B.C., Alberta differ on strata review

If I’m buying a strata property in B.C. and want to hire someone to examine the building’s records for me, that someone has to be a licensed realtor.

That’s not the case in Alberta, where Bernie Winter, among others, provides a service known as strata document review. In fact, Winter gave up her realtor’s licence because she believes she would be in a conflict of interest if she was selling a strata property and advising prospective buyers about the internal workings and health of the strata corporation.

“Are you going to be at arm’s length on giving the real scoop on what’s going on with that condo [if you’re the realtor]?” she asks. “The answer’s ‘no’.”

After 20 years in the strata industry, including management and sales, Winter began Condo-Watch in 1994, the first strata document review service in Alberta. She now has nine consultants in Calgary, as well as a satellite office in Edmonton. Since the business is unregulated in Alberta, Winter also trains her consultants, from four to six months each.

When a buyer asks for a review, a consultant obtains and analyzes all the documents available by law for the strata corporation, including meeting minutes and financial information, then produces a 15-to 18-page report. The buyer pays $395.

“We just put the facts into perspective so that they can see them in plain language in clear terms and make their decision based on the real facts,” says Winter, adding that her consultants understand how a business runs, or should run. “A lot of people think that if they just read the financials or they just read the minutes that they’ll have the picture, and it’s not true.”

Winter says her company has saved buyers stress and money by warning them of problems that were not visible to the inexperienced eye. In one case, they stopped someone from buying into a building where the strata corporation was about to levy a special assessment of $125,000 on each owner.

But in many cases, Winter says their reports don’t stop sales; they simply give buyers a stronger arm with which to negotiate. She recalls another prospective sale where they learned about an imminent assessment of $60,000 dollars per owner for repairs. In that case, the seller and buyer agreed to split the cost.

Winter offered her strata document review service in Vancouver in 2007 through a franchisee, but his business didn’t survive. “He could not get enough business because he had to have a real estate licence and realtors won’t refer their clients to another realtor,” she explains.

By contrast, in Alberta, strata document reviewers are no threat to realtors, who happily refer clients to them. “We have a huge following with realtors,” Winter says, adding that about 10 per cent of condominium buyers in Alberta pay for such a service.

Jay Mitchell, the deputy superintendent of real estate for B.C., confirms that anyone providing a strata document review service in B.C. “requires a licence because they are making representations about real estate,” and argues that licensing protects consumers.

Winter is all in favour of licensing too, just not under the real estate umbrella. “I would love to be licensed and have a code of ethics to subscribe to,” she says, but in Alberta “no one’s interested.” Instead, she buys Errors and Omissions Insurance and belongs to the Better Business Bureau.

But even though it’s not profitable for Winter to offer her document review service in B.C., she’s come up with another service she believes will help strata buyers and sellers here. I’ll tell you about that in my next column.

Source: The Vancouver Sun

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