How much are you paying each month in condo maintenance fees and what do those fees truly pay for? If you don’t know the answer to that question, you might want to read this study.
Maintenance fees (MF) are a constant topic in condo real estate, both during your search process and once you own a home. Back in 2015, we released a study that revealed the truths and myths behind maintenance fees in Toronto condos. But two years is a long time, especially in today’s real estate climate, so we’ve come back with our Maintenance Fee Report 2.0.
But first, a bit of maintenance fee 101
Every homeowner will pay maintenance fees in one form or another. Whether you have a freehold house or a condo apartment, a homeowner’s maintenance fees cover a wide range of home upkeep costs from lawn care to roof repair.
For a freehold house, the everyday upkeep costs will vary from year to year, depending on the condition of the house and whether there’s a need for sudden repairs. Unexpected costs are the most common worry with owning a freehold house. When a pipe bursts or the furnace quits, you can be hit with a sizable bill.
For condos, the maintenance fees tend to follow the rate of inflation, acting as a fund for the on-going upkeep of your unit and building in a range of ways. That fund, if managed well, can keep unexpected costs away for good.
That’s the key benefit of the structure of condo maintenance fees over freehold: the potential to remove sudden, unexpected costs.
It’s not surprising that there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding condo maintenance fees. In this report, we’ve picked the most common concerns that our Condo Pros hear from clients and broken them down into true or false answers.
1. Maintenance fees have no legal increase limit
There is no legal regulation regarding the amount that a condo building’s maintenance fees can be increased annually. There is a general rule that maintenance fees increase to adjust with inflation and/or the needs of the building. Condo corporations are non-profit entities made up of unit owners within the building, not an outside group. The cost of operation adjusts for the true cost of maintaining the building. The condo board members who may vote to raise maintenance fees are in the same boat as all other owners in the building.
2. Lower maintenance fees mean lower monthly costs
Maintenance fees cover different elements from building to building. Some buildings include the cost of water, heat, hydro, insurance, and other elements in the maintenance fees. Others may not. If those elements are not included in the maintenance fees, you will have to pay them separately. That’s why it’s important to know exactly what your maintenance fees cover. A low maintenance fee does not necessarily mean low monthly costs.
The maintenance fee that includes water, heat, hydro, and A/C is obviously more expensive, but these elements must be paid regardless. If you’re paying for these elements separately, the total monthly costs could be much higher than if they were included in the maintenance fees.
3. Smaller boutique buildings are less expensive than high-rise towers
Condo building maintenance fees depend on a lot of factors. At the top of the list is the building’s footprint and the number of units. Between two buildings of a similar footprint, it doesn’t matter if the buildings are five-storeys or forty. It will cost the same amount to maintain and repair the roof. That cost is dispersed across the units. The more units, the broader the dispersal; and the lower the fee for each individual unit.
Building amenities are another key contributor with a range of factors. But it still has to do with the number of units. A concierge service shared between ten boutique units will be more expensive per unit compared to a concierge shared between 400 units.
Between two buildings of a similar footprint and similar amenities, the one with more units will tend to have lower maintenance fees. However, the building with more units will have a higher opportunity for wear and tear of common elements, which might in the long run cost more to maintain.
4. Maintenance fees always spike within 3-5 years for new buildings
True and False
Every building is managed differently. Builders often market new buildings with low maintenance fees to make them more appealing to buyers. Once the condo board takes over, it is common to see fees undergo slight increases as the board fills out the reserve fund. After an initial increase, however, fees should stabilize. In the case of well managed properties, maintenance fees even come down. For instance:
5. Low maintenance fees are a sign of value
Maintenance fees should be priced in accordance with the true cost of operating and maintaining the condo building. If that true cost is low, and the maintenance fee is low, then great. But if maintenance fees are low for the sake of attracting buyers, and are not adjusted to the true costs, then you could run the risk of a mismanaged reserve fund.
A better sign of value is smart building management. The maintenance fees fill the reserve fund and are used for big repairs, upgrades, etc. If a building is poorly managed, the reserve fund may deplete, at which point the condo board will have to issue “special assessments.”
During the condo search process, however, you may still want to look for buildings with low maintenance fees as a means of maximizing your purchasing power. With a lower all-in monthly maintenance fee, you can allocate more of your monthly budget towards a mortgage payment, thereby increasing the size of the mortgage you can carry. Just be mindful of the building’s true operating costs.
6. Cost of Parking Spot and Locker are included in maintenance fee