The ultimate guide to condo fees [2022 edition]
When you buy a condo, condo fees are part of the expenses you're expected to pay besides the property taxes, condo insurance and mortgage fees. The mystery is how are they calculated and what type of expenses are covered and why some condo fees might be high. This blog post will answer those questions and more so that you can be better informed about the necessary costs of owning a condo.
What are condo fees?
They are monthly or yearly payments that all owners must pay toward the operational costs of the building such as general maintenance, reserve fund contributions and utilities.
In a typical home, you take care of your garden, repaint walls, pay for snow removal, clean your garage and windows etc. You have a choice to set money aside or to do them when you have more budget.
One of the joys of living in a condo is that you are not responsible for the maintenance or repair of anything beyond your condo walls and balcony. This maintenance, however, must be planned and needs to be done on a regular basis to protect and increase the property value while ensuring the safety of all residents.
Important things you should know:
- Condo fees are mandatory.
- The purchase price of a condo does not determine how much you're expected to pay for maintenance fees.
- Condo fees cover the maintenance of the common areas only. Any repairs inside the unit are the owner's responsibility.
- The amount can vary significantly depending on the location and amenities offered in the building with average condo fees being as low as $0.30 per square foot, to as high as $1.80 per square foot.
- In general, the fees keep Increasing with time
How are condo fees calculated?
- In the annual general meeting, the board of directors will put together a budget that is planned to cover all the expected expenses for the upcoming year including contingency funds. Once adopted, this budget is then divided among all of the units in the building based on their relative share.
- Unit share is calculated based on the size of your unit and whether you own parking and a locker. In general, the deed of sale you signed with the notary states the number of shares you own.
If the building budget is $1,000,000 and your share is 1.0% then the total condo fees you would pay per year is $10,000 and that is $833/month.
Note: If your unit is on a higher floor, your shares might be higher than the same unit that is on a lower floor. If you own parking or a locker, your shares and equity in the building increase.
What do the condo fees cover?
Here are some of the things that your condo fees typically go towards. You can find these expenses in the financial statements of the condominium corporation:
Maintenance and repairs:
This includes things like painting, repairing damaged walls or floors, fixing broken elevators, landscaping and more.
- General maintenance
- Plumbing maintenance
- Ventilation maintenance
- Generator maintenance
- Elevator maintenance
- Waste Removal
- Electrical maintenance
- Doors and locks
If you live in a condo with many units, your condo fees may help to cover the cost of utilities for the common areas, such as electricity, hot water, and gas.
- Extermination and prevention
- Garage maintenance
- Fire alarm system
- Access and security systems
- Snow removal
- Security services
- Janitor and superintendent
- Common area housekeeping
- Professional fees
- Building Insurance: Your condo fees help to cover the cost of insuring the building against fire, theft, and other damages
- Meeting expenses
- Banking fees
- Display and communication
- Office expenses
- Legal expenses
- Financial audit
- Administration and annual general meetings
- Contingency fund
- Insurance fund
As you can see the list of expenses could be quite long, and no work will be performed by the unit owner unless it's within their walls.
8 factors that affect your condo fee
Most important factors that affect your condo fees:
- The location of your building
- The operation model: Whether you are professionally managed or self-managed.
- The amenities included (Indoor parking, pool, gym, sauna, wine bar, etc..)
- The number of units and floors impacts how the costs are split
Other standard factors include:
- The age of the building
- The size of your unit impacts the weight of the cost you have
- The utility coverage (Water, electricity, heat, AC….)
- The type and structure of your building (Concrete, wood, townhomes or high-rise)
- The location and geographies generally impact manual labour costs and services. f you live in locations where manual labour is cheaper, of course, you would expect both properties. A condo in Mexico will have lower condo fees than a counterpart in Miami.
Size of your building
- In general, high-rise condo buildings have higher maintenance fees due to the number of floors and components to maintain. In townhouses or low-rise buildings, condo fees are generally lower, as there is typically less to maintain.
- If your building has parking, lockers and multiple floors, this also impacts the insurance payments as more coverage is required.
- Older buildings usually require more maintenance than newer ones. So if you live in an older condo, your fees may be higher.
- Older structures tend to have higher costs since things are more likely to break down and need to be fixed or replaced. On the other hand, pre-construction condos tend to have a low fee initially however they often increase after the 1st year.
Type of Coverage
- The type of coverage included in your fees. Some condo fees include basic maintenance and repair coverage, while others may also include property management services or contributions to the building's contingency funds. Be sure to ask about what's included in your fees so you can compare apples to apples.
