Condominiums are the fastest growing segment of the housing market in Waterloo Region, but condo fees should be an important consideration for buyers.

In Waterloo Region the construction of condominiums, from high rises to townhouses, is up 35 per cent over the past year.

And it seems to appeal to everyone from first-time buyers to experienced homeowners looking to downsize and simplify.

However all condos come with fees, but what those fees cover can vary greatly.

Rita and Russ Mceachnie are looking to downsize. “Our children are all grown up and we wanted to make our lives a little simpler,” Rita says.

They’re looking at properties like a 2,500 square foot villa in suburban Waterloo.

April Bevan, on the other hand, is looking for an urban lifestyle, “Being single and busy with work and friends and family, I didn’t have time to take care of home maintenance, things like that.”

She’s looking for something like an 800 square foot loft in the heart of Uptown Waterloo.

They are very different properties with different amenities, but both come with costs above and beyond mortgage payments.

The large villa comes with a maintenance-free exterior, no lawns to mow, no eavestroughs to clean and no driveway to shovel.

It’s the solution the Mceachnie’s are looking for, Russ says, “The biggest reason for it is really lifestyle. The idea of being able to lock the door and walk away.”

But with a huge master bedroom, built-in bar and two-way fireplace, the lifestyle comes with a big price tag.

On top of the $500,000 price tag, there are condo fees of $300-$400 a month.

Loft living is more affordable, with some condos under $200,000, but there are still fees.

Bevan says “I’ve seen them as low as $200 and as high as $800. It kind of depends on the building.”

But for her fees, likely $250-$300 a month, she’ll get heat, hydro and the use of a gym and common area.

Builders determine the condo fees, and the market has an impact. The so-called downtown lifestyle often comes with more services whereas upscale buyers will often have to pay their own heat and hydro.

Real estate agent Anne Scharf says “If some of them are going to go away in the winter months they can turn down the thermostat. It doesn’t impact the building whatsoever and they’re only paying for what they’re using.”

Ontario is re-examining the 14-year-old Condominium Act as complaints about rising fees grow.

Currently they’re controlled annually by a board of individual owners at each condo facility, and there can be added charges if unforeseen situations come up.

Coming up in part two: What options do owners have under the Condominium Act when something goes wrong?