Apartment living is one of the most popular housing options in the United States. In fact, nearly 39 million Americans live in an apartment complex. Living in an apartment or condo building is a great choice — it saves space in cities so more people can enjoy all the benefits of a metropolitan community like Raleigh.
But while the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, are condos and apartments the same thing? The main difference between a condo vs. apartment living is that you own condos and you rent apartments.
While there are some differences in price, amenities, and more, the question of who owns a unit is the deciding factor of whether you’d consider it an apartment or condo.
So, how can you decide what’s best for you? Let’s cover some key differences between condos and apartments and talk about who should consider each housing type.
Table of Contents:
What Is a Condo?
A condominium — commonly called a condo — is a unit in a building an individual owns instead of renting it out. Generally, condos are in a designated condo community where many (or most) of the units are owned by their inhabitants.
While it’s technically possible to rent another person’s condo, condo communities generally limit the number of condos that a person can rent, so you’re more likely to see familiar faces and get to know your neighbors long term.
Who Should Purchase a Condo?
Condos are a good fit for people who want to own the unit they live in. This can mean more upfront costs like closing costs and down payments. However, once your mortgage is paid, a condo might cost less than renting an apartment on a monthly basis.
If you have enough money saved and the right credit score to qualify for a loan, purchasing a condo might be a better fit for your needs.
While purchasing a condo is more of a responsibility than renting, it’s also a lot less upkeep than purchasing a traditional house. Because of this, condos are great “starter homes” for young adults, couples, and small families.
Has more amenities.
Offers more of a community with neighbors.
Owners have autonomy over their unit.
Owners are responsible for any repairs or upgrades.
Might have homeowner’s association (HOA) fees.
Costs more upfront due to closing costs and down payments.
What Is an Apartment?
An apartment is a unit in a building that’s rented out by its owner, called a landlord. In apartment buildings, the majority of units are rented out. This is different from condo buildings, where a couple of units may be rented but most units are owned.
Rental agreements in an apartment building are usually for a one year period, but you can rent an apartment for shorter and longer time periods.
Who Should Rent an Apartment?
Apartment rentals are a good choice for people who don’t have enough saved for a down payment or need time to build their credit before securing a mortgage. You might also prefer an apartment — regardless of your finances — if you prefer to move around.
Renting is ideal for people who are unsure of what they want for a home. If you’re buying a home after graduating from UNC, moving in with your partner for the first time, or otherwise in a transitional phase, renting can help prepare you for the responsibility of purchasing a home.
Landlord pays for repairs and upgrades.
Renters can try out new neighborhoods to see what they like best.
Renters usually don’t have the freedom to make upgrades in their unit.
Rental agreements might not allow pets.
Renters must uphold all rules in their rental agreement.
Key Differences Between Condos and Apartments
While every condo and apartment complex is different, there are some key characteristics you can expect from a condo vs. apartment living. Condos and apartments are the most different in the following areas.
Some people view real estate as an opportunity to invest. This makes purchasing a condo appealing, especially if you’re able to profit in the long term. Even if you’re making the purchase just to live in a condo — not for financial reasons — it’s nice to have more control over your unit.
Once you pay off your mortgage, a condo owner only needs to worry about paying utilities and possible HOA fees. In many cases, a monthly mortgage payment might cost less than renting. The key difference is a down payment and closing costs for a condo usually cost more than the security deposit and application fee to rent an apartment.
Key difference: Condos require an initial down payment plus monthly mortgage, while apartments only require monthly rent.
Another difference between condos and apartments is how they’re maintained. In a rented apartment, the landlord is usually on the hook for any necessary repairs. If a pipe leaks in a rented apartment, for example, it’s up to the landlord to arrange and pay for repairs. Renters are only responsible for contacting their landlord about the leak.
This is a positive aspect for those who can afford their monthly rent but are worried about possible maintenance costs. However, it usually means you’re not able to make cosmetic changes to your apartment, like painting. Some landlords might consider painting a violation of your rental agreement.
