Becoming a homeowner is one of the best experiences one can have, but purchasing a property comes with many decisions. Finding the right home to fit your lifestyle and budget in your preferred location can seem like mission impossible. Add to that the interchangeable terms for property types, and the confusion can become mind-numbing.
We’ll focus on handling one of those issues and explain the difference between a townhouse and a condo. We’ll also briefly cover other types of properties so you can walk into a realtor’s office with the knowledge and confidence you need to find the perfect place to start your new life as a homeowner.
Keep in mind, though – real estate is one of those niches where definitions can vary even in theory; in real life, the line where a condo ends and a townhouse begins is even more blurred. However, once you have the basics, you’ll be able to tell one from the other much easier.
What Is a Condo?
In the realtor playbook, a condominium is a style of joint ownership – as a new owner, you’d be purchasing a piece of a building, which would give you exclusive access to some of its areas. Having a condo means living in an apartment building, but you own the apartment instead of renting. You also share joint ownership of the whole building with other owners, including the gym, pool, grounds, or any other common areas the building has.
This solution is typically cheaper than the others, but it can also be limiting for some people. Living in a condo makes you a part of a community, but where that will land on the list of pros and cons of buying a condo depends solely on you.
What Is an Apartment?
Now, you’ll often hear the word ‘apartment’ used interchangeably with ‘condo,’ which can lead to confusion. However, the term ‘apartment’ typically refers to the individual units that make up a specific style of building. These units are usually occupied by tenants based on a lease.
In practice, an apartment building is owned by a person or business that rents the units to carefully screened tenants and oftentimes relies on property management software or a company on call. Even though this is the main difference between a condo and an apartment, it isn’t always the case, and there are exceptions to it, too.
You usually can’t tell whether a building consists of apartments for rent or if it’s part of a condominium just by looking at it, as they’re built more-or-less the same. Some modern condos look more like multi-level townhouses, which only adds to the confusion. Luckily, this is where brokerages and real estate agents can help, as it takes them a quick look into their real estate CRM to find precise information about the property you might be interested in.
As mentioned before, there are always exceptions, but the main difference in the condos vs. apartment struggle lies in who owns the units in a building – those living there or landlords.
What Is a Townhouse?
A townhouse is a type of building: To first-time homebuyers, it’s easiest to explain by saying, “think row houses.” A townhouse shares one or more walls with other townhouses, but the owners don’t have to worry about downstairs or upstairs neighbors. You’ll also likely get your own basement, front yard, or backyard with a townhouse.
Townhouses come with the convenience of a condo and some of the flexibility of a single-family home. With this type of property, you get more privacy than with the former, as it’s very close to owning a single-family home.
The critical difference between a condo and a townhouse is that townhouses are more expensive. On the other hand, they’re much more affordable when compared to the price of a single-family home. In other words, it’s a reasonable middle ground, which is why this option is so popular with new homeowners.
Homeowners Association (HOA)
It is essential to take a moment here to discuss the role the Homeowners Association (HOA) plays with these types of properties.
When you purchase either a condo or townhouse, you’ll have to abide by HOA rules, but also cash out for HOA fees. HOA’s fees are typically higher in condos, as the HOA is responsible for most of the maintenance, which allows for a lock-and-leave mentality, where you don’t have to worry about repairs.
This is another difference between a townhouse and a condo, as HOA fees for townhouses cover only a few services, such as water bills or lawn maintenance. Any repairs on a townhouse may be a bit expensive, and you might have to pay for them at a moment’s notice.
Now, let’s quickly go over the remaining property types: Single-family and semi-detached homes.
Single-family homes or fully detached, stand-alone properties are the dream of many wannabe homeowners, but these can be very expensive. Still, they come with much more space, privacy, and rights than the other options on this list.
A semi-detached house shares some similarities with the townhome definition, except you get to share a single outer wall of your home with someone else, whereas with a townhouse, you usually share both. These houses are typically mirrored images of each other.
So, Which Home Is Right for You?
As usual, the answer is: It depends on you and, more specifically, your lifestyle.
People who chose condos typically appreciate living with neighbors, sharing common areas, and take a lot of comfort from it. Not having to worry about maintenance in a condo is a nice bonus, even though it might mean paying a bit more in HOA fees each month.
On the other side of the condo vs. townhouse debate are the people who appreciate their privacy more. They could also prefer the type of lifestyle that requires a backyard, for example, but cannot yet afford a single-family home.