Condominiums, townhomes and co-ops: To the layman, the three terms are interchangeable. But when it comes time to buy one of the three, it's important that you know the difference. While all three housing style are typically managed by a home owner's association, that's where their similarities end.

Let's take a look at the three different housing styles:


More common on the East Coast in big cities, such as New York or Washington, D.C., co-ops are a type of housing in which several people come together to own property. Roughly 75 percent of the housing in Manhattan is co-ops, according to the New York Times. When you buy an apartment in a co-op building, you're actually buying real property, similar to if you bought a condominium. However, while you own a portion of the property, you are considered a renter to the co-op, which is a legal entity like a corporation.

Instead of owning your specific unit, you own shares in the entire building and lease your unit from the co-op. The money you pay for the lease goes to the building's mortgage, property taxes and managing the co-op, including maintenance and repairs.


Owning a condominium, or condo, is similar to owning a single-family home, except condo owners do not own the land or the building itself. When you buy a specific unit, you own that unit outright and typically pay a monthly fee for the maintenance and repair of the building and its common areas. Since you own your individual condo, you receive the deed and a separate tax bill for your unit. 

Since you don't own the building, you're not allowed to make any changes to the exterior of your condo without the association's prior approval.


A townhome is kind of a mix between a condo and co-op. When you buy a townhome, you own the structure and the land beneath it. Unlike a condo, a townhouse has its own roof and may have a garage and private yard, which you also own. But since you own the land, you won't have other units above or below you. You may, however, have other units adjoining side to side. With townhomes, in most cases, you're free to make changes to the exterior of the home, depending on the community's rules.

Similar to condos, townhouses are managed by homeowner's associations, to which you pay a monthly fee for the maintenance and repair of the property.