Small House vs Condo - A compelling essay


Developers and Real Estate agents have wooed potential home buyers with the story that condo ownership provides freedom from maintenance, “lock it and leave it” security, an easy lifestyle of luxury and convenience.  However, instead of being King (or Queen) of your domain - you are now at the mercy of the Condo Board and the Condominium Law.  In an article titled “Condo Hell” on April 22, 2014, it was reported that Canadian condos are rife with internal politics, neighbour infighting and power struggles stemming from the complicated network of condo boards, owners, investors, tenants and property manager.  I’m sure it’s no different in other countries where condos are concerned.  


An example or two:  


You have purchased a condo with wonderful rose gardens and landscaping.  You miss the gardens of your previous home and this gives you a connection to what you love.  However, one of the condo owners had a visitor who tripped near the rose garden, crashed into the rose bushes and required stitches from the resulting rose barb wounds.  A complaint was raised to the Condo Board of the dangerous rose garden and after heated discussion it was decided that it must be replaced by a beneign planting of globe cedars at a cost of $500 per unit for the landscape “upgrade”.


You have purchased a unit with a sunny south/west exposure.  Looking forward to a leisurely summer on your balcony, enjoying the sun on your recently purchased garden furniture, under a sun umbrella with some pots for container gardening, a letter from the Condo Board is delivered to you that due to maintenance and safety concerns, garden furniture, umbrellas and all plant pots requiring water will not be allowed.  


With a condo, you lose control over your space and in essence, your money. A group of condo unit owners can band together, take over the Condo Board and make changes that cost $1,000’s to each unit.  You have no choice but to pay up.  In fact, they can change the rules so, for example, a planned remodel of your unit to replace carpet with hardwood is no longer allowed.  Escalating monthly “maintenance fees” cannot be ignored.  You are definitely not in-charge of your own domain!  


Another possibly ignored issue is the sedentary lifestyle of condo living. By virtue of “everything in one place”, living in a condo reduces if not outright exempts a person from any slightly strenuous exercise - no lawn mower, no digging in the garden, no pushing and pulling garbage cans…basic activities in a non-condo environment. A short walk down a hall, into an elevator and into a car is one sure way to reduce one’s “healthspan” (the number of years you live without a debilitating disease).  There IS a better way! 

There is growing interest in small house living and a small house is a much better idea than living in a condo building.  A space over which you have total control - including how and when you spend your money on it.  You determine if the house needs repainting, or a garden needs to be replanted.  You have your own patio and garden.  You grow your own flowers and veggies in the summer.  You enjoy your space without the interference from an indifferent “Condo Board”. You enjoy fresh air, wide open windows, fresh breezes throughout your home. 


One of the issues with the current single family home new-build is that the lot sizes are too small for the size of house.  We do not need large houses. There seems to be a great lack of understanding of the necessity for garden/personal green space.  The fences between the homes are so close and high that sunlight is restricted such that gardens cannot receive sunlight.  We need to be outdoors, getting fresh air, sunshine, digging around in the dirt, enjoying the thrill of growing things! 


With a small house you can edit down your possessions to what you really love.  Most of us have too much “stuff” and have accumulated it because we think we might need it.  Maybe so.  In that case, a storage unit might come in handy.  But the better way is to live with what you enjoy - and get rid of the rest.  


The Small House plan available for sale on this website is just 350 sq. ft.  It is a good example of how it is possible to live quite comfortably in a very small space, while enjoying all the health benefits of outdoor exercise, fresh air, sunlight and freedom.