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Condo vs. Apartment: Which Should You Rent?

By: Angelina Bader and Davina Ward
July 27, 2021

The difference between apartments and condos can make or break your living experience, depending on what you’re looking for. Apartments and condos have differences in ownership, management, amenities, maintenance, rules, and costs. There are pros and cons to each, and the differences can make for two very different living experiences for renters. Debating between a condo vs. apartment? We’ll break it down for you.

Typically, people associate rentals with apartments. However, as you search for the perfect rental, you’re likely to stumble across some upscale condominiums as well.

What is a Condo?

The main difference between apartment and condo is the ownership. A condo is a privately unit owned by an individual in a complex with similar units. Each unit is probably owned by someone different. You may not notice the difference between a condo and apartment building at first glance, and many people assume they can only buy condominiums. In reality, condo owners frequently take on a landlord role and rent out their unit. When you rent in a residential building with condos, the person who owns the unit is your landlord. Meanwhile, apartment buildings offer numerous rentals under the same management or ownership.

Condos usually offer shared amenities and common spaces like gyms, pools, rooftop terraces, and laundry units.

Homeowners’ Association (HOA)

Condos are managed under a homeowners’ association (HOA) made up of unit owners from the building. The roles are on a volunteer basis. The HOA takes on the decision-making with regard to the building’s common areas, upkeep, rules, and services. An HOA may also decide to employ a property management service to maintain the building, but the HOA are still making the decisions about the property.

An HOA also establishes standard rules and expectations of all owners within the shared community. HOAs streamline and guarantee a well-kept and well-functioning residential space.

When a condominium building’s shared amenities need updates, break, or require replacement, the HOA works together to ensure the issue is resolved. The HOA members may also serve on different committees ranging from repairs to collecting dues. Different HOA members may step-in on different projects or issues depending on the issue that needs to be addressed.

Shared amenities and spaces also comes with financial obligations for their upkeep. Although the HOA itself is a volunteer committee, the residents of the building fund HOA fees through fixed, monthly dues. In return, a homeowners’ organization guarantees the upkeep of common areas, exteriors, and other shared structures.

Additionally, HOA members must follow a set of “CC&Rs”: Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions. Those include regulations that may restrict what owners are able to do to their property. Those regulations can range from acceptable door decorations to not leaving bikes in hallways or balconies.

Your lease will outline all of the HOA rules and regulations. It’s important to read the lease carefully before signing it.

Some condominium landlords may also include a clause that holds the tenant responsible for paying monthly HOA fees. Though many landlords who rent out condos cover these costs themselves, not all do. Make sure you know what you’re obligated to pay ahead of time.

What’s the Difference Between Apartments and Condos?

HOA Fees and Utilities

You don’t need to pay HOA fees when you rent an apartment. However, leasing an apartment still entails a monthly rent payment and utility payments. These payments cover services that your rent excludes, including gas, electricity, cable, and internet. Plan ahead, as your average utility bill can get pricey.

Condo owners typically manage utilities themselves and then pass on the cost to their renters. Renters can expect a flat fee for utilities that are included in your monthly rent.

Layout and Floor Plans

Apartments usually have similar layouts to every other unit in the building. You may find three or four different floor plans to account for multi-bedroom or penthouse apartments. Apartments in the same building will also have comparable floor plans and aesthetics. You can expect to find the same kinds of floors, ceilings, and other structural materials throughout each unit.

This standard isn’t necessarily the case for condominiums. Each unit within a residential condo building may vary widely in condition and interior style.

Now that you understand the main difference between apartment and condo and the ownership structure involved, let’s take a look at the in-depth pros and cons of both options.

The Pros and Cons of Condos

  • Pros: Condos are typically in great condition, offer great amenities, and can be just as affordable as renting an apartment.
  • Cons: The cost of HOA fees are tacked on to the rent and the renter may be responsible for maintenance fees.

Pro: Ownership with a Personal Touch

Although there are always exceptions, most condos are in terrific shape. Owners will usually invest more into kitchen upgrades, interior, and upkeep inside their own condos than an apartment complex.

Apartment complex owners are in the business to rent out units and may cut corners to reduce expenses. Condo owners have usually lived in their own unit and have a personal interest in maintaining and improving the presentability and functionality of the unit.

Pro: Room to Negotiate

Condominium owners may also be more open-minded and flexible about negotiating the monthly rent or other fees. Not all landlords who are seeking tenants for their condos are looking to make a profit. In some situations, landlords just want to cover their mortgage, taxes, or other expenses that relate to the unit. They may be ready to move onto a bigger space or single family home and just want a tenant who will take good care of the property and cover their costs.

