Do you know one of the things I love about being a real estate agent today? It’s the chance to work with such a diverse group of clients. Many clients are super well-informed. They’ve taken advantage of all the tools at their disposal, and they’ve done their research. It’s great to work with someone who’s ready. The other side of the coin is that sometimes as REALTORS®, we can forget that not every client is like that. Some clients are buying their very first home ever, and they don’t have a family history of home ownership. Being the first can be challenging. They’re breaking ceilings and they don’t have innate knowledge that’s been shared in their family. Others are newcomers - and they know a lot about homes in their home province or country - but not so much in the local market. And some have owned a home for years, so it can be easy to assume they know a lot about housing and the real estate market. The truth is, because they haven’t purchased in years, they have a lot of learning to do. If they’re downsizers, for example, or moving from a city to a country property on their retirement, they’re taking a whole series of first steps, all at once. It can be stressful!
That’s why, this month, I’ll be blogging about the basics. For some of you, the content of the blog will seem patently obvious. But I find, even for me (I’ve owned a wide variety of homes across the country), there’s always something new to learn. Here’s a simple example. Do you know what a duplex is? In some cities, it’s a house that’s divided into up-and-down flats, with utilities metered separately and the land owned jointly. In some, it’s what we in Toronto would call a semi-detached (two homes, joined in the middle, generally freehold, meaning the house and its associated land are owned separately).
With that in mind, here are some basic housing terms we use here in Ontario:
Freehold - you own the land and the home on it freely - not jointly with other property owners, like you might do in a condominium. That means you are solely responsible for it as well, including the upkeep and ensuring that the land use is compliant with any relevant zoning rules or bylaws.
Condominium - there are actually several types of condominium ownership; this is one of the most complex areas to understand. If you’re thinking of buying a condo, this guide for condo buyers is a must-read. The standard condo is the one most people think of - not only the high-rises, but also townhouses or even some stand-alone units. The purchaser owns the unit and the land and common elements (hallways, parking, gardens and more) are held jointly by the owners. If you’ve ever been to ski country, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a common elements condo (although you might not realize it). These have what’s called a parcel of tied land or a POTL. The homes may be separate and completely owned, but things like a ski hill, rec centre, or a jointly-owned road are the tied land referred to. There are also vacant-land condos, where the condo corporation can be created before any units are even built. There may be restrictive covenants governing the size, shape, and type of buildings that can be constructed later.
Leasehold Condominiums - this is generally seen less frequently in the urban environment here in Toronto. In essence, they work like other condominiums, but the unitholders each lease a share of the land, in a long term lease. These can still be bought and sold, but the diminishing time remaining on the lease can have an impact on what you can do with the property. Look for the words “land lease” in this type of community.
In addition to these, you may want to know:
Detached - just what it sounds like, a home that is not connected to others.
Link - often look like detached homes, but are attached underground at the foundation, or occasionally are attached only by a garage area in between the two homes.
Semi-detached - two homes, joined side-by-side.
Row-house, town-house, attached homes - these are houses where three or more units are connected to one another in a row. There can be both freehold or condo townhouse versions.
Stacked towns - these are townhouse-type houses where in addition to having homes in a row, there are usually multiple up-and-down units. They are quite similar to lowrise condominium apartment buildings, except that each unit generally has an exterior entrance. They may not have yards, but generally have patios, balconies, or rooftop deck spaces.
Duplex or triplex - multi-family homes, divided into distinct apartments that function separately. Most often these are the up-and-down variety.
These are only a few of the home terms you’ll encounter - so when you start your home search, you may want to sit down and have a chat with your real estate agent about what is, and isn’t, right for you and your family.