These are types of ownership. This defines what you are buying. And yes – there are differences.
Condo Ownership – When you purchase a condo you are purchasing a part of the building and the land underneath your part of the building. Sometimes the land extends beyond the building footprint. The part of the building you own is your unit, not the adjacent units. You actually own from halfway through the perimeter walls in. The association owns the roof, usually the crawl space (if there is one) and the half of the walls to the exterior, and the owners of the adjacent units own their half of the interior walls. Typically, windows and doors are considered to be interior, and maintenance of the doors and windows is the homeowners responsibility.
Fee Simple Ownership – This is the most common form of ownership. This is typical of detached single family homes, but duplexes, multifamily homes and attached homes can also be Fee Simple ownership. With Fee Simple ownership, the homeowner owns the building(s) and land. The homeowner is responsible for everything to do with the property.
Co-op Ownership – This is an entirely different matter, There are few co-ops in New Jersey. With co-op ownership, you do not own the unit you are living in. The entire complex is owned by a corporation. When you purchase a co-op, you actually purchase shares in the corporation. If your unit comprises 1.37% (just to have a number) of the area of the complex, you purchase 1.37% of the outstanding shares. This entitles you to exclusive use of your 1.37% of the area.
A drawback to purchasing a co-op is that very few banks will give a mortgage on a co-op. Another drawback is that many of the corporations that own the complexes have a corporate mortgage on the property. Therefore many co-ops do not allow the residents to finance their portion of the co-op, and all home purchase must be cash.