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Buying a Home in New York City: Co-op or Condo?

The decision to purchase a home is always a complicated one. However, in the New York City housing market, the process can be even more convoluted. In addition to deciding what neighborhood to live in, how much space they need and how much they can afford to pay, purchasers must also make the important decision between buying a co-op or a condo.

In many ways, condos and co-ops are very similar. Both involve buying into a common-interest housing development. However, purchasers of condos and co-ops are buying different things: condo buyers actually own their units, while in a co-op, purchasers own shares in the building where the unit is located.

The differences don't stop there. Before making the decision between a condo and a co-op, it is important to think carefully about which option is a better fit for you. As with all major real estate transactions, it is always a good idea to talk to a New York real estate attorney before moving forward.

Cost & Qualifications

Generally speaking, co-ops tend to be more plentiful and less expensive than condos. According to data published in the New York Times, the average price of a Manhattan condo in the third quarter of 2012 was $1.766 million, while the average co-op sold for $1.216 million. Condos also come with extra costs, including title insurance and mortgage recording tax.

However, it can be more difficult to get approved for the purchase of a co-op. Prospective co-op buyers have to provide a significant amount of personal information, including proof of income and net worth. The income restrictions can prove particularly troubling for self-employed buyers, since their incomes often look comparatively lower on paper. In addition, co-op boards can reject potential buyers who may not be a "good fit" for the building.

Co-op advocates say that this type of vetting makes for more stable communities and better neighborly relations. People who prefer a little more privacy, though, may want to consider a condo.

Rules & Regulations

Living in a co-op can also feel different from condo residency, given the differences in governance. Both condos and co-ops can impose strict rules on residents. In addition, boards are free to change these rules at any time, so long as proper procedures are followed.

Co-op owners, though, often have an easier time resolving disputes, since they are considered "tenants" under the law. This gives them landlord-tenant protections that condo owners do not share.

Selling & Renting

Finally, purchasers would be wise to think about their future plans to sell or rent their unit. Many co-ops reserve the right to approve individual renters, and some also limit how long renters can live in a unit. Some buildings don't allow subleases at all. It can also usually be easier to sell a condo than a co-op.

These restrictions possibly make co-ops a more attractive option for buyers looking for a long-term residence. However, buyers who expect to move within a few years or who are looking to sublet their units may want to consider purchasing a condo.

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