditionalist, look beyond modern, open-concept frames.


Size and quantity are the first things to think about but don’t stop there. Find out where they face. East-facing rooms mean waking up early (or spending money on blackout blinds) as morning light pours in. Bedrooms facing busy streets can absorb round-the-clock sounds ranging from traffic to garbage pickup to nightlife.

Will your bedroom face another unit in the building, or one across the street? And if so, will you mind keeping blinds shut much of the time?

When thinking size, also consider where you will place your bed. Some condo bedrooms are so small, this is a feat in and of itself.


Again, find out how many and how large they are. Don’t just consider square footage here, also think of number of pieces. Will you mind if your main full bathroom has only a shower?

A major trend in condos is a full bathroom that is both accessible to guests through a hallway door and attached to a bedroom or den for resident use. This reduces the need for a traditional powder room and saves the builder space and costs.

If your unit will have a dual-purpose bathroom, will the person who uses the attached room be disturbed? The main user of the bathroom will hear some noise, perhaps when sleeping, and will have to keep the bathroom tidy for guests.

The details are the most important thing when thinking bathrooms. Finishes — custom or otherwise — should be fleshed out and location of the bathroom considered. Builders who tuck bathrooms away from entertaining areas get my vote, as there is nothing worse than hearing a toilet flush nearby during a dinner party.

Condo board

Who is on your condo board and how financially capable and approachable are they? If your condo has yet to be registered, you likely won’t know who will be on the board.

Buying before occupancy gives advantages in the form of choice of view, location and finishes, but it doesn’t give you any insight into the board. One thing to think about is that the board is responsible for implementing any upgrades or changes to the amenities and services in your building. They have access to the condo fees and can affect yours.


Is there a concierge to assist you when you are coming home late from the airport? Is there someone who can sign for a courier package when you are on holiday? Are these things important to you?

Concierges can improve the sense of building security but you may pay dearly for them in terms of condo fees. If the building has concierge service, consider the hours in place (12-hour or 24-hour, for instance) and whether this perk will improve your lifestyle.


What size of building do you want to live in? Ottawa offers a range of buildings from just a few units to hundreds. If there are hundreds, how many elevators will be in service and will that be enough?


Who are the other residents? Diversity is wonderful in a building, but when you are the only retired professional and the rest of the residents are young families, will you enjoy the sounds of the building? Factor in sticky fingers and midnight diaper runs when considering that question.


I touched on this above, but how many elevators are there and how does this break down in terms of residents per elevator? The busiest times of day will likely be pre-work and post-work so don’t forget to add elevator wait time onto your total commute.

What about booking the elevator? Do you have to book the elevator for a move and, if so, are times restricted?

One more thing often overlooked: will you hear the elevator from your unit?

Escape routes

What are the evacuation or escape routes? Steep staircases with many landings are fine if you’re fit, but if you are recovering from an injury, use a wheelchair or have a heavy or aged pet, consider the floor you purchase on. A condo quickly goes from wheelchair accessible to not in an emergency and though this kind of worst-case scenario is unlikely, it should not go without notice. Will you, your family and your pets be able to walk down the flights required in case of fire?

Next time: Financing, heights and more

Marilyn Wilson has been selling real estate for more than 25 years and owns Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties Inc. Christie’s International Real Estate. Reach her through


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