Everything You Need to Know When Buying a Townhouse

Buying a townhouse has convenience, location, and price perks. But there are a few important factors to consider before moving in.

Are you contemplating a townhouse for your next big move? Whether you’re a first-time buyer or new to townhomes, our townhouse buying tips will help with the transition. Plus, we’ve included the top considerations when buying a townhouse so that you can make a confident and informed decision about your next home.

Perfectly manicured row of suburban townhouses on a beautiful summer day.
Image courtesy of Getty.

What is a Townhouse?

Townhouses (also known as townhomes) are multi-level homes owned by individuals that share at least one or two walls with the adjacent unit. Townhomes typically span two or more units and share similar, if not identical, facades. These side-by-side dwellings are generally narrower than single-family homes. However, townhouses provide outdoor space and, more often than not, a garage or carport.

Single-Family Feel for Less

Townhomes are especially appealing to millennial and Gen Z buyers, many of whom are first-time buyers, says Amanda Pendleton, Zillow lifestyle expert. According to research from Zillow’s 2018 Consumer Housing Trends Report, 15 percent of those younger generation buyers hoped to buy a townhouse. Millennials are also most likely to buy a townhome—13 percent do.

“That’s likely because they are typically more affordable than single-family homes but offer the feeling of living in a single-family home—complete with a yard and front door,” says Pendleton. “At the same time, millennials want to be closer to urban life, and getting them into a townhome typically allows them to get closer to the city and still be in a place that’s affordable.”

Find the Right Location

While developers can build townhouses anywhere, they tend to be most prevalent in areas where space is more constrained, such as fast-growing suburbs and cities, as Pendleton suggests. According to Realtor.com, townhouses date back to early England, where countryside dwellers looking to socialize in the city purchased smaller, part-time homes in town; hence the term's origination. Their shared wall design is an optimal way to accommodate more homes on less land.

Being closer to the heart of things like job hubs, shopping, transit, and nightlife is a major plus for many buyers. However, as you move closer into downtown areas, it can be trickier to tell what is and isn't a townhouse. Row houses are rows of compact homes sandwiched side-by-side that share a common exterior—it's no wonder they're confused for townhomes. These are particularly popular in Brooklyn, Boston, and San Francisco. Architecturally, row houses and townhouses might appear the same, but their ownership is much different.

What to Know About Homeowners Associations

As part of a community, townhouse residents are bound by basic agreements, such as no pets or bold paint colors. In addition, they pay monthly fees through a homeowners association or HOA, which manages the community and its upkeep.

Is buying a townhouse instead of a house the best fit for you? Would you prefer complete freedom and the full responsibility of a single-family home, or are you okay with a few rules and paying extra in exchange for less responsibility for grounds and amenities? Continue reading to learn which amenities your HOA fees go to when you own a townhouse.

All About Amenities

When it comes to townhouse amenities, you get what you pay for. "Townhouses are great alternatives to single-family homes as the homeowner's associations typically take care of the exterior, which is great for homeowners on-the-go with busy lifestyles," says Debbie Wong, a Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate agent. "Townhomes would have better amenities, like water and garbage and cable included in the dues as well as repair coverage for the roof and fence, whereas with a home, the homeowner would need to factor in those added costs of utilities, gardener, and regular maintenance."

Other amenities can include onsite fitness centers and parks, walkability to shops, public transit, walking paths, trails, and community events. Look for a townhouse with amenities that are high-priority on your checklist.

Privacy and Personalization

When weighing the pros and cons of buying a townhouse, don't forget to consider privacy and personalization. Having your own space is important, and for some, so is the ability to really make it your own. Also, shared walls mean more noise, less privacy, and having to deal with unexpected problems such as a neighbor's leak causing water to trickle into your home.

On the upside, not having units above or below you, as in condos and apartments, is a definite perk for minimizing disturbances. Plus, the added space means more room to personalize. Most townhouse associations allow residents to make updates, as you own the interior, exterior, and land on which it sits. (Just look at this before and after transformation of an Atlanta townhome!) You'll still want to ask what the guidelines are for renovation ahead of time to be sure you don't stumble upon any surprises down the road.

Questions to Ask When Buying a Townhouse

Before you purchase a townhouse, you should know the answers to the following questions. Your real estate agent, the townhouse community representative, and your bank representative should be able to help provide information.

  • What are the HOA fees?
  • What are the HOA rules?
  • What does my HOA pay for, and what does that fund?
  • Can I look at the past year’s HOA meeting minutes?
  • Are there any major repairs coming up?
  • Are there pet restrictions?
  • Can I rent out my unit?
  • What kind of events are there in the community?
  • Do owners socialize or tend to keep to themselves?
  • What kind of noise level can I expect?
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