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The Difference Between Condos, Lofts, Apartments, & Co-ops

Sometimes the jargon used in real estate seems confusing, and words appear to be interchangeable.  When looking for a condo, loft, apartment, or cooperative apartment, this may help clarify for you.  What’s the difference?

whats the difference between loft condo apartment coop
What’s the difference between a loft, condo, co-op, & apartment


A condominium is a type of ownership. Often shortened to “condo”, it is a collection of individual residential or commercial units and common areas as well as the land upon which they sit.  A condo can be attached to other units or can be a collection of detached units.


Individual ownership within a condo is construed as ownership of only the air space confining the boundaries of the unit. The boundaries of that space are specified by a legal document known as a Declaration which is filed with the local governing authority. These boundaries will typically include the wall surrounding a condo, allowing the unit owner to make some interior modifications without impacting the common areas. Anything outside this boundary is held in undivided joint ownership interest by a corporation established when the condo was created. The corporation holds this property in trust on behalf of the unit owners as a group and does not have ownership itself.


The building is managed by the condominium association, either directly or through a professional manager. The owners of the individual units are jointly responsible for the costs of maintaining the building and common areas, and they are individually responsible for the maintenance expenses of their particular units. There may be more than one association depending on the structure, such as one “master” association and one for a smaller or separate group within the condo, such as single family or patio homes.


Condominiums have conditions, covenants, and restrictions (CCR’s) and often additional rules that govern how the individual unit owners are to share the space and handle financial obligations.


An apartment is a dwelling unit in a multi-family structure. Typically the entire building is owned by one person or entity, and the apartments are rented to tenants.

Co-operative Apartments

In some areas (New York City and Europe, for example) there are co-op apartments. This refers to a type of ownership. A co-op apartment is a dwelling unit in a multi-family building in which an association or corporation owns the building and the common areas for the use of all the residents. The individual participants own a share in the cooperative which entitles them to occupy an apartment as if they were owners, to have equal access to the common areas, and to vote for members of the Board of Directors which manages the cooperative. A cooperative differs from a condominium project in that the owners of the condominium units actually own their airspace and a percentage interest in the common area. In a cooperative apartment there are often restrictions on transfer of shares such as giving priority to other members, limits on income or sales price.


Lofts describe the individual unit. They can be a type of condominium or apartment. They are multi-storied structures where the street level floor is often occupied by business while the lofts are above the first floor.


There are several types of lofts:

  • Hard lofts: lofts which have been converted into residential use from former industrial or commercial buildings.
  • Soft lofts: lofts which have been built new, with builders designing them having features typical of the older hard loft buildings.
  • Residential: lofts strictly for residential living.
  • Work/live: lofts designed for the owners’ living together with their business operation; this type is desirable for the saving of travel, time, and space expenses.

Lofts are usually located near a downtown or a particular section of town, such as manufacturing, and typically have:

  • an open and airy feel.
  • very high ceilings, well over 12 feet.
  • exposed pipes, ducts, and structural elements.
  • an open, flowing floor plan.
  • floor to ceiling windows or large windows.
  • exposed interior brick.
  • stained cement or hardwood floors.
  • metal stairs and handrails.
  • often a contemporary flair.
Other features

Lofts can be on one level or multi-storied and can offer a loft within the loft. Access to a rooftop deck is another possibility.  Some lofts may offer exterior balconies, while very high end ones may have outdoor patios, gardens, and lawns.

Summing it up

  • A condominium, an apartment, and a co-operative refer to the type of ownership.
  • A loft describes a unit based on its features and does not describe ownership.

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