Condo Vs. Apartment: Which Is Right For You?
Morgan McBride8-Minute Read
October 15, 2022
Condominiums and apartments are both popular housing options for lower-maintenance living. While they have many similarities, one key difference is that a condominium (condo) is property you own, while an apartment is property you rent.
If you are considering downsizing or moving to a new area, it’s important to understand the difference between living in a condo vs. living in an apartment to make the best financial and lifestyle choice for you.
What’s The Difference Between An Apartment And A Condo?
Condos and apartments are similar in structure, as they’re both single units that are usually part of a larger residential building or complex. The biggest difference between a condo and an apartment comes down to who owns the unit. Condos are owned by the homeowner, while apartments are owned by a landlord and rented out to a tenant.
Apartment Vs. Condo: Factors To Consider
Apartments and condos both exist for a reason – there are circumstances where each is the best housing choice for certain individuals. Cost, maintenance responsibilities, amenities, and rules and regulations are all things to consider when comparing the two options.
Whether you’re considering a condo or apartment, in addition to the current costs at the time you sign your mortgage or lease agreement, it’s important to ask how much your costs may increase over time. For an apartment, that could mean rent increases, additional fees, or other unexpected costs beyond your base rent or fluctuating fees such as utilities. For condos, typical factors are HOA (homeowners association) fees and special assessments.
HOA fees are how condo communities afford the maintenance and upkeep of their buildings and common areas. Residents within the condo community are required to pay monthly dues to the HOA as well as any one-time special assessments that arise. Special assessments cover unexpected costs and maintenance, like intensive repairs and larger community wide projects (such as re-paving the parking lot and interior road).
These HOA dues vary depending on where you live and the various amenities in your building or community space, such as whether your complex has a pool. HOA dues may also cover some utilities, such as water or heat. These dues may be paid monthly, quarterly or annually and can vary from a small cost to a more significant fee.
In addition to HOA dues, condo owners are responsible for paying property taxes. While your monthly mortgage payment on a condo will likely remain the same with a fixed-rate mortgage, HOA costs could increase and occasional expensive special assessments may be on the horizon.
When you live in an apartment, you’re responsible for paying monthly rent and, usually, covering the utilities within your unit. Some landlords may include certain utilities in your rent, like water, eliminating the need for you to pay an extra bill each month, however it's important to note if you are assessed a garbage pick up fee, parking fees, or other fees such as required rental insurance before you sign your lease when you are comparing properties in your search.
With an apartment, it’s possible for your rent to increase at the end of your lease term, especially if you rent in a “hot” rental market, and you could potentially face yearly rental increases that you would need to account for.
Have a sink that’s leaking or a refrigerator that isn’t running? How you approach these issues vary for condo owners and apartment renters. The responsibility of maintenance differs with the two and condo owners are typically responsible for more than apartment dwellers.
While the exterior maintenance and upkeep of your condo is handled by your HOA, you’re responsible for everything within the interior of your unit. If something goes wrong inside your condo, you need to have a handyperson on speed dial and you are the one responsible for footing the bill.
Maintenance can be more complex with condo owners, as issues may affect other condo units or common areas. For example, it may be a water pipe leaking that’s affecting multiple units. When it comes to situations like that, it’s always best to consult your governing documents to confirm what exactly you are responsible for in terms of maintenance.
The landlord is responsible for most maintenance and repairs in an apartment building. Sink is leaking? Call your landlord or management office and they oversee sending a repair person to fix it. Landlords have a legal responsibility to ensure your unit's systems are all maintained – that includes plumbing, electricity and heat. Most reputable leasing companies will have a 24-hour maintenance staff on call for emergencies such as loss of heat in winter or loss of A/C in the summer.
Both condos and apartments have amenities like pools, fitness centers, coffee bars, game rooms, clubhouses, parking, security and even bowling alleys. The rules with these amenities vary between condo and apartments. It’s important to note that the more luxe the amenities, the more you’ll pay in rent or HOA fees.
Amenities for condo owners vary greatly and are similar to some that many apartment buildings offer. Chances are if you have a state-of-the-art fitness center and a spa, you’ll be paying more in your HOA dues. If any of these amenities need repair, this will be the responsibility of your HOA community and special assessments may occur.
Common apartment amenities include in-unit washer/dryers, furnishings and upgraded kitchens. As for community amenities, the most popular are parking garages, a swimming pool, dog parks and a fitness center.
Apartment amenities are basically nonessential features offered to renters. Property managers are generally in charge of determining which amenities are offered. These should be discussed thoroughly before signing a lease.
