21.5.13

Condo Survival : Part 1



This post is purely for me and it will be a bit of a departure from my typical format.  Feel free not to read but I need to get this out while I still remember it.

Remember, these are just the events as I recall them. They are my own interpretations of events. My memory is not perfect and I don't want to be sued.
INTRO

I honestly can't believe I'm writing this post.  I told myself I wouldn't write about the condo until I was "over it" and I believe that has finally happened.  Living in the condo was a huge learning experience and, while some happy life events occurred while we lived there, overall it was a stressful and unhappy experience.  It now feels very far away but it was just such a bizarre living experience that I need to write it down.

I know I make it sound like something truly traumatic happened in the condo.  Let me state that there was no actual tragedy but I still shudder a little when I think about it.  It was really just a loss of innocence about the condo market and about people in general.  I know it's taboo to say this as a real estate agent but my first home ownership experience was a real eye-opener and, if I could go back in time, I would do so many things differently.

Now, let me just state that I think most condos are great ownership opportunities.  I really do!  They are (in general) more affordable than houses and some of the amenities I've seen just take my breath away!  My story is just of one condo.  I'm sure there are other "bad" condos but I believe they are the rare exception rather than the rule.  I also want to say that my agent, lawyer and home inspector all did their best for us and gave us good advice with the information they were given.  Luckily, this experience has taught me a few "warning signs" to identify condos which may be problematic, so that I can help my own clients to avoid repeating my mistake.  The other good news is that even "bad" condos are often curable.  I was proud that the work I did on the board meant that my own buyers were moving into a very different (much improved) building.

THE SEARCH

How did I end up in this situation in the first place?  Well, before my days in real estate, I had a regular 9-5 job and Corey was still in school.  I had become tired of renting and I really wanted a house in Toronto's Junction neighbourhood.  This was just before prices exploded there so (if I stretched my budget) I could afford a detached house there that would have required a bit of work. 

At that time, Corey and I hadn't lived together yet and he felt that fixing up a house would be quite a bit of responsibility for someone just finishing university.  We looked at condos in trendy areas but they all seemed small to me and I wanted a place that required some work so that we could inject our own personality and add some value.  I felt it would be foolish not to use Corey's talents to renovate and I didn't want to pay for renovations done by someone else.

We almost settled on a 2-Storey condo unit (which felt like a house) and was located in the Danforth neighbourhood.  It was big and old and needed some work and we were beginning to think that it could be "home"... until we spotted some pretty scary mould.  We prudently backed away and didn't look back.

There was another "near purchase" of a cute condo unit in South Riverdale.  Unfortunately, it only had one bathroom and the kitchen was TINY!  Everything else was perfect though, so we actually contemplated making an offer there but I got cold feet so we kept looking.  Our real estate agent was very patient!

We had set a minimum price when we searched for homes because I didn't want to see listings for parking spaces or storage lockers.  One day, Corey forgot to plug in the minimum price... which is how he found our condo.

It was huge and old and the kitchen needed to be gutted... basically perfect for me!  I posted a few pictures below.  I still longed for a house but Corey and I had agreed that he just wasn't ready and I had already passed on my cute little Junction house with low ceilings (and a shower that Corey couldn't fully stand up in) that morning.  I was feeling a little defeated but I couldn't argue with the space... or the price.  I agreed to purchase it on the condition that we could "gut it" and upgrade once Corey was finished school the next year.  We promised one another that it would only be one more summer until we were in a house... We certainly didn't expect it to take three!





Corey says he remembers me whispering under my breath as I was signing the agreement of purchase and sale that I didn't really want to buy the condo.  I remember feeling that if I couldn't have a house, I wanted something that felt really temporary.  I always listen to my instincts now.

MOVING IN

As a responsible buyer, I had a home inspection and asked my lawyer to review the status certificate.  The home inspection didn't show anything unexpected and my lawyer confirmed that there was money in the reserve fund and that, while the maintenance fees were high, they were all inclusive and not bad if you considered the square footage of the unit.  The deal went firm. 

We began planning and packing.  I kept my rental for an extra month so that we could begin renovations before we moved in.  As my excitement to change the space began to build, I slowly pushed the thought of that little Junction house to the back of my mind.

