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Linda Palfi
CNC Properties
47033 Creekside, Calgary, Alberta
P: 403-998-7732
F: 403-592-8002

Bare-land condominium convenience


Just as high-quality apartment homes can be owned in "condominium", so too can building lots be owned outright, yet enjoy the same collective efficiencies and controls through the group of all the condominium property owners. In fact, most Alberta subdivisions to build townhouses and retirement villas these days are created and organized under the Condominium Property Act.


Historically, we could only buy a lot in a subdivision and build, or have the developer build, the house we wanted. The neighbors had nothing to do with one another in a legal sense, and the first level of local authority was the municipality.


For some, that is still the way to go today, yet it means your street likely won't be snow plowed, and you'd better be prepared to shovel your own driveway and walkway, or find and pay someone to do it. And that's only one example of the myriad responsibilities that can be organized and paid for more efficiently by a group of owners.


Like a small community with its own mini-city council, a bare-land condominium corporation can deal with snow removal, lawn cutting and gardening, refuse removal, operating recreation facilities and, in some gated communities, even provide security services. Paying for these things together is obviously cheaper than everyone fending for themselves. As well, many of them would simply be impossible on an individual basis.

* Range of options


A range of condo bare-land developments offer a variety of lifestyles and service levels. In a townhouse development, for example, you'd probably own the inside space of the home you buy, but all the owners together own the building exteriors and might sponsor facilities such as a swimming pool. You'd pay a monthly contribution or "condominium fee", but you don't have to shell out separately to paint the outside of your home or fix the roof. You'd also not need to own a lawnmower, and you never dreamed you'd be able to afford to have a pool at your disposal daily!


In a bungalow-style bare-land condominium community you'll find every property owner separately owns the entire house, inside and out, yet when they leave on vacation--snowbirds, perhaps--those owners know the lawn will be cut or the snow removed, and that all other collectively-arranged services will be maintained. Although privately owned, their lot is "managed land", maintained by the condominium corporation they, in part, own.


Design control is another benefit of condominium ownership in a bare-land condo development. Controls on what may be built seem unimportant, but we've all heard of the crash in property values that can occur when a neighbor decides to build a house shaped like a geodesic dome or a pagoda. They might be terrific homes and meet building codes, but they can clash with neighboring houses, having serious value implications.


In a bare-land condominium subdivision, on the other hand, the developer will have created a set of controls you can read, and then choose whether these are restrictions you desire, or choose to do without. If you buy a lot, your rights of ownership and investment value are equal to any other private-property owner. But you and your neighbors will together own the common driveways and facilities, and share the costs of any needed or desired extra services.

*Evaluating a development


Whether you're shopping for a building site within a condominium subdivision or shopping for a pre-built condo townhouse or condo retirement villa, there are documents you should see and questions you should ask--first of the development firm or owner, and then of yourself.


The bare-land condominium plan will tell you a great deal. It must show the subdivision itself, much like any non-condominium subdivision plan will show a survey of the lots, their land area and perhaps even the structures on the lots. But as well, the Plan will show the "unit factors" for each lot, or what portion of 10,000 equal parts in the common property you'd own with that lot. Your share of collective expenses are apportioned accordingly. Note that in some developments parking and recreation vehicle parking can be separately-titled units with their own unit factors.


Another vital document is the bare-land condominium corporation's bylaws. While a set of standard provincially-issued bylaws are available by default, a good development will have tailored these to the nature and needs of that specific development. A restrictive covenenant to control the design of homes and garages may accompany the bylaws, if those controls have not been incorporated into the bare-land condo development's condominium plan itself.


A few bylaw questions for prospective purchasers might include whether parking of large recreation vehicles is permitted, what rules cover pets and how stringent the rules are regarding home design and external finishing. Remember, you OWN the land you build on in a bare-land subdivision, but either the condominium plan itself, restrictive covenants or the bylaws can control what can be built, how tall, and sometimes even painted what color. Know what is allowed and what is not, then ask yourself if these controls match your preferences.


Other documents may also come to bear depending on the nature of the condominium development, be it bare-land lots, completed villas or townhouses. These include a statement of the lot or living unit's monthly condominium contributions ("fees"), which will appear on an estoppel certificate if it's a resale unit. As well, ask about documents detailing any legal action or claim against the condominium corporation, what management or recreation service agreements might be in place, the corporation's budget and reserve fund (if yet established), right through to any developer's mortgages that may be on the lot's title pending completion of the development.

*Rights of ownership


Qualified by the rules you may well want and choose to live by for a given bare-land condominium development, rest assured that your ownership of your land within the project is as complete as the ownership of any other property. Here's an excerpt from material prepared by the Alberta Real Estate Association:


"The private ownership of condominium real estate, in the form of individual units, is a form of fee simple ownership. This gives the title holder a bundle of rights including: the right to possess, control, use, lease, sell, give away or the right not to do any of those things in relation to the property. That bundle of rights is no less complete than for non-condominium property."


In summary, bare-land condominium is a form of land ownership, as opposed to the nature of what is built, be it houses, duplex bungalows, townhouses, apartments or even commercial buildings. Bare-land condominium gives rights of ownership, and thus investment, just as any other real estate gives. And it creates the organizational framework that can, if done right, if chosen wisely by you, and when operated well, be the best of both worlds. You can have ownership and investment, yet efficient services and control of what goes on.

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