Apples and oranges - that’s what condos and houses are. Sure, they both provide a roof over your head, and they’re both financial investments, but that’s where the similarities end. Just as when we compare apples and oranges, houses and condos differ by price, by taste and by how they will be used.
The biggest difference between a condo versus a house is ownership. When you buy a house you own the land. When you purchase a condo, on the other hand, you own only what lies between the walls of your unit. The rest of the condominium complex, what are known as the “common areas,” are owned in common by a collective of all the unit owners. You have the right to use the common areas but not alter them in any way. Some items considered common areas for condo owners include:
- Fitness center
- Mail room
- Tennis courts
The Advantages of Purchasing a Condo
The most obvious benefit of a condo vs. a house is price. Although luxury condominiums can be pricey, overall, condos are far less expensive than houses.
Other benefits include:
- Less maintenance. The homeowners association (HOA) is responsible for maintenance decisions and all the owners share the cost of common area upkeep. This includes big-ticket items such as air-conditioning units, the roof and fencing.
- On-site amenities. While pools and fitness centers are common, the sky is the limit when it comes to condo amenities. Some complexes offer dog parks, clubhouses, a concierge or rooftop gardens.
- Lower cost of living. While you will most likely pay a maintenance fee each month, it typically includes the cost of water, trash and sewer. Sometimes utilities are included in the fee. The HOA pays for the insurance on the entire complex, so you may need only to cover what is inside your unit.
The Disadvantages of Buying a Condo
Judging by the sheer number of Americans who choose to purchase and live in condos, the disadvantages of condo living aren’t insurmountable. Here are a few disadvantages to weigh against the advantages:
- HOA. Some homeowners associations can be quite intrusive with restrictions that may border on the ridiculous. Some raise the maintenance fees annually while ignoring maintenance needs.
- Space and privacy. There is a decided lack of both in most condo complexes.
- Tenant neighbors. HOAs find it challenging to enforce the condominium rules and regulations on tenants and typically go after the absentee owner. Some owners are diligent about disciplining their tenants, others – not so much.
If you’re leaning toward purchasing a condo instead of a house, be sure that you read every word on every page of the HOA documents that will be supplied to you. Pay close attention to the Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs). These are the condominium rules and regulation you must live by when you purchase a condo in a particular complex. It’s dry stuff, but contains all the information you need to determine if this is the right condo for you.