So, you’ve decided a condo is right for your lifestyle and you’re pre-approved for a mortgage, but what’s the next step?

Viki Fairbairn, a REALTOR® and certified condominium specialist with Royal LePage Benchmark in Calgary, says buying a condo differs from buying a house, so it’s important to find the right Realtor to take you through the process.

Fairbairn says even with mortgage pre-approval, it’s important to assess your actual “hard budget,” which takes into account all your spending, before shopping around.

“Go back to last year and (determine) absolutely everything you spent your money on,” she said. “What about date night? Christmas presents and holidays? Savings and emergency funds? Things that you may not think about. What does that cost you in a year?”

The key is to be able to buy a condo and still enjoy your life, not end up “house poor.”

Fairbairn says it’s crucial to understand condo fees, including how they relate to the square footage of the unit, what expenses they include and whether the reserve fund is sufficient.

She says condo fees tend to rise as a new condo starts to age, so if the fees are high at the start, they might rise to a point where the unit is not only expensive to own, but also difficult to sell in the future.

Have your Realtor look into any included parking spaces or storage lockers, as well as whether they are assigned, titled or leased, which can make a big difference.

Fairbairn says prospective buyers should also find out what an owner is responsible for repairing or replacing, such as windows or doors, and whether the condo corporation appears to be well managed. Having an outside company conduct a document review can uncover a lot of useful information.

“If your condo document review comes back and says they’ve been having all kinds of problems with balconies in that building and are talking about a special assessment coming up, it might be the best $500 you ever spent,” she said.

When you’ve narrowed down your choices, discuss any conditions or terms that need to go into an offer, such as a condo inspection or anything related to bylaws, with your Realtor.

For instance, Fairbairn says condo bylaws might allow pets “with approval by the condo board,” so make it a condition that your pet is able to get pre-approved.

“Make sure those conditions and terms cover what you need,” she said.