If you own a condo, you’re responsible for any maintenance and cosmetic repairs. Sometimes, you can negotiate for previous owners to cover repairs through contingencies in your offer contract. If you’ve already purchased the condo, however, you’re solely responsible.
On the positive side, this means you’re free to make any renovations you’d like and you have complete freedom to make your condo your own.
Key difference: Condo owners are responsible for their repairs while a landlord is responsible for repairs in an apartment.
Condos and apartments each come with their own costs and fees. For an apartment, you can be charged for:
A security deposit
If you’re purchasing a condo, you can expect to pay:
Monthly mortgage payments
A key difference is if you own a condo, you usually have the option to rent it out to other tenants. This way, you can use passive income from renters to help pay off your mortgage. You always have the option to resume living in your condo once the agreement is up.
Key difference: Condo owners can rent out their unit to help pay off their mortgage.
If you’re indecisive, apartments can offer a lot more flexibility compared to a condo. Rental agreements are relatively short term, so if move to Wakefield and don’t love it, you can wait for the end of your lease and give Downtown Raleigh a try.
If you purchase a condo, however, it can be trickier to move. Try renting before you purchase so you can decide the best neighborhood for you. Of course, ownership isn’t final and you can sell your condo if you change your mind. It’s just a bit more work than just letting your lease expire and looking for a new apartment to rent.
Key difference: Renters can switch up their neighborhoods and apartments with each lease.
Different living communities offer different perks. Condos are generally in established communities and it’s common to share access to amenities like:
These amenities are less common in apartments. If you live in a newer (or more upscale) apartment building, you’re more likely to have access to these amenities. You also might be charged an extra fee for amenity access in an apartment.
Key difference: Condos generally provide more amenities than apartments do.
If you’re looking for more independence, a condo is a better choice. In a condo, you’re free to make any upgrades as long as it’s up to code and HOA regulations. In a condo, there are usually fewer rules to follow and you can’t be evicted by breaking them, though you could be charged HOA or community fines.
In an apartment, you’ll sign a rental agreement before moving in. This likely has rules about pets, noise, cleanliness, and more. If you break any of these rules, your landlord can charge you a fee or break your lease early. Apartment living gives you less autonomy than owning.
Key difference: Owning a condo gives you more autonomy over your living space than renting an apartment.
If you’re looking to build a community with your neighbors, a condo might be a better choice. Both condo and apartment complexes have a relatively large number of people living in any given building. But with apartments, neighbors come and go a lot more often.
Because most people in a condo own their unit, you’re going to see the same people for longer periods of time. This means you’re more likely to build relationships with your neighbors. Even more, condo complexes might even put on events so you have more opportunities to meet your neighbors and make friends.
Key difference: Condo complexes have more of a community to get to know your neighbors compared to apartment complexes.
A homeowner’s association, or HOA, is an organization of people who live together in a community. In many cases, a condo will have an HOA.
The HOA often is in charge of responsibilities like:
Setting landscaping standards
HOA’s gather fees from community members to help fund projects and manage these benefits. If you’re moving into a community with an HOA, make sure to ask in-depth questions about their fees and what they offer since HOA fees are non-negotiable.
Some apartments might have an HOA, but this is less common than in condo communities.
Key difference: Condo complexes are more likely to have an HOA. This provides many amenities but also requires monthly fees.
If you’re looking to move to the triangle, a condo or apartment is a great first step before purchasing a house. It’s important to do some research and really think about your housing needs so you can make the right choice between a condo vs. apartment living.
If you’re thinking about buying your first home, Raleigh Realty is here to help so you feel prepared to take on the City of Oaks. Explore everything the city has to offer and join the people who are proud to call this growing community home.
Hi there! I'm Ryan Fitzgerald, a REALTOR in Raleigh-Durham, NC and the owner of Raleigh Realty. Chances are you and I share a similar passion, Real Estate! I also have a passion for building businesses, working out, inspiring others, technology, sports, and people. Connect with me on Facebook and Instagram!