The co-op that Rhonda Saunders recently bought in Freeport is near...

The co-op that Rhonda Saunders recently bought in Freeport is near shops, the library and the Nautical Mile, giving her an urban-suburban lifestyle. Credit: Johnny Milano

The co-op Rhonda Saunders bought in Freeport blends what she likes best about her past experiences living in the city and in suburbia.

Saunders, 50, a service supervisor for a Long Island Chrysler dealership, grew up in a single-family home in Laurelton, Queens, and lived in a Valley Stream house while married. But after the marriage ended, and she was living with a childhood friend, Saunders realized what she really wanted was to return to an urban-suburban environment. "It was literally like a garden apartment when you walked outside," Saunders recalled of the co-op she owned during her single days after moving out of her parents’ house.

For assistance, she turned to Charles Bennett Jr., a licensed real estate salesperson at Signature Premier Properties. The mother of a good friend had met and chatted with Bennett while taking a Long Island Rail Road train, and he seemed to understand the housing needs of a single woman, Saunders said. That was in early 2020, the beginning of "the surge of people coming from the city to Long Island," said Bennett, who represents condo, co-op and house sales on Long Island and in Queens. What Saunders needed, he said, was "more of apartment-style living, with shared laundry and common space." He helped Saunders find a co-op in Smith Street Gardens in Freeport, which she purchased later that year for $185,000.

Rhonda Saunders at her new home in Freeport.

Rhonda Saunders at her new home in Freeport. Credit: Johnny Milano

Before moving in, Saunders renovated the bathroom, and she’s planning to redo the kitchen in a year or two. Her new bedroom set was delivered late last month. The greenery-landscaped, redbrick low-rise building complex is near Freeport Memorial Library, the West Merrick Road commercial strip and the Nautical Mile restaurant scene. And Saunders doesn’t have to rake leaves or shovel snow — that’s covered in the approximately $1,400 monthly mortgage and maintenance fee.

"It’s a very well-kept property," Saunders said.

The Rodriguez family at the townhouse-style condo they bought at Windbrooke...

The Rodriguez family at the townhouse-style condo they bought at Windbrooke Homes in Central Islip, with their real estate agent, Yenny Benitez, far right. Credit: Johnny Milano

A heated market

Co-ops, which bring to mind towering behemoths on the New York City skyline, are often confused with condos, which conjure images of Sunbelt retirement communities with adjacent golf greens. But both co-ops and condos are also popular residential options on Long Island, with demand and increased valuation matching those of single-family homes, say real estate experts.

The condo-co-op market offers a more affordable entree for first time homebuyers in Long Island’s superheated housing market and a low-maintenance, apartment-like lifestyle for singles and downsizing retirees looking to stay near old friends and family.

"The condo market is just as heated, if more so, than the single-family housing market," said Lisa Camarda, owner of Re/Max Reliance in Wantagh. Camarda said that a ranch-style condo in the 84-unit Stanford Court development in Wantagh, which listed for $500,000, drew 75 prospective buyers, prompting a bidding war and going to contract in early March in the mid-$500,000 range.

The median price for condos, which make up about one-eighth of the Long Island home sales market, rose 52% to $365,000 in the past decade, according to a recent report from real estate brokerage Douglas Elliman and appraisal firm Miller Samuel. There were 4,430 condo sales last year, which was nearly 73% more than back in 2012.

Recently constructed Long Island condo communities include Country Pointe in Plainview, Country Pointe Meadows in Yaphank and The Seasons at Dix Hills. Most of the co-ops on Long Island are converted from former rental apartment complexes, said Larry Barasch, a licensed broker associate at Signature Premier Properties in Babylon.

Barasch, who has three decades of experience selling in the market, said "co-ops are attractive to first-time buyers looking for an alternative to renting an apartment or purchasing high-priced homes." He said that condos and co-ops are generally purchased by "people that are either downsizing and selling the big home or buying something here and in Florida."

Don and Roberta Schreiner as they prepared to downsize from their...

Don and Roberta Schreiner as they prepared to downsize from their five-bedroom home in Old Bethpage to a Middle Island condo. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Making the choice

Although condos and co-ops are often confused, "there is an intrinsic legal difference between" them, Barasch said. "Condos are essentially the same legal kind of ownership as a single-family home in that you get your own deed and your own tax bill," Barasch said. "With co-ops there’s only one tax bill for the entire development. You just pay your proportionate share through monthly maintenance fees. And there’s only one deed to the entire development."

