The dangers of not including a status certificate condition on a condo purchase
Today’s Mastermind meeting focused, yet again, on the fast paced downtown Toronto real estate market particularly with respect to condo purchases. As mentioned in previous posts, condominiums have experienced unprecedented price growth over the last year. This is due to a perfect storm of low interest rates, employment growth, a wide choice of condo sizes and styles, and lack of inventory in the freehold sector. As the Manhattanization of Toronto continues, supply in the condo market is likely to tighten which in turn will increase competition and drive prices up even further.
An offer on a typical condo usually includes a Status Certificate clause which, in the simplest terms, allows a potential purchaser some time to review condominium documents that include budgets for future improvements or repairs to the building, but also specific accounting information on the unit being purchased and what the unit holder is responsible for as far as maintenance fees. A typical clause would specify that the buyer would instruct the seller to order the status certificate from the management company as soon as the offer was accepted and the seller (or seller’s agent) would have 10 days to deliver the certificate to the buyer (or buyer’s agent), who would then have 2 days for their lawyer to review the documents and make recommendations if necessary.
Today market conditions warrant a new approach. Offer holdback dates and bully offers are becoming the new normal. An astute agent will order the status certificate (about $100-$125) well ahead of time. It is important to know however that there is a limited shelf life on status certificates and if the listing extends longer that a month, it is recommended to get an updated version. Many management companies now have the capability to deliver the certificate digitally which will also shorten the 10 day time period for delivery. The reality is that not every agent is ordering a status certificate ahead of time. Buyers are submitting clean offers (no conditions) knowing full well that a seller will favour their offer over any offer with a condition, unless it is for substantially more money.
So what could go wrong? If you can imagine it…it can go wrong. For the most part, very little can go sideways if the unit owner owes back maintenance fees or taxes because proceeds from the sale would pay those off on closing, but illegal uses or unapproved renovations could put a buyer in serious jeopardy by requiring them to return the suite back to the previous condition. Recently I had heard about a buyer who bought without a status review only to find out later that the unit had suffered a serious fire. While the unit had been completely restored the buyer was deeply traumatized by this information because of a major fire in her home growing up. The craziest story I have heard was of a condo owner who used a concrete saw to open up a load bearing wall in their condo! Many years ago I delivered a status certificate to a lawyer on behalf of a buyer I was working with. The Lawyer came back quickly with this recommendation…”I would not buy in this building even if you gave the unit to me for free”. The small boutique building was deep in debt, had a couple of lawsuits pending and required extensive window replacements and as a result a special assessment was being considered. In another building, the management company had stolen all the reserve funds which hadn’t been caught because the company hadn’t provided yearly audited statements as required. Other buildings have class action lawsuits against Kitec plumbing, other condos have special assessments to top up their reserve funds or do elevator replacements or underground parking resurfacing. These Special assessments are not limited to older buildings in need of updates or repairs either. Occasionally new buildings quickly realize that the maintenance fees needed to effectively run the building are not sufficient. Higher fees have a considerable impact on value of the units as well as financing qualifications for purchasers.
Moving forward, agents need to explain the ramifications of not including this clause in an offer. There are extra things you can do, like google the address, call the agent of a recent sale and ask them if the certificate revealed anything, ask neighbours, and dig as deep as you possibly can. Even then, that may not be enough.
Mark McLean is the Broker/Manager at the Bosley Real Estate Queen St W office, the Immediate Past President the Toronto Real Estate Board and a director at the Ontario Real estate Association. The opinions expressed here do not reflect the opinions of TREB, OREA or Bosley RE.