Condo vs. apartment: What’s the difference?
August 9, 2022 6 min read
If you’re looking for a new place to live, you might be ready to rent an apartment or buy a condominium. While both have a lot in common, the one you choose may come down to several factors. Read on to learn more about the typical differences between a condo and an apartment.
- Condos and apartments are similar in structure, size and the amenities they offer.
- While similar, one key difference sets them apart: ownership.
- The one that’s right for you depends on your needs, cash reserves and long-term goals.
What’s the difference between a condo and an apartment?
The main difference between a condo and an apartment is that a condo is owned and an apartment is rented. Both look pretty similar and are typically considered units inside a residential building.
Looks aside, the mechanics of condos and apartments can be different. Aside from ownership, having a homeowners association (HOA) and handling maintenance are among the other differences between the two.
The biggest difference between condos and apartments is how you pay for them. You’ll pay rent for an apartment based on the terms in your lease agreement. For condos, you’ll make a mortgage payment like you would for a house.
If you’re planning to rent an apartment, you might need a security deposit, first and last month’s rent and a signed lease agreement. Some agreements let you rent month to month, while most are for a set amount of time, like a few months or a year. The landlord may also pull your credit as part of the screening process to see how you’ve managed money in the past.
Buying a condo is similar to buying a house. You’ll sign the deed, make mortgage payments, and be responsible for other costs like property taxes. And just like buying a house, if you apply for a mortgage, the lender will typically check your credit scores. The better your credit scores, the better chance you have at being approved for a mortgage and potentially a lower interest rate.
Homeowners association rules and fees
Many condos have HOAs, and you’re required to follow their rules and pay their fees if you buy a condo in that community. The fees go toward costs like trash pickup, landscaping and amenities. The rules may have to do with what kind of pets are allowed, what the outside of your condo can look like, and whether you can rent it out. HOA fees and rules vary widely by where you live and who owns the building.
While apartments may also have similar rules, you’re typically not required to pay a fee for the HOA to oversee these requirements. Some apartment buildings have pet fees as well—and there may be a list of approved breeds.
Like homeownership of a single-family home, owning a condo means you might be responsible if things go wrong. If a pipe bursts or your garbage disposal stops working, you would need to get the damage fixed and pay any costs.
If you live in an apartment, the landlord is typically responsible for repairs of things like a broken appliance. Your lease agreement should have information about what the landlord is responsible for.
Every condo association and apartment building has different amenities, but you might find they have similar offerings. For instance, apartments and condos may have a pool or gym for residents and their visitors.
Pros and cons of condos
If you’re considering buying a condo, you might want to first weigh the pros and cons.
- Ownership entry point: If you think you want to own a house someday, buying a condo could be a great starting point. You can build equity without committing to a potentially larger and more expensive house.
- Freedom to make changes: In an apartment, you’re limited in what you can do around your home. When you own a condo, you can generally decorate inside or paint the walls without worrying about what your landlord will think.
- Less privacy: A condo doesn’t typically offer more privacy compared to a traditional single-family home. Like an apartment, you still have neighbors close by and, in some cases, living above, below or beside you.
- Some restrictions: Many condos have HOAs with limitations and restrictions on what you can do. For instance, you might need permission if you want to rent your condo out or make any changes to the exterior.
- HOA fees and other homebuyer costs: Along with restrictions, you’re responsible for paying HOA fees if the association charges them. You also need to cover costs like a down payment, mortgage and property taxes when you purchase the condo.
Pros and cons of apartments
If you’re thinking about renting, an apartment might be your best bet.
- More cost effective. A condo may require more upfront costs, like a down payment and a home inspection fee. Plus, you’re responsible for paying your mortgage, property taxes and potential HOA fees. For an apartment, you typically pay a security deposit, and some landlords require first and last month’s rent. But it may be more straightforward and less expensive.
- Less responsibility. If something breaks in your apartment that’s not your fault, you may not have to pay for the repairs. That’s generally the responsibility of the building’s owner, management company or landlord.
- Good short-term option. Many lease agreements are for 12 months, so if you don’t like your apartment, you can leave after a year. Some agreements let you pay month to month, giving you even more flexibility to move if you aren’t happy where you are, although it may be more expensive.
- Not building equity. When you own your home, making monthly mortgage payments means you’re building equity to eventually own your place of residence outright. When you rent, you’re never building equity in your home.
- Permission to make changes. It’s harder to make changes to your home when you have to get it approved by your landlord. For instance, you may need to get permission to paint the walls, and you likely can’t change from carpet to wood floors, for example.
Condos vs. apartments: Which one is best?
You might want a condo if:
- You want to build equity. You can start building equity in your home every time you make a monthly mortgage payment.
- You have enough money to cover upfront costs. With the extra costs and fees, make sure you have enough saved up to pay for anything that comes up in the homebuying process.
- You don’t want a single-family home. Not all homebuyers want to own a house. If a single-family home doesn’t sound enticing or you don’t have enough to pay for it right now, a condo may best fit your needs.
You might want an apartment if:
- You don’t want to stay in your current city for long. If you’re worried about being tied down, an apartment can give you the opportunity to leave and have more flexibility.
- You want someone else to pay for repairs. More oversight from a landlord can equal less responsibility for you. Having your landlord manage repairs means you generally don’t have to pay for things when they break.
Condos and apartments are similar in some ways but different in others. Determining whether a condo or apartment is best depends on what is right for you and your ideal living situation.