Barasch estimated that common charges for a typical midrange condo on Long Island range from $200 to $300 a month and cover landscaping, snow removal and in some cases water bills. "With condos you are responsible for property taxes and other utilities," he said. In comparison, co-op maintenance charges average $800 to $1,200 per month, paying for property taxes, utilities and part of the interest payment on the development’s underlying mortgage interest, Barasch said.

Downsizing was an objective when Don and Roberta Schreiner, 75 and 66, decided to move last year. Despite a "hiccup" between the bank and the title company, the couple experienced only minor trauma between selling their Old Bethpage home of 22 years and moving into their new condo in Middle Island in October.

"We went from a five-bedroom, 2½ bath, high ranch with an inground pool on a half-acre property that sold for $725,000, to a two-bedroom, two-bath condo in a gated community near Artist Lake that cost $314,000," Don said. "That meant we had to get rid of a lot of stuff, but it actually felt good to lighten the load."

The Schreiners’ new condo features community exercise rooms, indoor and outdoor pools, a billiards table, various clubs and programs like Pilates. A ground-floor unit, it also provides easy access for Don, who uses a cane due to neuropathy.

"Or new home is a half-hour from our son, Miles, who was a big help with our move. It also puts us in a setting where it’s easier to socialize," continued Don. "Sure, it’s smaller, but we’re paying $7,500 in taxes — half what we paid previously."

Realtor Denise Kearse at a co-op building on Grand Avenue in...

Realtor Denise Kearse at a co-op building on Grand Avenue in Baldwin. Co-ops are a less expensive option than single-family houses or condos for first-time buyers, Kearse said. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

A step toward buying a house

Denise Kearse, a Realtor with Weichert Realtors Quality Homes in Baldwin, said that co-ops are a less expensive option than single-family houses or condos for first-time buyers. Kearse estimates that a two-bedroom co-op on Long Island can be had for under $300,000. Kearse, who lived in a Hollis, Queens, co-op as a young married mom before moving to a single-family home on Long Island, said prospective buyers should ask the co-op owner for the building’s financial statement. Because co-op owners essentially become shareholders in the building, "how the building manages its financials is very important," Kearse said.

A condo provided a bridge between apartment life and homeownership for Patricia and Atilio Rodriguez. They purchased a townhouse-style condo at The Windbrooke in Central Islip for $205,000 after renting a basement apartment.

"I was happy to have my own place," Patricia, 36, says of the two-floor condo unit she and her husband, Atilio, 48, purchased five years ago. The unit has a large living room, a dining room, an eat-in kitchen, one and a half baths and three bedrooms — one each for the couple and their two teenage children. In addition to more space for their growing family, there are recreational amenities like a pool and a pet pay area. A monthly $411 Homeowner Association (HOA fee) covers use of recreational facilities as well as the upkeep in common areas of their development, Patricia said.

After the birth of their third child a year and a half ago, they started house-hunting again, this time for a single-family home. "We need a room for the baby," Patricia said.

"They outgrew their condo," said Yenny Benitez, who represents them as a licensed real estate salesperson with Millennium Homes. Benitez said the couple are using the equity in their condo, which was listed for sale at $349,900 and went under contract in mid-January for $335,000, for the down payment on a new house, adding that because the Rodriguezes were first-time homebuyers when they bought their condo in 2017, having a mortgage helped improve their credit score.

In January they were under contract for a Medford four-bedroom Colonial at $520,000. They are hoping to close on the sale this month, said Benitez, who is also brokering that sale.

Tom Schlichter contributed reporting.

Condo or co-op? It’s a tossup.

Condos and co-ops have similarities in that you get your own space and a sense of homeownership, minus the surprise rent increases of apartment living and the upkeep required on a single-family home.

Here are some differences that might help you decide which option is right for you:

A condominium is a single real estate unit in a multiunit development. When you buy a condominium, your unit, as well as a percentage of the common areas, belong to you.

With a co-op, however, you don't actually buy your apartment; instead, you are buying shares in a corporation. Co-ops tend to be less expensive to purchase, but buying one may require a rigorous approval process by the co-op board. Furthermore, your ability to make home improvements may be restricted.

Many communities charge monthly fees in addition to your mortgage payment to cover such services as maintenance, property upkeep and costs for common areas such as pools.

— JIM MERRITT

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