In New York City, co-ops (short for "cooperative") outnumber condos; around 70% of city's housing stock is co-op. Older buildings (built pre-1980s) tend to be co-ops, while pretty much everything built from the 1980s onward is condo. Beyond that distinction, your personal or financial circumstances, along with your lifestyle preferences and past experience, might guide you toward one or another.
Or, like many people, you may simply decide to look for the best apartment you can afford in a financially sound building, be it co-op or condo.
CO-OP: The entire building is owned by a single corporation. Instead of a deed, you will receive shares (stock certificates) in the corporation, and a proprietary lease that allows you to occupy a specific unit and lays down the rules and rights much like a lease in a rental building. In fact, technically speaking, buyers of co-op apartments are referred to as “tenants” or “shareholders,” not “owners," and when legal issues arise, they are decided in accordance with landlord-tenant law, which typically gives co-op shareholders more protections than the laws that apply to condo owners.
CONDO: Buying a condo is very much like buying a single-family house. You get a deed to the apartment that gives you ownership of the interior of your unit and the surface of its walls, as well as an undivided interest in the building’s common elements. This is the type of ownership almost everyone has in mind when they think about buying a home, and almost all newer buildings are condos.
After you buy your apartment, you will largely find that its legal ownership structure has little impact on your use of it. That said, there are a number of quirks related to each, discussed on the following pages.