Pro: Amenities

Condominiums often come with updated, shared amenities. While you’re condo hunting, look for a concierge, pool, parking spots, a sports facility, or outdoor space. Other condos only offer the basics, but with some diligence you can find those luxurious perks you’re looking for.

Pro: Price

It’s a common misconception that renting a condo is more expensive than renting an apartment. However, this isn’t always true. Apartment and condo rates tend to stay competitive and consistent in the same areas. Condos are often more cost efficient with flat utility fees and waived add-ons like HOA fees.

Pro: Landlord-Tenant Relationship

When you live in a condo, the landlord-to-tenant relationship is usually more personal and advantageous for the tenant. Condo owners are usually ready to move onto a new situation and want to keep tenant turnover to a minimum.

Con: Potentially Inexperienced Landlords

Renting a condo is full of perks, but can also come with their drawbacks. If you have a landlord without much experience working with tenants, you may have to be patient and work through issues as they arise.

Apartment complexes are in the business of working with tenants on a daily basis. Renters enjoy confidence that their property management will take care of issues and are knowledgeable about the process. Meanwhile, a brand new landlord may be entirely unaware of what a tenant may need, ask, or expect from them.

Con: HOA Fees

Another potential drawback are HOA fees, which are determined on a case-by-case basis. Double check your lease to find out who is responsible for the HOA fees. In addition to HOA fees, you may be responsible for maintenance fees. Your condominium landlord will decide whether or not to offer repairs or pass those costs onto the tenant. If it’s not in your lease, ask for clarification and an addendum before you sign. You might be able to negotiate repairs ahead of time, or request that the landlord take on the financial responsibility.

The Pros and Cons of Apartments

  • Pros: Many apartments offer shared amenities and experienced property management to handle maintenance. Unlike condos, apartments don’t come with HOA fees.
  • Cons: Apartments are typically smaller than condos, offer less opportunity for customization, and aren’t always flexible to pet ownership.

Pro: Professional Management

Under the care of corporate apartment management, you can expect streamlined trash pickup and other services. Complaints and repairs are handled with a specific process, such as filling out a maintenance request which then goes through the proper channels. Just like condo owners, apartment landlords have a vested interest in keeping their properties in the best condition possible and reducing tenant turnover.

Pro: Maintenance Services

Maintenance services are typically available around the clock in an apartment complex. If anything is wrong with your appliances, the resolution is a phone call away. Management delegates repairs and concerns to professionals who will fix it for you.

Pro: Easy Rent Payments

Apartment complexes typically offer online portals for rent payment. With easy online access, paying your monthly rent is quick and easy. It usually won’t require writing a checks or trips to the bank or the post office.

Pro: Amenities

Apartment communities typically have amenities such as shared laundry rooms, gyms, or outdoor pools. Upscale luxurious apartment buildings may even boast tennis courts or a doorman.

Con: Size and Customization

Apartments tend to be smaller than condos and other rentals. You won’t have much choice about the appliances and layout of your space.

Due to the generic look of apartments, there’s also less room for personalization or making changes with interior features. There are many rules regarding appearance and upkeep, including which paint colors you can use on your walls. Painting your walls bright blue or knocking out a wall to make your closet bigger could lead to a hefty fine.

Con: Fewer Opportunities for Renovation

You also can’t renovate the kitchen or replace appliances or HVAC features when you rent an apartment. The property managers are responsible for replacement of any appliances and other systems, and will choose something suitable for the building’s budget. Tenants cannot request cosmetic upgrades, like stainless steel appliances, and are required to live with the amenities provided, unless otherwise agreed upon.

Con: Pet Policies

If you’re renting with pets, an apartment might not be ideal depending on the size and needs of your furry friend. Apartment space is often limited and isn't ideal for large dogs that need plenty of room and exercise. Many multifamily apartment communities also have restrictions on breeds, weight, and size.

How to Find a Condo

Finding a condo can be challenging, but it's a worthwhile endeavor when you land the condo of your dreams.

That said, you'll have to take the right steps to make the dream a reality.

Here are the steps you need to take to prepare to find a condo.

Determine Your Budget

How much can you afford to pay in rent each month?

That's the million-dollar question you'll have to answer to finalize your apartment budget.

Coming up with the number will require a bit of math on your part. That is — if you follow the 30% rule.

The 30% rule states that you should set aside 30% or less of your pre-tax income to cover housing costs, such as rent.

If you want to skip the math, use our rent calculator to determine how much you can afford to pay in rent each month.

Set Your Apartment Priorities

Knowing what you want out of your condo is the first step toward narrowing down your options and ensuring that your final list of condos meets your needs.

