Apartment vs. Condo: Weighing The Pros and Cons of Urban Living

If you’re searching for a new place to call home in the city, you may be weighing your options. Should you rent an apartment? Or, do you buy a condo? This is a big decision, and your mind is probably spinning with questions! 

As a leasing agent in downtown Chicago, I often see people question which choice is best for them. If you’re debating between the two, and feeling conflicted, you’re not alone.

What’s the Difference Between an Apartment and Condo? 

When you’re looking for a new home, especially in a big city, you’ll probably see listings for both “condos” and “luxury apartments.” Sometimes, these two types of units are even available in the same building. Confusing, right? 

So, what’s the difference between a condo and an apartment? While they may appear quite similar at first glance, there are important differences between the two. Let’s dive in and help you decide which is the best fit for you!

What is a Private Condo?

A private condo – short for condominium – is a residential unit (typically one of many units inside a building) whereby each unit is individually owned and managed. 

  • Ownership: Owned by an individual.
  • Management- Offsite, primarily through a non-resident private owner
  • Maintenance: Covered by the owner.

What is a Managed Apartment?

A managed apartment is a residential unit that is part of a larger building or complex whereby all units are owned and managed by one company. High-end managed apartments are often referred to as “luxury” apartments. 

  • Ownership: Owned by a real estate company or property management company.
  • Management- Onsite, primarily through property management professionals
  • Maintenance: Provided by the building management.

Renting an Apartment vs. Buying a Condo 

Choosing between buying a condo or renting a luxury apartment depends on factors like your lifestyle, budget, and personal preferences. Of course, each has an upside and downside, so let’s run through each benefit and potential downfall. 

The Pros of Living in a Managed Apartment

Renting an apartment in a managed building is a hugely popular choice – and for good reason! I’ve helped thousandss of people with their search for an apartment in Chicago, and know the benefits of renting inside and out! 

  1. Less Money Up Front

Unlike purchasing a condo, renting a luxury apartment doesn’t require a significant down payment. 

  1. Easy Move-in and Out 

If you need flexibility, renting is the way to go! Though you’ll sign a lease for a set period of time, you can usually pay a fee to break it and move out early.  

  1. Outsourced Maintenance 

Dripping faucet? Squeaky door? A maintenance team will fix it. The freedom of not owning a toolbox is a treat! 

  1. Emergency Services 

Uh oh – your dishwasher is flooding your kitchen! When you rent in a managed apartment building, no worries – home emergencies will be handled lighting fast- and free! 

  1. No HOA Fees 

When you rent a luxury apartment, you don’t pay extra HOA fees. All of your amenities, including your CAM (Common Area Maintenance) and landscaping are included in your rent.

  1. Less Responsibility, Less Stress 

When you’re not responsible for anything that could go wrong with home maintenance (and the financial risk that accompanies it), life is less stressful! 

  1. Amenities 

From posh coworking spaces to unbelievable rooftop decks with pools, amenities in managed apartment buildings are over-the-top good and almost always better than what a condo would offer! 

  1. Pet-Friendliness 

You might be surprised to hear that the majority of managed apartment buildings are cat and dog-friendly. Lots of dog-friendly luxury apartments even cater to pets with amenities like pet spas and dog runs.

The Cons of Living in a Managed Apartment

Let’s cover the flipside of living in a managed apartment building. Because even though there are a ton of reasons to rent a luxury apartment, there are a few downsides to consider. 

  1. No Freedom to Make Updates 

Love to put your own stamp on your home? When you rent in a managed building, you’ll need to ask permission before making any cosmetic changes to your unit. While management may allow you to paint your apartment, asking to demo your backsplash will likely receive a hard “no”. 

  1. Lack of Parking 

Parking in a big city can be a real headache, and when you rent in a managed building, the apartment typically doesn’t come with a designated parking spot. The upside is, most buildings do have onsite parking, but you’ll be charged a monthly fee. 

  1. Certain Dog Breed Restrictions 

While most managed apartment buildings do allow dogs, it’s common for them to also have breed and weight restrictions. 

Breeds that make the restriction list may include Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Akitas, and certain Mastiff breeds. Weight restrictions vary, but if you have a larger dog, like a Great Dane or Saint Bernard, you might have a harder time renting an apartment.

The Pros of Buying a Condo 

Buying a condo can be a great choice – especially if you’re putting down roots for a while. There are other benefits to buying a place that’s all yours too. 

  1. You Own Your Unit 

When you purchase a condo – it’s yours! Buying a condo, instead of renting an apartment, can have a real financial upside. A condo can be an awesome long-term investment – in the right market, you’ll build equity as the value of your condo increases. 

  1. You Can Make Cosmetic Updates 

In most condos, you can make cosmetic updates to your home without getting permission. Before diving in, review your condo’s association rules to make sure your updates don’t break any rules or bylaws. 

  1. Parking 

When you buy a condo, an assigned parking space is often included in the terms of your purchase agreement. If you’re a daily driver, or can’t bear the idea of being car-less, this is a huge benefit! 

Some condos do have common parking garages, and others may require you to purchase a parking spot. Parking can be a great negotiating point when buying your condo!

The Cons of Buying a Condo 

While buying has plenty of positives, there are reasons people choose not to pursue condo ownership. 

  1. You Own It, But There Are Rules 

If you think homeownership will come with free reign to dive into a remodel, think again. Most condo associations will require approval before you dive into a renovation. This process may involve submitting plans and specifications, as well as obtaining permits, depending on the scope of the renovation. 

  1. Wanna Move? It’s a Process. 

When you own a condo, you don’t have a lease – it’s yours until you sell it. While owning does have advantages, moving out isn’t a quick process. 

  1. HOA Fees and Rules 

Buy a condo, it’s almost certain that you’ll be a member of an HOA – or, Home Owner’s Association. The purpose of an HOA is to manage common areas and set baseline rules for the community – and they do have a positive impact! But, they’re notorious for limiting the freedom of homeowners, and being under the thumb of an HOA can be frustrating. Not to mention, HOA fees will cost you hundreds each month. 

  1. Need a Home Fix? You’re Responsible. 

You’re responsible for any repairs – such as plumbing or a broken appliance – in your condo. 

  1. Buying and Selling is Expensive 

Real estate fees, closing costs, home inspection, and appraisal – the cost of buying and selling a condo can add up – and there are no guarantees your condo is worth more than when you bought it. 

  1. Fewer Pet Restrictions 

Condos usually don’t have the kinds of pet restrictions that apartments do. While this may be a positive for a few, it does mean there aren’t any rules about what breed of dog your neighbor may own. 

Rent or Own – The Decision is Yours

Do you have your pros and cons list made? From your finances to lifestyle to long-term goals, weighing the positives and negatives will help you make the choice between renting an apartment and buying a condo. Enjoy the process and no matter your decision, I hope you love your new home!

Related: The Pros and Cons of Renting a Luxury Apartment

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