Posted by: Nick Fundytus

Question of the week:

Is it safe to buy a condo built in the 1800s?

In terms of structural integrity and health risks with the material/chemicals used. Would it be safe to buy one? I’ve seen a couple listed and it’s tempting given how cheap they are. Should I expect a lot of future repairs to be needed?

Nick's Answer:

I get the temptation, u/Bramptoner. There are two ways to look at a condo like this, and some important things to do if you decide to move forward.

The first way to look at it is that this building likely will have a lot of construction practices that wouldn’t be up to code today. As u/GTAHomeGuy mentioned, these could be things like old wiring, insulation, types of masonry and many more. You’re taking at least partial ownership of those potential issues as a unit owner.

On the other hand, this is a condo that was built in the 1800s and is still standing, which is not something you can say about a lot of homes that were built since then. Since it’s a condominium, it’s very likely that it has had periodic reviews by an engineer (required in Ontario and likely in other provinces) and has at least had upgrades to comply with insurance requirements. Insurance, unlike code requirements, don’t get “grandfathered in” for old buildings and so to maintain insurance over the years at least some attention must have been paid to those old systems. In other words, you’d be buying something that has at least stood the test of time to this point and has had more attention paid to it over the years than a freehold home might have. Old century freehold homes here in Ottawa are notorious for the DIY work that has been done to them over the years and the record-keeping on them is often very poor.

If you decide to move forward on this property I'd recommend including the following conditions in your offer:

  • Financing: Not every lender will underwrite a condo of this age, especially if it has certain hazards like asbestos.

  • Inspection: Try to find an inspector who has an engineering background and will look at the common elements as well as your unit.

  • Insurance: Someone has insurance on the unit now, but make sure that you can also get it. Call a number of providers as prices vary widely.

  • Status Certificate/Strata Docs: Order these, and write in time for your lawyer to review these with you. Make sure that you understand what systems are slated for updates or renewal, and get a feel for what that might cost you.

Good luck on the purchase if you decide to step forward! Old places like these can have a ton of character and be really rewarding to own, since they tend to be in interesting parts of the cities that they’re built in. Just make sure that you’re doing your due diligence.

Source: I’m a Realtor in Ottawa, Ontario.

Bonus tips for buying an older home!

1

Don’t skip the inspection! A house may be structurally sound, but a good inspector will also give you ideas on upcoming maintenance and building materials that may cause a health hazard.

2

Get estimates for potential renovations and maintenance! This is a great time to tap into your Realtor’s list of trusted professionals so that you know what costs you’re taking on.

3

Be realistic. Does an older home meet all of your needs, or have you fallen in love with the charm of the home or the neighbourhood? It’s worth asking yourself.

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