Called “common-interest housing” condos, co-ops, flats, townhomes, and apartments have different meanings to different buyers and even have different colloquial meanings than the official real estate industry meanings. Below you'll find a breakdown of the differences between these housing types along with the advantages and disadvantages of each.
What is “Common Interest Housing”?
Before going too deep, it is essential to understand just what "common-interest housing" actually is. This type of real estate involves a combination of individually owned areas and shared areas in a single property. Shared areas often include pools, parking, and clubhouses, but it can also mean shared landscaping, exteriors, fences and roofs depending on the type of property. A property manager, homeowners association (HOA) or a combination of the two maintains common areas.
Condos and Co-Ops
Condominiums, more commonly called condos, are single home units in a shared property. A homeowner separately owns each unit. The shared property types range from high rise buildings, also called apartments or flats, to conjoined homes townhouse-style. A single family home in a planned community or a mobile home in a community or park can also be condos. Instead of a specific type of home style, "condominium" is a legal term in the United States that refers to the ownership status, so homes of any form, connected or not, can qualify if they are part of a shared property community.
A co-op, short for cooperative housing development, is another thing entirely. While similarly structured with private and shared areas, co-op owners purchase and own shares in the real estate development instead of their specific portion of the property. All the shareholders have a voice in the real estate corporation, and their investment includes the right to live in a unit. Usually, the monthly expenses of the real estate corporation split between shareholders, so this can be an extra expense you need to plan for. Similarly to condominium, "co-op" is a legal term that refers to the ownership style of the building or neighborhood instead of the building's structure. Depending on your area, you can find co-ops in apartment-style buildings, single family home neighborhoods and townhome style shared wall housing.
Flats, Townhomes, and Apartments
You’ve noticed the words flat, apartment and townhome in the descriptions of condos and co-ops above. This is because apartments, flats, and townhomes don't have such specific legal meanings. The term "apartment" most often refers to rental units, usually in a single building or set of structures. These are generally not owned, but instead leased or rented from the owner of the entire building or complex. However, since apartments are just a building style with several units that have shared walkways and entryways, apartments can be rentals, condos or co-ops depending on the situation.
Townhomes refer to a specific building style where the house connects to another house on at least one side. Just like apartments, townhomes could be rentals, co-ops, condos or single-family homes. The true townhome design requires both homes to have separate side-walls even though they touch. However, a lot of condo, co-op and apartment designs look like townhomes without actually meeting the construction requirements. Do this by styling the front or backs of each unit differently, even if constructed as part of a single building.
Are you thinking of buying a condominium or co-op? Talk to your real estate agent about what's available in your area!