Contribution to reserve funds
- This fund is used to pay for major repairs and upgrades. If it's well-funded, that means your monthly fees are likely to be lower because you won't need to pay as much out-of-pocket for unexpected expenses.
- A well-run property management company can help keep costs down by preventing small problems from turning into big ones. They can also help negotiate better deals with vendors and contractors. So if your building is managed efficiently, that could mean lower monthly fees for you.
What is the average condo fee?
It's not a straightforward question because too many variables go into the equation.
- New York is one of the cities with the most expensive maintenance fees in the world, especially in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The average minimum fee for a condo is $1.10 to $2 per square foot!
- For a loft that is 500 square feet, this means that the minimum amount you will have to pay in monthly fees is $375. This can reach as high as $562 if your building has a 24/7 concierge and a pool.
- Miami condo fees increase significantly if the building is oceanfront. When properties are exposed to a lot of moisture and salinity, this equates to more expensive maintenance.
- Average condo fees in Miami tend to be between $0.46 to $0.80 for non-oceanfront properties to $1+ for oceanfront depending on the size, amenities and services offered in the building.
- The maintenance fee depends on many factors but in general, North Carolina has one of the cheapest condo fees in the US.
- The average is between $0.25 to $0.40 for non-oceanfront properties.
- The majority of residential properties are not equipped with amenities like a swimming pool, that's because most are built in the 1900s.
- You can expect to pay as low as $0.25 for a building without any amenities and as high as $0.80 for amenities like a fitness center, pool, concierge and indoor parking.
- Similar to New York, San Francisco has one of the highest maintenance fees in the US. You can expect to pay between $0.75 to $1.3 in condo fees if the building has a 24-hour concierge and a pool.
- Toronto takes the #1 spot for the city with the most expensive condo fees in Canada.
- The average condo fee is 65 cents per square foot, but many luxury and high-end condos carry fees as high as double the average of 1.3 cents.
- The average for a unit without luxurious amenities is between $0.50 to $0.60 otherwise expect as high as $0.90 per square foot for units with a 24/7 concierge and a swimming pool.
- The average for a unit without a pool is between $0.60 to $0.70 otherwise you can expect between $0.80 to $0.90 per square foot for a unit with a sauna and a private concierge.
- Of all the cities, Montreal has the lowest fees in the region. You can find as much as $0.75 for a penthouse with full amenities. The average range is between $0.35 to $0.75 a unit.
Signs that your condo fees may be too high
Condo fees can significantly vary greatly from one building to the next.
They also generally increase over time due to inflation, building wear and tear and different factors. The Ontario auditor’s report, from 2020 says that 73% of condo boards increased fees by 10 to 30% in the first two years after the condo was registered. 75% of condo owners said they experienced an increase in fees by 10 to 50% in the past 5 years.
Main common reasons why your condo fees might be high:
- Your building has amenities: A pool and 24/7 concierge
- Your building has a professional property manager.
- Your property is located in a region with high labour costs
- Your building is considered high-rise with 12+ floors
- Your building is badly managed
The best way to know if you're paying too much is to compare your condo fee amount with buildings with similar characteristics.
In some other cases, it could be due to the operation efficiency.
Here are 2 buildings on the same street with very similar characteristics but yet the difference in maintenance fee is quite significant.
- 159 units, 144 parking spots
- Total budget: $1,059,348
- Average price per square foot: $801-$969
- Total maintenance per square foot: $0.59/sqft
- Built date: 2020
- Special assessment: $0
- Amenities: Pool, Gym and a lounge
- 146 units, 130 parking spots
- Total budget: $525,356
- Average price per square foot: $720-$850
- Total maintenance per square foot: $0.41/sqft
- Built date: 2021
- Special assessment: $0
- Amenities: Pool, Gym and a lounge
In the above similar properties, for some reason, Property A has double the budget of Property B. This brings a lot of questions to the management and the HOA board.
In other events, in this condo complex, residents experienced a 113% spike in fees after a flood caused severe damage.
Should you be wary of condo fees that are too low?
Low maintenance fees in a building may not be a good thing. This is because it can lead to decreased property values, difficulty selling units and impact on resident safety. Here are reasons why your condo fees are too low:
- Maintenance costs are underestimated. This is common with new buildings. It may seem like a good deal when you are buying, but it is not a good idea in the long run. The fees will have to be increased at some point in order to keep the building in good condition.
- Low or absence of contingency funds. If major work is required, you may have to pay surprise bills (special assessment).
