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Condos, Co-ops, and Townhouses: How Are They Different and How Are They Similar?

So you want TO own a condo, EH? Live the urban lifestyle, park the car, and walk to work. You know, all the “condo” things. Condominiums first began to take hold in the real estate marketplace in the late 1970s, offering an alternative to the often more expensive single-family residence.

Or is a “cooperative” or “co-op” in your plans? Co-ops, found in most major (primarily East Coast) cities, offer a similar alternative to apartment or single-family homes. Although co-ops are similar to condos, they're not the same as condos.

Townhouses, too, are just a tad different from traditional single-family residences. They also are grouped into a legal “community” that has certain rules similar to condominium or co-op arrangements (we'll discuss those rules in detail in chapter 5) yet appear more like a traditional single-family structure.

Either way you decide, condos, co-ops, and townhouses represent different lifestyles and offerings from living in a suburban or rural home.

But first, exactly what is a condo, a co-op, or a townhouse? Technically, a condo is a legal association in which the individual owns the interior of his or her own unit and the entire group equally shares ownership in the common areas of the complex.

This condominium association is charged with enforcing the rules and regulations set forth in the condominium's legal documents called Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, or CC&Rs, which we'll examine in more detail in chapter 5.

When you first imagine a condo, you might think of a tall, downtown building encasing lots of individual living spaces. And in many instances that would be correct. But a condo doesn't have to be all in one building, or be tall or short. A condo may consist of separate buildings, some connected, some not. A condo can be a collection of single-family residences that from the outside don't look like a typical condominium at all. In other words, you can't recognize a condo just by looking at it.

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