Should You Buy a Condo or Townhouse? Here Are the Major Differences
In the market for a new home but not sure where to begin? Condos and townhouses can appeal to a wide range of buyers. Learn the difference between a condo and townhouse before you start your search.
Condos and townhouses appeal to a wide demographic of buyers, including millennials seeking starter homes and retirees with a desire to downsize. But what exactly is the difference between the two styles of housing?
If you’re wondering what a condo is or how it differs from a townhouse, you’re not the only one. To help set the record straight, we spoke with real estate experts to reveal the biggest differences between a condo and a townhouse and help you decide which option is the right home for you.
The terms condo and townhouse refer directly to ownership; they are not reflective of a certain style of home. The architecture of townhouses and condos vary, but there are a few main differences in layout.
Condo: Condos, much like apartments, can be multilevel, split level, or a single-floor unit within a larger communal building that shares walls and floors with other units. Older couples or young parents with little ones learning to walk should consider the many condominiums available without stairs.
Townhouse: When comparing a townhome to an apartment or condo, it’s easy to tell the difference. Think of a townhouse more like a single-family home—it’s generally multi-level, has a yard and front door (rather than an interior entrance), and, more often than not, comes with a garage. A townhouse shares at least one or two walls with the units next door.
One major difference between townhouses versus condos is ownership. Typically, a buyer owns both the exterior and interior of a townhome but only the interior of a condo.
Condo: When it comes to buying a condo, the unit interior belongs to the owner rather than a landlord. However, ownership over the entire complex and all common areas belongs to a homeowner's association. Prefer to rent? Some condominium complexes allow it while others are more restrictive and have rental caps on who and how many people can rent.
Townhouse: Townhouses—including exterior features like a yard, roof, and driveway—are owned by individuals. There is also shared ownership over common areas of the complex. Residents are less likely to rent townhomes than they are to buy, but there are exceptions. Be sure to ask about these rules if you’re interested in renting versus buying.
Prices for condos and townhomes vary greatly depending on location, amenities, and the state of the economy, but below are a few factors to consider.
Condo: The lower price point of condos compared to townhomes typically makes them the perfect starter home, says Bridget Franklin, a designated broker at Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate. According to Zillow research, the median condo value nationwide has increased by 26.9 percent in the past five years, from $172,100 in 2014 to $235,300 in March 2019.
Townhome: If you’re looking for more space and something that doesn’t require updates, a newer townhouse might be the best option. “Price wise, townhomes are typically more affordable than an older single-family home in the same location,” says Debbie Wong, a Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate agent.
Both townhomes and condos come with additional fees that cover amenities and neighborhood upkeep.
Condo: The best part about having groomed lawns and sparkling pools at a condo? You’re not responsible for their upkeep. The downside? You pay for it to be maintained through your monthly homeowner's association fees. According to Amanda Pendleton, Zillow lifestyle expert, condo fees are typically higher than townhouses because they have more shared spaces and amenities. These fees also cover things like water, sewer and trash, roof repair, and pest control. Residents are responsible for insurance coverage of their condo interior.
Townhouse: Townhomes might have fewer amenities to pay for, but residents also own their land and the exterior of their homes. This means townhome owners are both physically and financially responsible for any outdoor upkeep. Because of this, townhome owners often have higher insurance rates.
So where can you find a townhouse or condo? While both are located throughout the United States, each home style tends to pop up in certain areas.
Condo: Condos are more likely to be in a walkable, urban area, which is a major plus for millennials and city lovers. They’re also popular in vacation areas, such as Hawaii, Florida, and southern California, as condos cater to retirees seeking warmer temperatures and a more laid-back lifestyle.
Townhouse: While townhomes can be built anywhere, they’re most prevalent in fast-growing suburbs and metropolitan areas where space is more constrained. They’re a good way to get closer to the city but at a cheaper price than what you’d typically pay in the heart of downtown.
One of the biggest perks to a condo and townhome is the amenities. Unlike a single-family home, both housing types generally offer additional facilities and/or services.
Condo: Most condos have amenities like a swimming pool, gym, clubhouse, and sometimes a tennis court, says Connie Hall, a realtor at Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate. Other perks include gardens, golf courses, and more. And because you don't own the surrounding land, you don't have to worry about shoveling snow or mowing the lawn.
Townhouse: Townhouses generally have fewer big-ticket amenities such as pools and tennis courts. They’re more likely to have shared parks and fitness centers. Plus, one item townhouses can check off that condos can’t: your own personal outdoor space.
More amenities can often lead to more interaction with those in your neighborhood. See how condos and townhouses differ when it comes to building a community.
Condo: If a sense of community is on your must-have list when it comes to purchasing a home, a condo can help. Between social events and the amount of shared amenities, you’re bound to meet new friends.
Townhouse: Townhouses feel more like neighborhoods than a condo or apartment. Before purchasing, be sure to ask the homeowner's association what kind of events are held and if owners socialize or tend to keep to themselves.
If you love to update the look of your home's exterior, consider the differences between a condo and townhouse when it comes to customization.
Condo: The exterior of a condo is owned by the homeowner's association (HOA), making it harder for residents to make big decorating statements on their decks or front doors. Interiors, however, are a different story. While rules vary, condominium complexes generally provide more freedom to personalize interior spaces, such as installing marble countertops or adding new light fixtures.
Townhouse: Because townhouse residents own both the interior and the exterior, they have more room to personalize their home as they please. That’s not to say the HOA won’t stop you from choosing a vibrant exterior paint color—they just generally have fewer guidelines.
Return on Investment (ROI)
Whether you buy a townhouse or a condo, you'll want to be sure to get a return on investment when it comes time to selling.
Condo: According to Franklin, buying a condo is a great way to stop renting, get equity, and save for a single-family home. “They also then make a great long-term investment if you can pull the equity out of the home to purchase a single-family home in the future, but keep the condo for a rental property,” she says.
Townhouse: A townhouse can have similar benefits when it comes to ROI. “As long as the golden rule of real estate is followed—location, location, location—the opportunity for equity building could be just as good as a single-family home,” says Wong.
Ready to start looking? Check out our condo and townhome-buying guides complete with pros, cons, and the top questions you’ll want to ask before making an offer.