- Regular, preventive maintenance is not being done. In the case of an existing building, condo fees that are too low could mean that preventive maintenance is not being done or major work is being put off. When a building is neglected, it can lose property value.
Failure to properly maintain the building can also be a question of risking the safety of all residents. For example, in the Champlain Towers South Condominiums, the damage to the structure was reported in a 2018 building inspection and was never addressed due to the high budget needed to do the repairs. In 2021, the building sadly collapsed leading to a death toll of 97 people.
This is why it's important to exercise caution and do the proper due diligence before buying a unit or when reviewing your costs.
How to lower efficiently your condo fees?
Adopt digital solutions
Adopt property management software for the building staff and for all tenants and owners. An application like Propty can help you save administration time and efficiently manage your HOA and condo association. You can use this software to:
- Send electronic notices to all residents
- Manage and track maintenance requests
- Make online payments via secure bank transfers.
- Get a faster quorum when holding an annual general meeting
- Store, access and share building documents
- Install water leak detectors. One of the
- Hold annual general meetings
- Send community surveys
- Reserve building amenities such as the pool, gym and elevators
- And so much more.
The return on investment is huge for everyone in the building. Streamlining the operations will save your staff costly time and gives a bird's eye view of the building operations.
Negotiate better deals with your vendors
Negotiating prices with condo vendors can lead to a massive reduction in cost for you. Even if you know which vendor, always get several quotes from others. Competition is key for driving down costs.
For existing vendors, it's cheaper for them to keep existing customers and more expensive to find a new business. Use this as leverage when you renegotiate a deal as they may be more willing to bring the pricing down.
Adopt energy-efficient strategy
This is one of the easiest and fastest ways to reduce your condo fees.
Electricity and water heating are one of the most expensive bills and generally take about 20% of the overall building budget.
Upgrading to LED lighting can also help you reduce your energy use by 75% compared to incandescent lighting. Not only are LED lights less demanding on the overall energy supply, but they can last for up to 20 years, thus saving on replacement costs.
Not to mention the impact on the environment and carbon emissions of your building.
Purchase in bulk
When it comes to buildings, bulk shopping can lead to big savings and better rates. For example, you can use this strategy when buying inventory such as paint, cleaning products, light bulb or LED replacements. If you carefully plan your procurement process, a condo association can significantly reduce general maintenance costs.
What are the condo contingency funds?
Basically, it's your building saving account that can be used for any type of urgent expenses.
Since a condo corporation collects condo fees on a monthly basis, the cash flow is usually very low. Imagine there is a water leak affecting units on multiple floors and all of sudden, the HOA or condo corporation needs to come up with at least $100,000 to cover the insurance premium. In this case, since there are no funds, all owners will face special assessments and significant condo fee increases to cover the missing expenses.
In certain locations, it's required by law to plan a reserve fund.
In Ontario, The Condominium Act stipulates certain minimums for the reserve fund, the studies have to be performed every three years to ensure the needs are being met.
In Quebec, the board of directors must perform a contingency fund study every 5 years.
The main purpose of a reserve fund is to:
- Ensure the unit owners will not run into financial problems
- Ensure that the corporation has enough money for major repairs and replacements for years to come
How does it work? Every month, a certain percentage of your monthly condo fee is allocated to the reserve fund to keep money aside for current and future major repairs. Building components such as roofs, windows, elevators, etc.. deteriorate over time and they will need to be replaced every 10, 15 or 20 years depending on the study.
This is why every time you pay your monthly condo fees, about 20% to 25% of the fees will be allocated toward the reserve funds.
If you live or looking to buy a condo, you should expect monthly payments in addition to your mortgage payment, property taxes and condo insurance. These fees are mandatory and essential to maintain the value of your property and the safety of all residents.
The condo fees vary from building to building and multiple factors affect the amount you pay per square foot: Location, amenities, operation model, the number of units, track record, size of the building, amount of the reserve fund and whether hot water or electricity is included.
The way your building is managed is also a big factor, in the example above, 2 properties with the same characteristics can have a wide gap in the maintenance budget. This is why it's important to adopt digital solutions like Propty to provide the ultimate transparency so you can make informed decisions as a condo board member or as an owner.
Condo fees do not just cover general maintenance and administration of the common areas but also a good percentage is allocated for reserve funds. Make sure to factor in and review all costs when considering purchasing a condo.
Propty is a simple property management software that helps property managers operate properties more efficiently including HOA, Co-op, condo, multi-family, student housing, and self-storage while giving the best experience to owners and tenants.