Common areas are often overlooked during a condo or townhouse (strata) purchase. But common areas can be a source of financial pain. At end of service life, owners are responsible for their replacement costs.
North Vancouver has some great townhouse developments that were built in the 1980’s. These developments were close to transit, schools and shopping. Usually parking was below ground level but you could also leave the car behind and walk to most of the community’s amenities.
Now these townhouses are 30 to 40 years old and their strata councils are facing some challenging financial decisions. The Law of Entropy tells us that everything devolves to its lowest energy state. In our case that means man-made structures and their associated structures tend to degrade and fail. Our 1980’s townhouse can expect to have the following issues that will require attention in the next 10 years:
- Landscaping will probably have overgrown and may be detrimental to the buillding finishes and will need to be removed or at least severely cut back.
- The below-grade concrete parkade will likely have water penetration issues and a substantial budget will be required to repair the surface membrane to make it impermeable again.
- If there are concrete or wooden planters sitting above the parkade, they may likely be just too heavy with their point loading which can create cracks in the parkade ceiling.
- Extensive sprinker use and associated plants are no longer considered appropriate because of the water waste. More drought resistant plants will have to be considered.
- The roof will have been replaced at least once and within 10 years will likely have to be replpaced again.
- Exterior walls will likely have been built with wooden panels or wood siding. If so, they will be original. At best, wood siding has a life expectancy of 20-40 years. Be prepared for a exterior wall siding replacement project in the next 10 years.
- Plumbing piping will likely be copper for water supply and cast iron for the waste discharge. Life expectancies are 30-50 years. Expect this piping to be replaced in the next 10 years.
- Natural gas will probably be on one common meter for the whole complex, which makes it an ideal economical heating fuel for owners who preferentially rely on heating their townhouse with a gas fireplace. With the cost of energy and higher owner awareness of utility costs, expect strata councils to consider installing metering on every unit. The capital cost will be passed on to the owners.
- Finally for any buyer considering a purchase of a unit in the townhouse development, be sure to read and understand the strata Annual General Meeting minutes (read several years), the depreciation report and any special engineering reports.
Older townhouses can be an excellent purchase for their size, location and sense of community. However be aware of the potential cost issues associated with the common areas. You and every strata owner in the complex are responsible for their repair and or replacement costs.