Weighing your options: pros & cons of buying a condo, co-op or townhome

If you’ve decided that the responsibility or affordability of single-home living is not for you, there are plenty of other styles of living to choose from.

Surprised you've got options? No worries ~ we've compiled a list of the pros and cons of shared building living, whether you're looking at a condo, co-op or a townhome, so you can determine which property type will work best for you and know what you'll be getting into.

Buying into a co-op

It may sound a bit hippy commune-ish, but if you live in an urban area, chances are that you've seen some properties advertised as co-ops. Understandably, you may be wondering how exactly they work.

Co-op buildings are essentially a cross between renting and homeownership.

When you buy into a co-op, you're investing into it by buying a share of the property. In exchange, you’re given a long-term lease - usually one that’s longer than 50 years.

Month-to-month, you’re also typically responsible for paying a share of the cost of the building's overall maintenance and operating cost.

The pros of co-op ownership:

  • Since you purchase your shares upfront, you have the benefit of never having to worry about a rent hike.
  • Co-op living also comes with many of the other benefits of renting an apartment. You’ll have use the amenities and grounds, but as long as you pay your monthly fee, you won’t be responsible for any of the daily upkeep.

The cons:

  • Since you own a share of the building, rather than your unit itself, your ability to customize it to your tastes may be limited.
  • Co-ops are usually overseen by boards who set forth rules and regulations for the building. You will, fortunately or unfortunately, be expected to adhere to them.

Buying a condo

Condos are different than co-ops in that, this time, you own your unit. While any common areas and amenities are still communal property, you have the final say -- and bear the responsibility for -- everything within your four walls.

Condo owners should prepare for a mortgage payment, plus property taxes on their unit, and a monthly fee for the upkeep of those communal areas, often called the HOA ("homeowners association") fee.

The pros of condo ownership:

  • Much like owning a single family home, you have the freedom to customize your unit as you see fit, but without incurring additional responsibility for the building itself or the grounds.
  • Additionally, this homeownership gives you the opportunity to build equity that goes beyond your building. The upgrades you make can uniquely affect your home's worth.

The Cons:

  • Condos are also run by an association, and you’ll be still have to abide by the rules they’ve set.
  • Depending on the property, your homeowners' association dues can also get a little pricey.

Buying a townhome

Townhomes are even a step closer to single-family living. These homes are typically larger but laid out closer to what you’d expect for a traditional single family home.

Plus, with this type of property, depending on how your community is structured, in addition to owning your townhome outright, you may also own the lot. In this case, your communal areas will likely be limited to amenities like a gym or pool area.

As a townhome owner, you should be prepared to pay your mortgage payment, any property taxes, as well as a smaller monthly payment to cover the upkeep of any communal areas.

The pros of townhome ownership:

  • Living in a townhome often offers more privacy than either a condo or co-op. Often, you have to deal with just one shared wall, rather than worrying about neighbors all around you.
  • For the most part, you’ll also be able to customize your home similar to how you would be able to in a single-family home
  • But, you’ll be able to enjoy the added benefit of any exterior maintenance and amenities that are covered by your homeowner’s association.

The cons:

  • Unlike condos, maintenance benefits for townhomes are fairly limited, usually to things like snow removal or exterior painting. You should be prepared to take on the lionshare of the upkeep on your home.
  • Townhome communities will also have rules and regulations that you should be aware of before purchasing.

Ultimately, every co-op, condo, and townhome community is different. They all have their own inclusions, exclusions, and fee structures.

This is a general guide to help you as you continue on your house hunt.

Once you're serious about making an offer on a condo, co-op or townhome, be sure to ask questions and to read the association documents to make sure you know what you're getting into. The Open Listings buyer experience team can help ask the seller any questions and get the documents you need.

Looking for that perfect condo, townhome, or co-op? Use Open Listings to get every property match the moment it hits the market, and save thousands when you buy with our commission refund of up to 50%.