Some older condo buildings age better than others, depending on the quality of the original construction as well as the care and attention paid by the strata to maintenance and repairs.
So if you’re considering buying into older condo buildings, here are eight questions you should ask to avoid any expensive surprises once you’ve settled into your new home.
1. Has the plumbing been redone?
Galvanized steel plumbing was widely used before the 1970s; but it’s heavy and not very durable. Once the zinc coating inside starts to break down, the pipes are prone to rust. That can cause blockages or even breaks.
Copper plumbing is also popular in older condo buildings. It can last 50 years or more. But the lead-based solder that used to be used to join pipes and fixtures could eventually leach into your water.
Older condo buildings constructed from the late 1970s to the mid 90s could use polybutylene pipes. The plastic is cheap, light and easy to work with, but its lifespan is only 20 years.
It’s possible plumbing systems in older condo buildings have all three types of pipes, as repairs and replacements have been done over the years. If you see references to pin hole leaks in the minutes of strata council meetings, it’s a good sign the plumbing is nearing the end of its life and may be due for replacement.
2. How old is the roof?
Tar and gravel roofs last 15-20 years. An asphalt roof should last 20-25 years. If the answer to your question is close to those numbers, you may have to put room in your budget for your share of the cost of replacing that roof.
3. How old is the boiler?
A commercial gas-fired hot water boiler should last 10-15 years, but it could last longer if it’s been well-maintained.
4. Have the balconies been redone?
This likely isn’t a concern in older condo buildings constructed of concrete. But if the balcony is constructed of wood or vinyl, it could begin deteriorating after 15 years.
5. Are there any issues with the parkade membrane?
Water leaking into parkades can be a common problem in older condo buildings. It happens when cracks form in the structure because of settling, poor construction or maintenance, or just wear and tear.
Fixing a leaky parkade can be expensive.
6. Has the elevator been upgraded?
We’ve learned to take elevators for granted; we push the button, they take us to the floor where we want to go. But elevators wear out; all that up-and-down, opening and closing of the doors, pushing call buttons, takes a toll.
An elevator should last 20-25 years but could endure longer if they’ve been regularly maintained.
7. Has the building’s exterior been upgraded?
This question is often dependant on how older condo buildings were designed and built.
If the building is constructed of concrete, with large roof overhangs that prevent rainwater from hitting the exterior, the risk of a leaky building is minimal.
But if the building’s exterior is made of stucco or wood, and it’s exposed to the elements without protection from roof overhangs, you need to check if it has been rainscreened.
8. Does the building have a depreciation report?
In 2013, the BC government mandated depreciation reports for every strata with more than four lots. The report is prepared by qualified architects or engineers who are able to assess and determine the short and long term health of the building and its upkeep schedule as well as anticipated costs. The report must be updated every three years.
Reading a depreciation report for older condo buildings can be intimidating; the maintenance schedules are usually pretty proactive and the dollar figures are high. But it’s how the building’s strata council reacts to that report that really matters; is it putting money aside early to deal with upcoming major expenses, does it address minor issues in a timely manner so they don’t snowball into bigger issues?
Older condo buildings can be a great value
Older condo buildings can offer tremendous value. You’re not paying for the flashy marketing campaigns of new developments. A lot of potential problems will have already been worked out. The strata has experience. And units were bigger in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, so you’ll likely get more space for your dollar.