The One Big Difference Between Condos and Apartments

published Jul 1, 2024
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Modern apartment building in the countryside in a residential area of ​​a city
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When looking for a new place to call home, you may be coming across familiar terms, like condo and apartment. And while those two types of dwellings do share a lot in common, they’re different in more ways than one. For instance, with an apartment, you’ll likely make your rental payments directly to a property manager, whereas condo owners typically send their monthly payments to their mortgage lender.

But who gets paid at the start of each month isn’t the only thing that sets condos and apartments apart from each other. Take a look at some of these other factors that define each of these types of homes to learn about some of the differences (and benefits) of each.

Quick Overview

What’s the difference between a condo vs. an apartment?

The big difference between condos and apartments is who owns them. Condos are individual units within a larger complex that can be purchased by a homeowner. Apartments are also individual units within a larger complex, but they are leased or rented instead of owned.

What is a condo?

A condominium (aka a condo) is a form of residential real estate property that is best characterized by the individual ownership of units within a larger complex or building, according to Chelsea Werner, Global Real Estate adviser at ONE Sotheby’s.

“Each condo unit owner has exclusive ownership of their unit’s interior space, while common areas such as hallways, elevators, and amenities are jointly owned and managed by all unit owners through a homeowner’s association (HOA),” she explains. 

Owning a condo can be a great first step into homeownership, according to Jared Blumberg, cofounder of the Werner Blumberg Team at Compass in Manhattan. He says this is especially true if you are not ready for, or do not want, the full responsibility or large financial commitment of owning an entire house.

“In most cases condos will provide you some of the benefits of renting with the financial benefits of owning,” he continues. That’s because in most cases, you’re not tasked with the larger upkeep of your home (like repairing the roof or plowing snow), but you’ll still get to reap some of the monetary rewards and take advantage of certain tax write-offs as a condo owner.

“You are building your own equity instead of contributing to someone else’s, and benefiting from any increase in property value whenever you go to sell,” Blumberg says. 

The Pros of Owning a Condo

Most condos have dedicated maintenance workers, property managers, supers, and ownership associations to deal with the day-to-day upkeep of your condo, according to Blumberg. “If you have an appliance, small plumbing repair, [or] heating or cooling problems, the maintenance workers for your building may be able to handle these issues for you as part of your monthly common charges.” 

That being said, the support team at your condo complex won’t be able to handle everything for you. “Generally, it is the bigger ticket items like appliance replacement or contracting work that may require opening up walls where the responsibility may fall to you as the condo owner.” 

Cons of Owning a Condo

While there are some undeniable financial benefits to owning a condo, you could still find yourself facing some hefty fees when you opt to purchase a unit within a complex. “The common charges can vary in what they cover per building or community,” according to Blumberg.

“Make sure you know exactly what they do cover before purchasing to avoid any financial surprises later,” he continues, clarifying his statement by offering the example that while some communities may offer parking, storage options, and amenities like gyms, pools, and lounge. You could have to pay a premium to actually access them. 

Then there are the organizations that run the condos themselves, like the HOAs that Werner mentioned. Some of these groups have famously restrictive rules that may limit what you’re allowed to do with your space, despite the fact that you own it. 

Additionally, neither condos nor apartments typically come with yards. Folks who are hoping to score a home in a larger complex where they can have access to semiprivate outdoor space may want to look into townhouses, which can offer some of the same amenities and benefits of condo living, while still feeling more like a single-family residence. 

What Is an apartment? 

An apartment, on the other hand, is a residential unit within a building or complex that is leased or rented out by a landlord to renters (aka tenants), according to Werner. “Unlike condos, where individual units are owned, apartments are typically owned by a single entity, such as a property management company or individual landlord.”

These entities rent out units to tenants on a lease basis, Werner continues, adding that they’re often picked due to their “affordability, convenience, and accessibility to urban areas or amenities.”

Pros of Renting an Apartment

Unlike with a condo, when you rent an apartment you do not have to worry about anything when it comes to maintenance and upkeep, according to Blumberg. “Any repairs or replacements needed are just a phone call away to your management company, Blumberg explains, adding that the costs associated with these repairs are typically not your responsibility, either. 

You may also find yourself faced with far fewer fees when living in an apartment. “Apartment fees are less common, although you may see them for access to amenities or for parking if it is available,” Blumberg says. 

Cons of Renting an Apartment

While renting an apartment may be just about as stress-free as it can be when it comes to worrying about maintenance and upkeep, there are definitely some downsides. Blumberg stresses that you won’t reap any of the financial benefits of homeownership, which include gaining equity and tax write-offs. 

Additionally, renters aren’t often given any of the same options when updates are being made to the complex since they aren’t stakeholders, which means that apartment renters may find themselves faced with changes — including the color of the paint on the walls and the type of flooring used in their units — that they don’t actually like. 

Credit: Design: Apartment Therapy

How to choose between an apartment and a condo

There are plenty of pros and cons of both living experiences, which is why Werner says that when you’re trying to decide which is the right choice for you, it boils down to your own specific situation. “It really depends on your personal goals and finances,” she says. “In general, if you can afford to own a condo versus renting an apartment it is good to have equity in a space.”

Additionally, you’ll want to consider what you’re looking for when it comes to your experience, both inside your home and out. “Every condo and apartment building is different, but in general condos are maintained better overall and there is an association and people who own in it have a vested interest to keep the building updated, clean, and running well,” Werner continues. This may mean that condo owners experience more well-maintained common areas than those living in apartments. 

That being said, Werner adds that apartment living truly does come with its selling points as well. “There is also a freedom that comes with leasing or renting an apartment that a lot of people like as well.” 

There is no wrong answer, as long as whatever you pick works hand in hand with your current lifestyle, as well as your expectations for future growth and development, both as it pertains to your finances and your own personal needs.