Condo vs. house – how do I decide?

Condo vs. house – how do I decide?

The pandemic has impacted the house vs. condo decision in a pretty big way. With all of us spending a lot more time at home than before COVID hit, having more space has become a much larger consideration. People want houses, and as a result, the market for detached homes, semis and towns is insanely hot.

Condos, on the other hand, have cooled substantially, for a number of reasons, ranging from the impact lockdowns have had on Airbnbs, to fewer people needing to live downtown, to the halt in immigration. You can read more about the market here.

So what’s the right choice for you? Will it be two storeys and a backyard or a place on the 20th floor with a killer view? There are pros and cons to both types of properties...you just need to figure out what fits best with what you can afford and the way you want to live. When you’re deciding, here are some factors to consider:

CONDO: pros and cons

PRO: It’s a good way to get into the market. Overall, condos tend to be the most affordable way to get into home ownership. And with the current slowdown in that segment of the market, they’re more affordable now than they’ve been in a couple of years. Which means people who were formerly priced out of the market can get their foot in the door and start building equity. So whether you love the idea of living in a condo forever or you’re planning to buy a house as soon as you can, a condo is the perfect starter home.

PRO: It’s way less work. Don't want to shovel snow or mow the lawn? In a condo, that's all taken care of for you. Plus, if the A/C goes on the fritz or the roof needs fixing, you won't be out of pocket for the repair: that's what your maintenance fees (and for bigger ticket items, the reserve fund) are for. You’re only responsible for what’s within the walls of your condo.

PRO: Fixed costs. Your maintenance fees are the same month to month (though they will likely go up year to year), and if a condo's reserve fund is managed well, it will cover unexpected costs. If you own a house, on the other hand, your home maintenance expenses tend to come in bigger, less predictable chunks, like if your furnace breaks down or your sewage pipe needs to be replaced (ouch).

Read more: Let’s talk about maintenance fees

PRO: Amazing lifestyle. Gorgeous views, party rooms, fitness centres, movie theatres, swimming pools, rooftop patios, security and concierge services. No one building will have everything, but most condos have at least some amenities. And if you go on a trip (we will travel again!) all you have to do is lock your door and head to the airport. There are no security concerns to worry about.

PRO: Great location. Whether you’re looking for a place in Toronto, Vaughan or Burlington, condos tend to be in pretty central locations. You can generally count on being close to transit, grocery stores, restaurants, entertainment and more.

Read more: Picking the perfect location

CON: Size. Generally, condos are smaller than houses. If you're looking for sprawling square footage, you're probably better off with a house. However, keep in mind that older condo buildings tend to have larger layouts, so you don't necessarily have to settle for a space that's too compact for your needs. But also remember that when you live in a condo, you're not limited to your unit (COVID being the exception, of course). In normal times, you have access to all the amenities, lounges, workspaces and outdoor spaces in the building as an extension of your home. And bonus: you can buy all that cute multi-use condo-size furniture to maximize your space.

CON: No backyard. If you want a place for the kids or the dog to run around, having an easy-access outdoor space really is nice, and a house is the easiest way to get that feature. But just because you're buying a condo doesn't mean you can't have that. Some ground floor units have walkouts into yards. Many units have lovely balconies, terraces and rooftop patios. And most condos (yes, even the downtown ones) have green space nearby, so if you're okay using the local park as your backyard, you're golden!

HOUSE: pros and cons

PRO: More space. You'll have more room in a house, that’s just a fact. And probably more room outside, too. Which is a pretty big consideration right now (hence the demand for houses).

PRO: No sharesies. In a house, there are no hallways with people talking and yelling while you're trying to sleep, no food smells wafting in from three doors down, no "decisions by committee" when it comes to updates to common spaces or allowing pets. If you want three giant dogs or a music studio in the backyard, go for it.

PRO: No maintenance fees. You don't have that extra fixed cost every month...but you also don't have the benefits that come with paying it, like having someone else shovel your snow.

Read more: 7 myths about maintenance fees

CON: Higher prices. Houses are pricier to buy (especially right now) and more expensive to maintain. In Toronto, the average price for a detached home is over a million, while the average for a condo is well under that. Unless you have a serious chunk of money saved up, a rich relative willing to float you some cash, or you’re willing to move way outside the city, it's harder to get into a house the first time you buy. But starting with a condo can help you build the equity you need to do that down the road.

CON: More responsibility. With great property comes great responsibility: the cost of maintaining and repairing a house is all on you. As a rule of thumb, house owners should put aside 1-3% of their home's value every year for repair costs, and that can end up running you a lot more than monthly condo maintenance fees, depending on what needs work. Plus, you have to shovel your own snow, mow your own lawn, fix whatever's broken, or pay someone else to do it.

Need a little advice?

When it comes down to it, deciding on a condo or a house depends on your budget, your lifestyle and your long-term plans. Need some help figuring it out? Talk to one of our agents - they can help you find the home that’s right for you.

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