Rules And Regulations
There are rules and regulations for both condos and apartments, yet some are more strict than others. You may think that by owning your condo you are subject to fewer rules than an apartment, but that’s not always true. The consequences of not following the rules for either an apartment or condo can be similar, though there is more to lose with a condo.
When living in a condo, the rules are set in place by the homeowners association (HOA) in the governing documents you receive upon purchasing. It’s always a good idea to evaluate a community’s rules on a case-by-case basis. When a condo rule is broken, you could be warned or fined. While you can’t be evicted from a condo, an HOA has the ability to foreclose on your home if you don’t pay fees or assessments.
An apartment complex’s rules are established by the landlord or property management company. Some landlords allow painting your interior walls (as long as you paint it back to the original color prior to your move-out), while others do not. Some may allow pets (usually with an additional pet fee per month) while others may have a strict no-pet policy. When you break an apartment rule, the consequences could be anything from a warning or small fine to eviction.
Condo Pros And Cons
There are several advantages to living in a condo – number one being that you own it. Additional pros are included below.
- Typically more affordable than a house
Condos are usually less expensive than single-family homes. This can make a condo a great option for home buyers with a lower budget.
- Less maintenance than a house
Condo HOAs usually take care of most maintenance and yard work for the condo building. If you don’t have the time, interest, or energy to work on a house, this is a significant bonus.
- Builds equity
Home ownership over a period of time often allows you to build equity and cash out when you sell. This is a long-term benefit compared to renting, which you get nothing when you leave.
- Tax deductions
There can be tax deductions available for homeowners and mortgage holders that you might get to take advantage of if you own a condo.
If you want to be free from a landlord, homeownership is the best alternative. Owning your own condo gives you control over the space and you can choose to decorate or renovate the interior however you like.
As with everything, there are always two sides to one coin. There are also disadvantages to living in a condo.
- HOA fees and regulations
HOA fees can be very high, especially if your complex has a lot of amenities. These fees also have the possibility of increasing annually. The HOA also might have a lot of rules around what you can and cannot do in and around your unit.
- Requires homeowners insurance
Most condo HOAs and mortgage companies require condo owners to hold homeowners insurance. This is usually escrowed into a mortgage payment, but it is an additional annual expense.
- More difficult to move
When you are a homeowner, you can’t just move on a whim. You have to find a buyer or plan to rent out your home. While owning a condo can help to build equity, it also means that you typically can’t sell it for a few years without losing or making very little money.
Apartment Pros And Cons
There are pros and cons to living in an apartment. The main pro is that you don’t own it - and don’t have to deal with some of the issues that a homeowner does.
The advantages to living in an apartment offer a wide range of pros – flexibility is the key advantage.
- Easier to relocate
A great thing about an apartment is that you can leave at any time. While there may be a penalty for breaking a lease early, renters have no long-term obligation to the apartment.
- No maintenance responsibilities
As a renter, you should not be responsible for maintenance or repairs. This could save you a lot of money if a large problem arises and is a big pro for those who don’t want to worry about doing maintenance themselves.
- No down payment or closing costs required
Since you don’t have to buy your apartment, you should be able to save on upfront fees. However, most apartments do require a deposit and some are nonrefundable.
There are also disadvantages to living in an apartment – the biggest one being there’s no return on your investment.
- More rules
Landlords might create a lot of rules or set limitations to what you can or cannot do to a space. If you are interested in painting, renovating, or doing intricate decorating, this might be a con to you.
- No return on investment
As a renter, you get nothing when you leave an apartment. For short-term renters, this is not a problem. But, if you plan to stay for many years, you could be looking at a lot of equity that goes to the landlord and not the renter.
- Fewer amenities
If your apartment does not have a dishwasher, a bathtub, or stone countertops, there is nothing that you can do about that as a renter.
Who May Prefer To Live In A Condo?
Condos tend to be a better option for those who want to own a home, stay long-term, and don’t mind dealing with minor maintenance issues and expenses themselves.
Apartment Vs. Condominium: How To Decide
After reviewing the pros and cons of apartments vs. condos, it’s helpful to identify who the best candidate is for either one. It really comes down to which is the best fit for you. Are you looking for a short-term or long-term living situation? Do you feel comfortable with maintenance or do you prefer someone else to do it?
Ask yourself these questions and do some digging to discover if buying or renting is the right move for you at this stage of your life.
The Bottom Line On Condominiums Vs. Apartments
The decision of condo vs. apartment is in your hands. There are similarities and differences, as well as pros and cons for both – it’s a matter of determining what is ideal for you. Both renters and first-time home buyers need to look at the big picture for both scenarios before making a decision. Do your research and ask questions.
If you are interested in buying a condo, start the mortgage approval process online today with the Home Loan Experts at Rocket Mortgage®.
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