condos

Aging condos can learn new tricks

Five modest upgrades to bring life to an old building
Monday, October 25, 2021
By Brian Bosscher

They don’t build condos like they used to. Anyone who lives in a residential building that is two or three decades old will undoubtedly agree. While shiny new buildings are going up in virtually every city across Ontario, these sleek structures don’t compare to more mature condos. From the thoughtful architecture to the durable finishes to the generously sized units, older condo buildings are true gems.

Not only do older condos have more space, they tend to have a stronger sense of community. Owners who live in these buildings know what’s out there, and they’re not eager to give up their large suite for something small and manufactured, even if a new unit would offer more modern comforts. As a result, you may have residents who have been a part of a condo community for ten or more years. People like their neighbours, and they even talk to them from time to time.

But, as appealing as old buildings are, they do present some unique challenges for residents. Often, these aging developments hang on to old processes. Owners, for example, only have the option to pay fees with cheques or cash. Conversations between the landlord or manager and residents are carried out in person. It’s nice to be able to connect with the person in charge, but at the same time, it’s easy to forget what was discussed. Repairs may take longer than they should as a result. Packages are another big issue. Boxes from Amazon or Chefs Plate are dropped onto the lobby floor, which is often unattended and easily accessible to anyone walking by. Items are left exposed and vulnerable, and owners who are tired of getting their things stolen may have to redirect packages to a dedicated parcel delivery store.

These issues are frustrating for both managers and residents, but the good news is they don’t need to be permanent problems. Mature buildings do not need to undergo a complete makeover in order to become more modern; that is an expensive and lengthy process that few communities want to take on. Instead, boards or managers may consider modernizing their building using simple and affordable technological solutions. These modest upgrades will make owners happier, and add new life to the building.

Online payments

People of all ages can confidently use online banking today. It’s quick, convenient, and safe, and most appreciate that they can manage their finances from home. Cheques are the opposite of convenient. Yet, many condos, old and new, still ask owners to cover amenity deposits or condo fees using this dated payment method. It’s a slow process to get the money from the owner to the corporation’s bank account, and one that requires in-person interactions.

Management is encouraged to explore online payment options such as electronic funds transfer, credit card, or debit. They can speak with the corporation’s bank about enabling these types of payment options, and consider involving fintech companies like RentMoola or Rotessa. These companies have lots of experience working with condos, and are happy to walk curious corporations through the online payment process. Once the new system is in place, management will need to share a “how-to” guide with all residents. It might take more than one message to get residents set up, but the end results will be well worth the initial work.

Residents’ portal or condo management software

Sending out those online payment instructions will be a lot easier if communication can be done digitally. Printing and distributing notices takes up additional time and money, and owners who don’t live on the premises may not receive communications in time. A residents’ portal or software system with a space dedicated to residents makes it much simpler for people to stay connected and up-to-date. Residents can also submit service requests online, giving management a better way to track and resolve issues. Once they have their account set up, residents can view policies, notices, updates, and anything else management needs to share with them from their phone or computer. Some systems will even allow management to send text or automated voice messages to residents if they prefer to get information through either of those channels.

Wifi in common areas

Most Ontarians living in urban dwellings take internet access for granted, but there is a small minority of residents that struggle to get online. According to a 2021 report called Mapping Toronto’s Digital Divide, 38 per cent of Toronto households don’t have internet that is up to speed with Canada’s 50 megabits per second download target, and 2 per cent do not have access to home internet at all. Cost was the main reason why people could not access good service.

One way to help owners, especially those who may be on a fixed income, is to provide free wifi in common areas. There may be concerns that owners will abuse this service and stop paying for their own internet, but the truth is that almost never happens. Instead, making wifi available to those who need it most will help them feel more connected, and remove barriers that make it hard for them to book appointments, order essential items and stay in touch with friends and family. Furthermore, this small addition may encourage more social interactions by bringing people out of their units. Plus, this makes it easier for all residents to use any online services offered by the corporation.

Lighting

You’ll be surprised what a difference good lighting can make. A lighting retrofit is simply an upgrade made to light fixtures or lamps, and this upgrade will automatically make the building look better.

Upgrading the source of light is equally important because it can lead to noticeable cost savings in addition to changing up the feel of the building. Swap traditional incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient LED bulbs. While those clear bulbs are cheaper to buy, they also have the worst energy efficiency on the market. LED lights use anywhere from 25 per cent – 80 per cent less energy than traditional bulbs, which means lower energy bills and fewer bulb purchases.

Installing motion sensor lighting can also have a positive impact on energy savings. This type of lighting system is great for shared amenity spaces, like gyms or game rooms, that have a low occupancy rate in the morning and at night.

The corporation will need to schedule a lighting audit to determine the most energy-efficient solutions. If management plans to make changes to unit lighting, it’s best to consult with owners before any concrete plans are made. Outline the cost-saving benefits, and give them a timeline so they understand how long the project will take.

Parcel lockers

Full disclosure, this last tech upgrade is on the pricey side. But, for buildings that don’t have concierge (and even those that do), parcel lockers are a game changer. The safety and convenience parcel lockers offer to residents is invaluable, and since online shopping will only become more popular, corporations cannot expect the parcel pileups to go away. A small locker might start at $10,000, while a large locker will cost about $25,000. It’s not a cheap upgrade, but if there is room, make the investment. If necessary, management can even charge a modest monthly fee to owners that want to use the locker system.

Using tech to automate and simplify processes for older condos is not a fad. It’s a way to modernize without asking owners to make big, uncomfortable changes. Old buildings can learn new tricks, and owners will reap the rewards when an established condo community welcomes new additions and features.

Brian Bosscher is the president and founder of Condo Control, a leading software company that provides web-based communication, management and security solutions for condos and HOAs of all sizes. He is also a board member, having served more than 12 years as both treasurer and president.

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