Getting concrete facts about a concrete condo under construction
February 8, 2015 11:48 AM   Subscribe

I bought a unit in a high-rise condo in Metro Vancouver that will be finished two years from now. How can I get answers to some admittedly obscure questions? The marketing materials are shallow (I can only read the word 'luxury' so many times), and the broker who signed my paperwork at the showroom has been unhelpful. I'm a first-time buyer.

I'm somewhat doe-eyed about this purchase, and also more technically-inclined. Here are the questions for which I haven't gotten satisfactory answers, or any answer at all:

* Are sprinkler heads caged?
* Is there fibre-optic connectivity?
* Which floors permit entry via the emergency staircase?
* Is there a water shut-off valve in each unit?
* Who's the manufacturer of the appliances, and what are their model numbers?
* What are the dimensions of the storage locker?
* Is there a separate bike storage room, or is the storage locker supposed to be it?
* How would I buzz in visitors into my unit?
* Where's the panel where telecommunications stuff comes in?
* Are there Ethernet connections in addition to power outlets?
* An engineering-style floor plan for my unit, which would include details like dimensions, outlet locations, and ceiling heights.

Depending on who I ask, these questions are either totally reasonable, or too obscure. My own realtor told me that buyers just don't ask these kinds of questions.

The broker at the showroom has given me the runaround, at one point claiming that their email was hacked and therefore my email with questions was deleted. Which coincidentally spanned most of the 7-day grace period after tendering my offer. There's also a language barrier, and it seems to me like the broker doesn't know much more than what's shown in the marketing materials. My own realtor has also been unhelpful, but I suppose it's not surprising given that all he can do is poke the broker. As a first-time home buyer, this experience has been very upsetting. I've heard stories, but didn't think my first interaction would go like this.

All sales and marketing are carried out by a third-party company hired by the developer. I suspect this is one reason why the broker doesn't know much. I wasn't given contact information for the developer, and the broker didn't give me a business card.

The Disclosure Statement, while impressively hefty, is mostly filler, and an unnecessary waste of a tree. I've read the whole thing.

I've found fascinating details in the architect's submissions to the City, which are on the public record. It contained building profile renderings and floor plans that were either not in the marketing materials or Disclosure Statement, or present in much lower detail. For instance, there were notes about a lower ceiling height in a particular room in certain units, to accommodate plumbing. This info wasn't present elsewhere. It also had neat stuff like discussions about design decisions and other considerations. I'd love to have more details like these, too!

I totally understand that the answers I'm looking for are subject to change or that the answers may not even exist yet, but I just wish they'd throw me a bone. I'm eager to get details!
posted by spreadsheetzu to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Great question, dumb answer: seems like some of these could be ascertained via an in-person tour, no? That's obviously not the most efficient manner, but some details do change during the construction, so I'd want to verify everything in person anyway.
posted by slidell at 12:01 PM on February 8, 2015


How can I get answers to some admittedly obscure questions?

You... erm... can't. You bought the unit; they have almost no incentive whatsoever to prematurely commit themselves to an answer to your questions.

These sorts of questions:

* Who's the manufacturer of the appliances, and what are their model numbers?
* How would I buzz in visitors into my unit?
* Where's the panel where telecommunications stuff comes in?
* Are there Ethernet connections in addition to power outlets?

have likely never even been considered on the part of the builder. Appliances will be determined by a price comparison that occurs just before installation, which is likely right now at least 1.5 years away. The electrical system will be determined mostly by whoever bids the least amount of money for wiring, which is likely right now at least 1 year away.

These sorts of questions:

* Which floors permit entry via the emergency staircase?
* What are the dimensions of the storage locker?
* Is there a separate bike storage room, or is the storage locker supposed to be it?

should be included in the contract and/or accessory documentation when you made an offer for the unit. If it isn't, then you should assume the answers are, "not your floor", "there is no storage locker, since you didn't buy one", and "there is no bike storage room, since you didn't buy one." If it isn't in the contract and/or accessory documentation, it's likely going to be the first thing the builder starts shorting you on.

These sorts of questions:

* Is there a water shut-off valve in each unit?
* Are sprinkler heads caged?
* An engineering-style floor plan for my unit, which would include details like dimensions, outlet locations, and ceiling heights.

are more driven by code than anything, so if you want an answer to them, you should figure out what Vancouver code requires (a subject I am not familiar with). If the code doesn't require them, you should expect they are not provided.
posted by saeculorum at 12:10 PM on February 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


A lot of the details you're asking about about are probably not known yet:

* Are sprinkler heads caged?

