When you’re trying to plant roots, you need to pick a spot that has everything you need to thrive. With all the modern housing options out there, however, you may have trouble deciding between your options. Somewhere on your real estate journey, you’re almost bound to find yourself considering either a townhouse or a condo.
Townhouses and condos are increasingly becoming the favorites of urban dwellers who are tired of renting – but they’re distinctly different types of property, each with its own pros and cons. Before you buy, it pays to learn everything you can.
How Do You Tell a Condo From a Townhouse?
Condominiums are all single-residential units within larger buildings. In that way, they very much resemble apartments. Usually, each condo is on a single floor, and you could have neighbors sharing your walls on either side, above and below you.
A townhouse is a sort of cross between a single-family home and an apartment. Typically, they are each several stories tall (just like a house), but they usually share at least one wall (and maybe two) with their neighbors on the side – although you won’t have anybody living over your head or under your feet.
Both condos and townhouses tend to be popular among young people who are just venturing into the property-ownership game and older people who want to downsize once their children have left the family home. While you can certainly find luxury versions of each that cost a small fortune, they’re both typically less expensive than single-family homes.
What Are the Key Differences Between Condos and Townhouses?
Once you dig a little deeper, the differences between the two are pretty significant. Most of them speak to lifestyle preferences and the overall cost of ownership, so it’s important to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting for your money. Some of the biggest ways condos and townhouses differ include:
When you buy a condo, you’re buying the space you live in and a share of the entire building (alongside your other tenant-owners). You do not, however, outright own the property on which your home is sitting or the actual building.
By comparison, owning a townhouse is more like owning a home in that you are buying the building in which you live and the land it sits upon. That may include a small yard.
With both condos and townhouses, you are almost 100% guaranteed to have a homeowners association (HOA) involved. In a condo, the HOA manages the building, the shared community areas and the external grounds, so they tend to exercise a lot of control over the property and tenants. Townhouse HOAs may be responsible for managing less, but they may still impose some restrictive rules on how properties have to be maintained by their owners.
Knowing this, make sure that you ask about both the fees you’re expected to pay to the HOA, exactly what the HOA will handle and what rules the HOA expects residents to follow – before you commit. Checking out the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) can help you tell if a neighborhood is right for you.
If you have visions of a little patch of yard all your own in which to garden, forget about the condo and find a townhouse, instead. Condos come in all shapes and sizes – and you may very well find a number with lovely common areas – but you don’t own any of that space outright. It’s merely part of the aesthetics or amenities, and you can’t make any changes.
When you buy a townhouse, you own the actual structure and the land it’s on. If that includes a small patch of grass out front or back (or both) those are yours to do with as you please – within the confines of the rules your HOA imposes.
If you want the minimum in maintenance responsibilities, go with a condo. Because you don’t outright own the walls around your space, the HOA takes on the responsibility for the upkeep of everything from the roof over the building to the parking lot repairs.
The trade-off, of course, is that your HOA fees may be higher with a condo than a townhouse, and the HOA will definitely prioritize the needs and comfort of the many over individual wants or needs.
With a townhouse, you own the exterior of your home, as well as the interior, but that means you also have more individual responsibility for upkeep. That usually translates to more independence for each homeowner and lower HOA fees – but more potential expenses if you happen to need a new roof or there’s a leak in the basement.
One of the biggest perks about a condo is the amenities that you may be offered. In exchange for giving up some of your privacy and personal freedoms (and that monthly HOA fee), you may also get access to everything from laundry rooms and pools to gyms and tennis courts.
Typically, townhouses have fewer shared amenities than condos – although that doesn’t always hold true. It’s not entirely uncommon for luxury townhouse communities to have playgrounds, clubhouses and private gyms which are some of the perks of ownership.
It’s very hard to say what you can expect from the resale value of either a condo or a townhouse. Just like with single-family homes, a lot depends on housing trends, interest rates, inflation and social changes when it comes to how a property will be valued in the future.
On the upside, one of the main purposes of an HOA is to preserve the value of a neighborhood or property by making sure that everything is manicured and well-maintained, and that never hurts when it comes to making a good first impression on potential buyers.
What’s the Bottom Line?
Maybe you have your heart set on a traditional single-family home. Maybe you want to go experimental and are thinking about buying a “tiny home” or living in a yurt. Just don’t rule out any of your options until you dig a little deeper and see what’s on the market.
Take your time, learn more about your real estate options and look for a place that fits both your heart and your lifestyle.