The move was relatively uneventful, although the Superintendent was pretty mean to us.  He was a little creepy and seemed kind of slow (picture a cross between Jed Clampett, Gary Busey and Dwight Schrute) and yet he watched our entire move as if he suspected we were going to try to sneak some sort of contraband into the building.  We laughed about it over beers later but living next door to the surly super (who watched tv most days instead of cleaning and was often off-site in the middle of the day to pick up beer) turned out to be even more annoying than you'd expect.




We met one of our neighbours... well, actually I just heard her crying and SCREAMING at her moving company since she was moving in on the same day.  I felt terrible for her and picked up extra burgers for her and her daughter when we got lunch.  She returned the favour later that evening with a 6-pack of beer and we thought we had made a friend.  Little did I know that I had just met the woman who would be screaming at people constantly at all hours of the night and who would interfere with the sale of my unit by deliberately (I think) blasting weird pop music and chain smoking during my showings.  She also once called me to accuse me of reporting her to child services for having a messy unit... I told her that I had not called but would not hesitate to do so if I felt her child was actually in danger.

THE FIRST NIGHT

We spent the first weekend working but we didn't move in until the end of the month.  Before I could even go to sleep that first night, Corey had demolished the kitchen.  Literally, all our cabinets were on one of the balconies and most of the appliances were behind the dumpster.  We kept the fridge only until our new one was delivered. 

My mother came over to help clean.  This was the first time I had ever really had to clean a mess that was created by someone else and I was like:


...See, I promised more GIFs.  You'll tire of them long before I do!  I actually think they'll help me to lighten this tale.

I cried that night because everything was so dirty and the condo just didn't feel... right.  I know other buyers feel that way just because a first home is such a huge responsibility and financial obligation but I really just didn't feel great in the condo from Day 1.

MEETING THE NEIGHBOURS

While we began our renovations, we began to actually feel excited about our new home.  Corey worked on installing new flooring and we eagerly anticipated the day when we would actually get to move in. 

One morning, we were in the lobby and one of the senior citizens who lives in the building approached us.  She seemed friendly and asked if we had just moved in.  When we said we'd be moving in soon, she asked if we had purchased or if we were renting.  I told her I had purchased a unit and she walked away shaking her head and muttering "good luck..."  At the time, I hoped she was just crazy but the experience upset me after all the money and work we had already poured into the place.


The "good luck lady" later became one of my few friends in the building and she helped me change many things.

The super continued to try to bully us... like when he screamed at both of us like children for having our flooring delivered on a Saturday.  Of course, we had never been told this was unacceptable.  Or the time he threatened to report Corey for harassment for forcing an elderly resident to take one of our mirrors and leaving it at her door.  Obviously, this never happened.

Things kept getting more and more bizarre but I was determined to avoid the drama.  I received a cryptic note, which was slid under my door and urged me to call another unit owner if I wanted to "know the truth about the building."  It seemed rather ominous and, I assumed the author was a little bit...:


... So I put the note in a drawer and ignored it.  I also managed to form a truce with the super with the generous use of LCBO gift cards.  Things seemed to be improving.

That's all for this entry but there is so much more to write about the building.  I want to share with you how I came to be on the board and how I became president; how we discovered funds which appeared to be hidden by our property management company after we fired them; the struggles along the way; and all the crazy characters...

Like the group of owners who "ran" the place before I joined the board and seemed more interested in the plants outside than the budget:



I'm not trying to be mean.  That really is the closest likeness I could find!

... Or their ring leader who called me constantly to complain about my dog:


... Or the woman who walked around in a nightgown, stole toilet paper from the washrooms in the common elements and used the washroom in the lobby for her more private washroom business.  It became out of hand when I was trying to sell my unit and I tried to bring it up but she basically did this:



... Seriously, Can you imagine having to ask someone to stop doing the following in the lobby?:


Or the man who walked around in his robe and slippers and read other people's newspapers in the lobby as if it were his living room.  He also mysteriously had a master key and I once saw him sleeping in the gym when it was supposed to be closed.  He was in his underwear!


... Or the lady who would steal entire bags of my garbage right out of the dumpster outside our building.  Once, a friend of mine caught her going through someone's papers in the recycling and she claimed she had just dropped something in there by accident.  I've also seen her pouring giant pots of liquid into the bushes behind our building in the middle of the night.


So that's it for this chapter but there's obviously much more to say.  My time there felt like a cross between a nightmare and a hilarious comedy.  It was like every bad condo horror story all rolled into one building.

I was lucky to have made some friends (who decided to leave around the same time I did) and I do feel that we made a huge difference and helped many people.  I suppose there's a reason for everything, right?
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