When preparing to purchase a condo the first time, you’ll come across a lot of paperwork that includes terms such as "exclusive use”, “owned” and “common elements” or “amenities”. It’s very important to understand what these terms mean and the differences between them so you’ll know what you’re getting into and can better choose whether home ownership or condominium ownership is right for you.
You own your condo, much like you would own a house: both are pieces of property that you own. But condo ownership also differs from home ownership, because condo ownership is simply the title to your unit. And because that unit is in a building that you do not own, you cannot always do as you please inside your unit with respect to things like alterations as opposed to in your own home. But don’t be mistaken: you are still buying the absolute ownership of your condominium unit.
This key difference between home ownership and condo ownership might be considered a downside for some people. The majority of condo owners can’t renovate (although in rare cases they could get permission from their condo board to do so) and some can’t even hang things like holiday decorations on their doors or plant window boxes on their windowsills. Rules vary from condo building to condo building.
However, some condo owners appreciate these rules and are willing to abide by them because they increase the sense of community in the building and prevent property values from falling. Whether or not you’d prefer a condominium over a home is simply a personal choice, but make sure you know what the rules are before you buy.
Exclusive use is a term that applies to things that are essentially yours to use (and only yours to use) but that you do not actually “own”, because they are still owned by the building. These can include things like your parking space, balcony or storage locker. Exclusive use doesn’t always apply to these specific things, and exclusive use can actually vary from building to building. For example, you may actually end up owning your parking space, so you’d be able to sell it or rent it out later on. Always thoroughly read your unit description, deed and the condo declaration so you can fully understand what is owned by you and what falls under exclusive use.
Common elements are areas, amenities or items in the building that are there for everyone’s enjoyment and use. These can include entertainment rooms, party rooms, movie theatres, computer rooms, bowling alleys, billiard rooms, the lobby, courtyards and more. You pay for the maintenance and upkeep of these common elements with your condo fees - a monthly fee condo owners pay every month that is determined by the size of their condo - but you are not responsible for common elements. However, you may have to pay a fee to book these common elements or put down a refundable damage deposit when using them.
As a final note: condo fees are also sometimes perceived as a downside, even though they pay for the maintenance of common elements. Some buyers may think of them as an added expense, but keep in mind that the maintenance, landscaping, snow removal and upkeep costs on a home - even a new home - can far surpass the amount paid in condominium fees.