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Condo Scene: When is the best time to buy a condo?


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Realtor Marilyn Wilson answers your questions related to condo purchases.

I am always delighted to receive readers’ questions and comments. This week is the first in a two-part series addressing some interesting condo questions.

Q. What is the best time of year to purchase a condo?

A. The Internet will tell you there is a best time to buy everything from electronics to textbooks. Many things have prime sale times when demand is lower and and prices drop. The real estate market functions in a similar way. If the market is hot, it’s harder to be a buyer and more fun to be a seller. This applies not only to the resale market, but also to new condos. When the demand is down, developers are still engaged in building and they don’t like to hold onto empty units. This will give the buyer more leverage to make a better deal. Though developers generally aren’t as flexible on their price as home resellers, who are usually less liquid and more affected by factors like lifestyle changes, a large number of unsold units after a building has been completed may mean you can get a break on the price, you can try to have some small upgrades included at no extra cost, or perhaps try to get a slight discount on an upgrade. (Many people want parking spots discounted, but you can consider parking spots non-negotiable.)

Although there are no hard and fast rules, in my experience April to October inclusive are the busiest months for condo sales. I attribute this to the fact that many condo dwellers in Ottawa – unlike those in cities like New York or Toronto – are down-sizers who have opted for a low maintenance lifestyle change by switching out yards for terraces and mailboxes for concierges. These buyers may come to the realization that they are ready for such a change after they’ve traveled during the cooler months and begin a condo search in anticipation of adopting a snowbird lifestyle by the winter. Returning home from a relaxing vacation can be stressful when you’re playing catch-up on home repairs and general maintenance.

The slowest period of the April to October spell is the summer months smack in the middle. July and August are excellent times to visit, view and purchase as these months tend to be slower for developers. Because you will not be dealing with an emotionally-driven seller who must pack and move his or her baggage and memories, this is a great time to buy and move in. And when moving it’s always nice not to have to deal with winter weather.

Q. How will we know the quality of the finishes planned for our unfinished condo? Our friends told us not to judge from the sketches, as they did and were disappointed.

A. This is definitely a tough one. Even developers with great reputations sometimes come under fire for skimping on finishes. It is certainly difficult to determine what the end product will look like when you’re only seeing model suites and sketches. If you are purchasing in a ready-built condo, consider talking to people who live in the building already. Avoid asking owners and instead find renters, who will likely be more honest given they are not invested in buyers’ opinions of the building.

The best advice is to deal with a reputable builder and find out who they are using as a designer. Research other work the developer/builder and designer have done, and if you come away feeling confident about quality you should be okay.

Q. I want to buy a new condo, but I am uncomfortable doing so without first seeing the views in person. Is it best to purchase during the launch period or wait until the building is up?

A. This is a complicated question to answer, as different personalities may find different approaches are right for them.

If you are the kind of person who must experience a space before committing to living in it, then buying pre-construction will be challenging for you. You don’t want to invest a huge amount into a condo and ultimately be disappointed. However, if you wait, the prices are likely to go up as the units get sold. At best it will be more difficult to negotiate a good deal. Developers give first buyers a break as they must have a certain number of units spoken for before they proceed with construction. The other potential problem with waiting is that the unit you want with the view you want may be taken by the time you’re ready to commit. Most people buy with a certain view or layout in mind. Though it may be hard to envision it completely, you might want to jump on that unit with the view to avoid missing out. If you really must see the view before committing, see if you can be one of the first people up top via a hardhat tour.

Q. Is it better to work with a real estate agent or the developer’s sales staff?

A. Both a licensed Realtor® and a developer’s in-house sales staff can help you with the sale. In-house sales staff are typically not realtors, but many developers hire licensed realtors to list condo units (usually higher priced ones) on the Multiple Listing Service. Using a Realtor® can be beneficial in that he or she can provide you with comparable listings and sales across the city, and can provide you with unbiased advice about competing developments. This can enhance your market knowledge and confidence when purchasing. On the other hand, in-house sales staff may be more knowledgeable about that one development. You can start with a Realtor® to guide you and ultimately work with the developer’s sales staff. Working with either a Realtor® or sales person in the sales office staff will not cost a buyer anymore but a Realtor® is able to guide you through the process.

Meanwhile, use your condo sense while searching for the right condo for your lifestyle.


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