A side-by-side comparison of apartments and condos.
Roman Babakin/Volodymyr Kyrylyuk/Adobe Stock

The decision to rent vs. buy a home can impact your life for years to come. For many first-time homebuyers, a condo is a natural entry point into homeownership, after considering their apartment vs. condo options, as well as other housing types, carefully.

What’s the difference between an apartment and a condo?

The biggest difference between a condo vs. apartment is ownership. An apartment is defined as a residence that is rented, often as part of a larger residential building. A condo is similar in structure to an apartment — usually a unit within a larger residential building — but condos are owned instead of rented. The property taxes of a condo are paid by the owner; landlords, rather than apartment renters, pay property taxes for an apartment.

Because the structure of condo and apartment communities is similar, they often have comparable amenities and locations. Both kinds of units may come with benefits like pools, trash disposal, manicured green spaces, on-property gyms and more. The difference is that a condo owner is building equity, paying monthly homeowners association (HOA) dues and is responsible for all interior maintenance, while an apartment renter pays rent each month, doesn’t build equity and relies on the landlord to address maintenance issues.

Things to consider

  • Cost: The cost of renting an apartment is fairly straightforward. Typically, you pay a deposit when you begin your lease, and might be required to pay the first and last months’ payments upfront. Then, you make monthly payments for the term of your lease agreement. The costs of becoming a condo owner are a bit more involved and expensive. You’ll make a down payment, closing costs for a mortgage and a home inspection fee upfront. Depending on the mortgage you get, you can put as little as 3 percent down and pay up to 5 percent of the purchase price in closing costs. Most condos also have monthly HOA dues, which vary depending on the housing market and level of amenities offered.
  • Maintenance: When you’re renting an apartment and something goes wrong (think a leaky faucet or a broken appliance), the repair is typically the landlord’s responsibility. However, when you’re a condo owner, you’ll foot the bill to have those things fixed. Learn top tips for avoiding pricey home repairs.
  • Amenities: Because condo and apartment buildings tend to be structured similarly — either high-rise buildings or just a few floors — they often come with comparable amenities. Think about what amenities that are most important to you, such as a doorman, a pool, gym or greenspace, and compare what the various communities in your area offer.
  • Location: Location is an important point when deciding where to live. Because apartment buildings and condo buildings can have similar structural footprints, you’ll likely find both options in cities and smaller suburbs (they’re less common, however, in rural areas). Both types of buildings can be near places of business, restaurants, parks and more.
  • HOA rules: When considering an apartment vs. condo, rules will be a factor. Both types of communities come with rules about behavior in common areas, what kinds of pets are allowed and what kinds of decorations are allowed on the unit’s exterior. Apartment landlords can also dictate what renters can do inside their unit and may restrict activities like hanging art or painting walls. On the other hand, condo owners can generally decorate the inside of their home however they choose.

Who is a condo best for?

Choosing to purchase a condo can be a more affordable entry point to homeownership. Plus, as a homeowner, you’ll build equity over time and may have access to the tax benefits that come from owning property.

Who is an apartment best for?

Apartments are a smart choice for residents who don’t want the responsibility and expense of homeownership. They are also a good option for those who may not stay in a particular area long-term. For instance, if you’re only planning to live in a city for a year or two before moving, apartment living (and renting, in general) might be smarter than purchasing a condo.

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