A renter's preferences in apartment amenities will vary depending on their unique situation.

So, you need to consider your lifestyle when coming up with your list of desired apartment amenities.

For example, if you are an exercise buff, an on-site gym and an in-unit washer and dryer are considered must-haves when searching for a condo.

Overall, knowing what you want can help you land your dream condo.

Consider Your Commute Time

Be sure to consider your commute when looking for a new condo, unless you prefer the life of a super-commuter. Commute times can vary greatly depending on your location.

For example, the average commute time for a Boston resident is 30.9 minutes. However, the average commute time for a New York City resident is a much higher 41.5 minutes.

Considering your commute time before making your move to a new condo will allow you to exercise more control over the time you spend in your car or waiting for the next bus.

Prepare for Condo Tours

Apartment tours come at the tail end of the apartment rental process, but they are very important as a means to finalize your decision to move to a specific unit.

During your apartment tour, you'll need to keep a wary eye out for any problems related to the condo's condition.

If you note leaky faucets, windows that won't open, broken outlets, or problems with the door's locking mechanism, be sure to bring your concerns to your prospective landlord immediately after the tour.

Beyond noting issues, it's crucial to get answers during your apartment tour.

Knowing which questions to ask during your apartment tour is crucial, so start with information about the HOA, maintenance, and apartment amenities.

Applying for Your Condo

The apartment application process helps landlords and property managers determine whether you are a good fit for the unit.

Typically, a "good fit" will have a solid financial foundation and a reputation for having good character.

When completing your apartment application, you'll need to provide relevant information regarding your current employment, rental history, and consent for your credit and rental history to be accessed.

That said, your credit score will certainly have an impact on your candidacy as a prospect, but it's not the be-all-end-all. It’s completely possible to rent with bad credit.

Overall, you'll need to ensure that you submit a fully completed apartment application when renting a condo.

Protect Yourself from Rental Scams

When you're planning to rent a condo, the last thing on your mind is the prospect of scammers trying to take you for all your worth.

That's why rental scammers have such a high rate of success, with over $5.2 million in rental fraud losses reported by victims.

That said, knowing which strategies to employ against rental fraud can help you avoid falling prey to rental scammers.

When searching for a condo, be sure to verify that you are speaking with the condo's owner. If necessary, reach out to the owner directly from data you find online about property ownership.

Never use cash or money wiring services, such as Cash App, Venmo, or PayPal. Using these services when working with a scammer can mean that you will never see your money again.

How to Find Cheap Condos

Finding an affordable condo to rent starts with refining your search.

As condos are owned by individual landlords, these units are generally listed as for rent by owner.

You may have a harder time finding them on online listing sites and may have to work with a leasing agent to ensure that you find one within your price range.

That said, all the typical money-saving strategies are still available when renting a condo.

Consider renting with a roommate to save at least 50% on rent. If you're not keen on splitting rent with a roommate, you may find a condo advertised with a move-in special.

Those applying for these condos will typically yield savings that equate to reduced rent rates or waived application fees. They can make a big difference in your budget!

When’s the Best Time to Rent Condos?

Luckily, condos are affected by the same seasonality in renting as traditional rental units.

As a result, you'll be able to employ effective strategies during your apartment search based on your goals.

If you want to save money and start your search in the winter months, apartment searches reach their lowest point in December/January.

As a result of the reduced demand, landlords incentivize prospective renters by offering reduced rent rates, advertising move-in specials, and other benefits.

If you prefer to choose from the largest selection of condos, you should start your apartment search in June/July when apartment searches peak just before the move-outs peak in August.

As move-outs increase, you'll have an excellent selection of condos to choose from. In short, the best time to rent a condo depends on your goals.

Which is Better for Me, a Condo or Apartment?

Consider your personal situation and preferences when deciding between a condo vs apartment. If you’re looking for convenience and a straightforward rental agreement, an apartment might be the right choice for you.

However, a condo in a great location could be the perfect fit if you fully understand the financial responsibilities and lease terms. With the potential for a personalized experience, modern amenities, and a responsive landlord, renting a condo may perfectly complement your lifestyle.

Now that you know the difference between apartment and condo, get started on the search for your new home with Apartment List.

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AUTHOR
Angelina is a Marketing Specialist at Apartment List where she writes content on rental lifestyle. Angelina previously worked as a Russian and German language specialist at Facebook and Google, and has a BA in Applied Linguistics from UCLA. Read More
AUTHOR
Davina Ward is a contributing author at Apartment List and freelance writer specializing in real estate and digital marketing. She received her B. Read More
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