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.
CO-OP: In New York City, co-ops far outnumber condos. In a co-op, the entire building is owned by a single corporation. Instead of a deed, buyers get shares (stock certificates) in the corporation, and a proprietary lease that allows buyers 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.
After you buy your apartment, you will largely find that it's legal ownership structure has little impact on your use of it. That said, there are a number of quirks related to each that will be discussed on the following pages.