There may be new technology by the time these are installed. They may not have selected the vendor. They will be to code.

* Is there fibre-optic connectivity?

Connectivity to what? A particular network, either telecom, cable or ???

* Which floors permit entry via the emergency staircase?


You can probably get this info from the inspector.

* Is there a water shut-off valve in each unit?


That's important to know, you can probably find this out from the plumbing inspector.

* Who's the manufacturer of the appliances, and what are their model numbers?

You're WAY early on this one. They won't decide until they're installing them. They may also offer a variety of options where you'll get to choose. If you want to install specific items, you'll usually decline the standard and the seller gives you an allowance (money off the mortgage) wherein you'll buy the appliances you prefer.

* What are the dimensions of the storage locker?


Should be on the plans. Is there a particular thing you want to store?

* Is there a separate bike storage room, or is the storage locker supposed to be it?


Legit question, probably hasn't been discussed/determined yet.

* How would I buzz in visitors into my unit?

They haven't decided yet. Might be a pre-wired phone in the unit just for buzzing people in, might be connected to your cell phone. One of the last things to be installed. They may go for 24 hour manned security in the lobby.

* Where's the panel where telecommunications stuff comes in?

For your unit or for the building? Why does it matter? They generally DON'T want people to know so that folks don't vandalize it.

* Are there Ethernet connections in addition to power outlets?

Probably not. This was a thing when I bought my house in 1999, these types of connections have become passe with the rise of wireless networking. Also, my house in 1999 was wired with Cat 5. We're now up to Cat 6.

* An engineering-style floor plan for my unit, which would include details like dimensions, outlet locations, and ceiling heights.


Not going to happen. You may get an artist's rendering, but you're not going to get that level of detail. Ceiling heights are probably 9', but everyone will get whatever they're offering.

If you want answers to these question, you want to talk to the builder/contractor, not the real estate people. You do realize that this is pretty nit-picky stuff and a lot of it will be decided in the future.

I get that you're excited about your condo, but a lot of these things are at the discretion of the builder. They may change things on the fly. If the code changes and you don't need fire sprinklers, guess what won't be included.

When I bought my house I was told specifically we'd have Time-Warner Cable. We ended up having Direct TV, provided by the HOA. It wasn't in my contract, I couldn't squawk about it.

If these questions are burning in your brain right now, you will be a MESS by the time you close on the condo, which will probably NOT happen for 2.5-3.0 years. My house was delayed by months due to burrowing owls nesting. Protected species, nothing anyone could do.

Things that are more to the point. What percentage of the condo has to be sold for the COs to be issued? What happens to unsold units once the COs are issued? If they go up for rent, it can be a real problem for you. What percentage of the building is sold now?

Who will be running the HOA? Will you be getting any abatement on HOA fees while they're still building? You do realize that you may be the first person to move into the building and they won't fill the pool for just you. Or stock the gym.

Also, your real estate person isn't going to get paid on this deal until you close. 2-3 years from now. They are NOT all that invested in you or your condo. There's a non-zero chance that in that time, you'll back out, change your mind or that he may not even be a real estate agent when the deal is finally done.

I get it, I bought my house based on a marketing floor plan. I saved a shit ton of money that way. But there's a whole bunch of stuff you've got to take on faith.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:26 PM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


An engineering-style floor plan for my unit, which would include details like dimensions, outlet locations, and ceiling heights.

You're basically asking for a complete set of building plans here. Information which is copyright the architect and probably worth several hundred dollars a set if not more. So this probably won't be forth coming ever.
posted by Mitheral at 1:56 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ask like you want to pay for custom furnishings.. when money is on the table perhaps the architect / interior designer will start paying attention.

Much of this may not be specified yet other than generic depending on what subcontractor will provide / bill / suggest as a substitution.
posted by nickggully at 3:00 PM on February 8, 2015


To expand on one aspect of this, from my perspective on the property development side (admitted not in Vancouver but I imagine it is a common concern) the developer that you brought from will actively want to not commit to giving these details now to avoid not being tied into anything down the line.

