What Is a Condo, Really?

Published On: August 8th, 2022Categories: Buying and Selling, Real Estate MarketingLast Updated: August 31st, 202211.2 min read

About the Author: Nicole Schnell

downtown condo building with amenities

What do you picture when you think of a condo? Does it look similar to an apartment, maybe with the ability to make custom upgrades? Then you would be correct, but that’s not all. A condo can also look like a townhome or a detached home. This can be confusing for buyers who aren’t aware, and they could miss out on seeing options that fit their needs. It’s part of a real estate agent’s role to educate the buyer and help them see potential in different properties. So let’s look at what a condo actually is, how you can tell for sure, and why it can look so different.

What Is a Condo?

Most people think of a condo as a building type when it’s more of an ownership type. When you buy a condo, you own the interior walls, floors, and ceilings of your unit. This does not include the entirety of the land your unit is on or the exterior. You share ownership of the common areas that are part of the overall property or development. You’re only responsible for maintaining the interior of your condo, and there’s a condo association (similar to an HOA) that collects monthly fees to maintain the building exterior, shared spaces, and amenities.

How Can I Tell It’s a Condo?

If it can look like an apartment, a townhome, or a detached home, how can you tell it’s a condo? Try looking for “condo,” “condominium,” or “unit of” in the legal description. It isn’t always stated clearly, however, so check the plat map (a map that shows how land is subdivided) if you’re still unsure. If there are multiple parcels on one plat, it’s likely you’re looking at a condo. The most fool-proof ways to know if a property is a condo is to have a title company pull the legally recorded title information or to search the county records yourself.

Why Does It Look Like a House?

The most confusing condo is the one that looks like a single-family detached house, also called a site-condo. With these properties, you do own the land your condo sits on and you are often responsible for maintaining the exterior. So why is it a condo and not a house? Sometimes developers build detached condos in multi-family zoning to fit more homes on one lot than single-family zoning allows for. It also creates an opportunity for buyers to enjoy the perks of shared condo living with the privacy of a detached home.

Do you think you could tell the difference now between a condo, a townhome, and a detached single-family house? Test your skills by searching your local MLS, reading legal descriptions, and reviewing plat maps. It’s important to know if a property is a condo or not before a buyer enters into a contract. A condo purchase has different financing requirements than a traditional mortgage. Lenders will evaluate the condo association’s qualifications in addition to the buyer’s and may also require a higher down payment. This is an excellent reason to encourage buyers to always work with a licensed real estate agent. Practice your condo-detection skills so you can become the local condo expert and ensure a smoother process for your clients!

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