"If you buy this condo, you'll lead a glamorous life just like the hot model on this slick, glossy billboard."
Most shoppers are smart enough to know that's not necessarily what they're signing up for when they drop thousands on a condo.
While many developers continue to use these "heavy on fantasy, light on information" marketing strategies, they're on their way out, says Matthew Slutsky, condo marketing expert and founder/president of BuzzBuzzHome.com, an online directory of Canadian condo developments.
"Purchasers aren't stupid," he says, speaking of the intended allure of model-esque advertisements and slick showrooms. "Nobody's going to go to a sales centre without doing their research."
That research, if done right, will involve brushing up on the kinds of strategies developers use to help sell the condos - and they involve more than just the billboard. They're not done maliciously to fool the buyer, Mr. Slutsky says. "It's just marketing."
Here's how to see through and interpret sales strategies while you're shopping for that condo:
Knowledge is power
If a developer isn't offering any and all information, they're likely not worth your time or money, says David Allison, president of Vancouver-based Braun/Allison Inc., which does marketing for residential developments.
"You need to demand that information. If you're going to be putting down your life savings and you don't have all that information, then you're not making a smart decision."
Make sure the developer has an informative website and don't bend to those who ask you to call them or visit a sales centre for more details. Shoppers could also visit home builders association websites such as the Greater Vancouver Homebuilders Association, which should have information on the developer if they've built in the area before, says Carla Bury, director of marketing at Intercorp Inc., a developer in Vancouver.
Visit an existing development
If you're buying before the condo is built, ask whether that same developer has a condo nearby. If so, get a tour, Mr. Allison suggests. It will help you gauge the quality of the building. If the hallways are narrow, you can tell the developer was stretching to make the rooms feel larger in a small unit, he says.
Thinking of buying a condo?
It's also smart to check out a view plan to make sure you're actually going to see that sunset from your condo, says Ms. Bury, whose company is set to release a book to help condo shoppers make informed decisions when buying their new home. It also doesn't hurt to talk to a condo owner or two in that building to see whether they got what they signed up for.
Watch the details in ads
If it's really important to you that you can barbecue on your balcony, just like the happy couple in the ad, make sure you actually can after you buy, says Denise Lash, a condominium lawyer at Heenan Blaikie LLP in Toronto.
"They may show people on the roof so you assume your condo would allow barbecuing, but then you find out it's only for certain units," she says. If the ad shows a nice beach scene, check whether that development is actually near the water. After all, she says, "marketing is marketing and no one is legally bound."
You walk into a model suite and it looks like a spacious cove of wonderful. That's probably because it doesn't have a ceiling, Mr. Slutsky says. "It gives a much airier feel to a small suite." Model suites are often in industrial spaces, making it hard to envision where the ceiling would be. That said, there's usually a little line on the wall denoting the ceiling height; ask the agent to point it out, he says.
Furniture size may vary
Layout plans will often feature furniture - a little window seat here, a breakfast nook there. Ask about the size of the bed drawn into the bedroom. "They may be using a double bed instead of a queen-sized bed," he says. "You may not even be able to fit a queen-sized bed in the bedroom." Other pieces of furniture may be smaller, too, even those featured in the model suite. "It's to make it look bigger. They will put in furniture that will fit with that space."
Love the granite countertop? That'll be extra
Model suites are often peppered with upgrades that are not included in the price of the condo, whether it be gleaming countertops or slick pot lights in the ceiling. "The standards are often very nice," Mr. Slutsky says, but it's key to ask what's an upgrade and what's included in the price.
How big is this big?
Don't be fooled by the majesty of the show suite - sometimes they're bigger than what you're hoping to buy, Mr. Slutsky says. "Usually the show suite is [the size advertised] but they may be showcasing a larger unit rather than, say, the 500-square-foot unit," he says. It's up to you to know whether the model condo you're walking through is really the model you can afford. Don't be shy to ask. Ms. Bury from Intercorp suggests walking through two or three different units to get a real feel for the sizes available.
How many 'steps' from the subway is it, anyway?
A lot of developers describe the proximity of the condo tower to restaurants and attractions with amenity maps. However, they're not always drawn to scale, Mr. Slutksy says. "Often they'll make the development look much closer to the amenities than it may actually be," he says. Gauge the distance for yourself, he says. Take a drive to test it out or, better yet, spend a few days scoping out the neighbourhood to get a feel for where you'd be doing your shopping and restaurant-going.
Check out the layout
As in "don't buy that big leather couch before buying the condo." It just might not fit. Layouts on a piece of paper can seem a lot more ideal than the layout in real life, Mr. Slutsky says. It's a conundrum often encountered when purchasing condos before they're built. "There are a lot of two-bedroom, 520-square-foot units selling, which is very tight," he says. Try to place yourself there "so you can get a feel for how the unit's going to work, which way the doors are going to swing."
Check the contract
"People get all carried away with the beautiful marketing and don't really realize that what they're buying is defined in the legal documents," says the lawyer Ms. Lash. The model suite you're looking at might be 800 square feet, but unless it says it in the legal documents, that may not be the case for yours. "If there's something important to the purchaser that they have or they need, they should get it in writing," she says. "If the dimensions of the suite are important or have a certain piece of furniture to get in, they'd better be clear what their specifications are."
And a sales strategy that could come back
When interest rates were higher and the condo market not so red-hot, some developers held contests so shoppers could win their condo suite, Mr. Allison says. He even remembers one developer in Vancouver who gave away a free car with the purchase of a condo. "A lot of those promotional, attention-getting things are out of vogue," he says. "But who knows what people are going to do when interest rates go up?"
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