Are communal condo amenities worth the cost?

By Estelle on August 24th, 2018

Condos these days are sold and marketed based on all of the amazing amenities each particular building has to offer. Some buildings cater to specific demographics (young professionals, retired downsizers) and boast of impressive features exclusive to owners.

It’s not uncommon for dual purpose properties to entertain or relax with their amenity offerings, like hotels that combine the option of private residential ownership (think of the Four Seasons or Ritz-Carlton doubling as your home). Amenities on tap can include a range of vacation-style perks including spas and massages with a condo maintenance fee hovering around $3,000 per month in these cases.

No matter the level of luxury, are condo amenities really worth the cost? Do residents use the facilities they’re paying for? Or will the amenities be built without regard for the residents' interests?

How are amenities paid for?

Purchasing a condo requires regular maintenance fees that recur above and beyond the purchase price of the unit; every condo owner pays them.

These monthly condo fees go into the building’s reserve fund and are used to pay for maintenance and operation of the building, its common elements, and shared amenities.

You will still have to cover your individual hydro, utilities and mortgage bills on top of the condo maintenance fee.

Newer buildings tend to have cheaper maintenance fees, but they will increase as the common elements incur wear and tear.

Common condo amenities

Most state of the art condo buildings today make sure their residents are getting convenient and sought-after amenities to make their lives, well, easier.

Traditional offerings include concierge and condo staff, party rooms, swimming pools, gyms, games rooms, shared patios and barbeque areas.

More luxurious buildings (that will have a price tag to prove it) can offer up saunas, squash courts or gymnasiums, mechanical workshops, and whatever else a developer can think up.

Amenities of the future

One condo in Vaughn, Ont. proposed to design “an observatory and fit it out with a serious telescope,” as reported by The Globe and Mail. The developer was “talking to local astronomers about creating programming for the star-gazers who will live in the 36-storey, 400-unit building” called Cosmo III.

How often would you head to the roof to look at the stars? Once every blue moon?

A telescope on the roof would surely drive up the cost of the monthly condo fees, for something not many people actually need in their lives.

New developments are starting to do some extra legwork by holding back on building amenities until more units have been sold. Then, a survey can go out to new residents that asks them what they want to see in their building. This scenario is more likely to be an option in pre-construction condos than resale.

Residents can request their condo fees pay for practical, usable things like a children’s play space, a library, a dog-washing room, and a yoga space along with traditional amenities like a nice rooftop patio.

Are the amenities worth it to residents?

Seasoned condo dwellers claim that many of the shared spaces can look deserted, going by as “heavily underused and unnecessary” to a lot of the busy owners in the building. One man interviewed by Globe and Mail has watched “features such as squash courts and hot tubs” in his current building waste away without attention.

Some boards have even removed amenities they see as wasteful. One condo actually filled an under-utilized hot tub with soil to create a Japanese garden that required a fraction of the maintenance cost, thus saving residents money.

In some buildings, however, the opposite is true; amenities are “well-used” and fulfill many of the needs of the residents.

Much of the question of worth will depend on your own needs and lifestyle. We’re sure you have been to plenty of condo buildings where the roof patio is overflowing with fun on a summer night, and others where the gym looks as though it's collecting cobwebs.

If you’re in the market for lower condo fees, just try to discern which demographic the building is being marketed towards, and you should be able to spot some clues.

Elite and exclusive marketing will probably be in the more expensive condo fee category. Hip and down to earth marketing tactics has the potential to be more cost-effective.