This isn't for any fundamentally devious reason for this (normally!) just that things change in construction, technologies evolve, construction tolerances mean things have to be relocated, unforeseen pinch points emerge and so on. Designing a residential building to construction level details then building these details is a massive undertaking and a long process!

Hence if you are truly just interested in these questions, as opposed to wanting to have guarantees about what definitely will/will not be there when you move in, I would suggest stressing that when you are asking the agent. As in prefacing your questions with 'I know that most of these things won't have been considered yet and you will not be able to commit to them in anyway but it would help me to know what you are currently planning for the...'.

Also another route might be to look at the developer and architect's previous work of this kind at this sales price point, to see what they have delivered before. As nine times out of ten this is where they will start from when designing their next one. However I would echo the point above that if it isn't in the lease then you shouldn't count on it!
posted by Albondiga at 3:13 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks - these answers have been very informative so far, and have given me a good feel for what I should be expecting, and the timeline of how these projects are carried out. I don't know how the developer, architect, marketer, builder, and lawyers fulfill their roles and collaborate, and had no idea that many details are at the discretion of the builder.

Copies of the provincial building/fire/plumbing codes are only available for free in the reference section of public libraries. I'm eager, but not that eager.

saeculorum: The contract guarantees a randomly-allocated storage locker of (unfortunately) unspecified size.
Ruthless Bunny: Fibre-optic internet connectivity, as an alternative to ADSL or cable, and would come in via the telecom panel located somewhere in the unit. The specifics of strata fees and the strata council were in the Disclosure Agreement.
Albondiga: I've repeatedly used the preface you've suggested, but I don't think it worked, sadly. I really am just interested, and not looking for any commitments or gotchas.

I'll definitely come back for advice when the unit's ready for the inspection walk-through. The contract says I'm only given one shot at identifying any deficiencies during that visit, and I don't want to be too lenient nor unreasonably nitpicky.
posted by spreadsheetzu at 3:31 PM on February 8, 2015


Yup. Take a deep breath and wait 18 months to 28 months (it will be late) and then see if you can get some of your questions answered. I've worked on the management side of a Vancouver condo construction project on Burrard and so much is still undecided. Generally the subs (electrical, plumbing) will make a lot of the final decisions on site when they are actually wiring up your unit. Many things will change along the way. That bike room is more of an idea and will be whatever size it is when actually built. Those misc spaces change long after the concrete is poured. They fit the left over space and builders allow a good amount of leeway should large fixtures like HVAC need to be changed.

Take a friend who's been through this before when you do your walk through to help you identify the annoying issues. And remember, it's Vancouver, you can always sell your condo when it's built ;)
posted by saradarlin at 3:42 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I got the engineering drawing that other people are saying is never going to happen for you before I even bought my condo, and then got a copy again at my options and upgrades meeting so that I could specify where I wanted extra outlets installed. So it's not as ridiculously out of the question as is being suggested here.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:02 PM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'll definitely come back for advice when the unit's ready for the inspection walk-through. The contract says I'm only given one shot at identifying any deficiencies during that visit, and I don't want to be too lenient nor unreasonably nitpicky.

There is literally no such thing as unreasonably picky during the pre-occupancy inspection. At mine, we marked individual tiny nicks in the paint. The point of that meeting is to be as absolutely, endlessly nitpicky as you can manage. There are a ton of good checklists out there on all the things you want to look at during those inspections.

Also, unless BC's new home warranty program is very different than Ontario's, which I doubt, the pre-occupancy inspection isn't your only opportunity to record deficiencies. It's just the best opportunity to actually get them fixed with no hassle to you -- stuff that gets fixed after you move in is more of an issue with scheduling, having workmen in your home, possibility of your stuff being broken, possibility they'll deny it because you might have done it, etc.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:45 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks everyone! Your answers have put me at ease about not knowing things at this stage.

About the engineering drawings: my realtor told me that I am entitled to them...eventually. They should be part of the documentation I receive when I take possession. If not, the strata corporation will have them available. As a last resort, city hall will have a copy on file that can be made available by the strata council. I think the idea is that these plans are useful or necessary if I were to get further work done by a contractor after moving in.

jacquilynne: Yes, I'm more concerned about claims of "no, you did it" after moving in, so I want to do the walk-through right!
posted by spreadsheetzu at 3:38 PM on February 9, 2015


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