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Should I Buy a Townhouse? Is it right for me? 

 December 9, 2020

By Scott Teesdale  

minutes read time

A townhouse (or townhome, town house, or town home) is an ideal residence for anyone looking to buy a home. They are an excellent alternative to owning your own detached, single-family house.

What is a townhouse?

A townhome is part of a set of buildings that share a wall with its neighbors. They are usually multiple stories, and the land around them is privately owned even though there is no shared access between these buildings. Some communities do feature larger spaces, which are public areas that can be used by members. A townhouse is just one of the many different types of homes available to buyers.

Townhomes offer aspects of both detached houses (single-family homes) and condominiums. They are attached to another living space, but they are also privately owned and can be quite large, with patios or front and back lawns included with the property. This allows residents to have more freedom regarding how they choose to use their space while also affording them the added security of a close-knit neighborhood.

Duplex, triplex, and quad-plexes

Although these are included in our description of townhouses, there are slight differences. Any building with several distinct living quarters but that shares a roof and walls with its neighbors can be considered -plex. For example, a duplex (or multi-family property) is a single building that shares two distinct living spaces. These can be either side-by-side or separate floors of the same building (up-and-down). Triplex, quadplexes, and others are designed to accommodate multiple families within the same roofed structure.

Townhome communities

Traditional townhouse communities are more extensive, and they have separate roofs for each unit but shared walls. The land outside of each building is privately owned (if it is not, then this is considered a condominium); however, there may be public spaces that everyone can enjoy, such as pools, parks, etc. The responsibility and ownership for public areas will be shared among all the townhome owners with that complex.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in a townhouse?

Every type of home has attractive and unattractive aspects, and townhomes are no different. The individual pros and cons will be determined by the type of location, size of the neighborhood, and what kind of additional outdoor features might be included. However, some universal aspects can be expected to come with buying one, which consists of the following.

Advantages

  • There will be less responsibility for external maintenance since, generally, any lawns will be smaller, and the shared walls mean there is less chance of exterior damage from weather or other unexpected events.
  • Living so close to other families brings with it a sense of security as there are people nearby to render assistance or look out for your property.
  • A greater sense of community is shared between townhouse owners compared to areas with free-standing homes.
  • Depending on the neighborhood’s size, they may have the perk of shared public spaces such as pools, parks, playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts, or other similar areas.

Disadvantages

  • Home Owner’s Association (HOA) fees will need to be paid, and HOA regulations that might apply to the entire community, which must be followed.
  • There is far less privacy. Depending on the quality of construction, individuals may be able to hear some of what takes place in their neighbor’s attached home, especially when they are shared between floors of the same building, like in the case of certain -plexes.
  • Additions, changes to appearance, or extensions to exterior areas of the building are severely limited compared to free-standing homes. This is due to less space to convert and HOA rules regarding what is acceptable.

Difference between a single-family home and a townhouse

Anyone who buys a townhouse will be the owner of the building and the parcel of land it sits on. Similarly, with a single-family home (SFH), the owners will also have domain over the building and plot of land. In another post, we discuss whether you should buy a single-family home (SFH) in more detail.

But whereas a townhome will be attached by a shared wall with any neighboring townhouses, a free-standing single-family home will not be attached to any building owned by another individual.

Another critical difference between a townhome and an SFH is that the former includes a homeowners association (HOA). The HOA manages the community through a covenants and responsibilities document. Furthermore, the HOA fees must be paid each month. Single-family homes do not have an HOA.

Difference between a townhome and a condo

A townhome is much more similar to a condominium (condo) than a single-family home. Whereas a SFH is usually detached and doesn’t have any HOA, a condo will have an HOA (like townhomes) and be in much more proximity to its neighbors. In another post, we discuss whether you should buy a condominium in more detail.

Townhomes are generally more expensive than condos, usually because they are bigger and have more space. Condos are usually one unit in a larger building.

Do townhomes pay HOA fees?

Before you decide to purchase a townhouse, it is essential to find out what type of HOA oversees that area to find out what kind of dues you will be expected to pay as a member of the community. Sometimes the HOA will be in charge of upkeep for exterior maintenance such as yardwork or any services that need to be done for roofing or sidings. However, this is not always the case, and sometimes all of that must be handled by the person buying a townhome. It is best to determine what to expect from a neighborhood before making any permanent decisions regarding purchasing a townhouse.

What is an HOA?

Curious about what does a Homeowners’ Association (HOA) do? It’s an organization that seeks to the upkeep and ownership of shared areas such as sidewalks, streets, and any public space within a community. Residents will need to pay membership fees and adhere to any regulations or laws regarding their homes’ appearance and safety. Generally speaking, people are responsible for the upkeep of their interior. At the same time, HOA plays a part in determining the exterior of the home.

The members that make up an HOA are elected by the community and are responsible for the bylaws, which must be adhered to by the homeowners. They require monthly fees, and sometimes there will be one-time costs for expensive maintenance in relation to either the entire community or an individual’s home.

How much are the fees?

The average cost of an HOA membership is approximately $400, but this can fluctuate. The range is usually between $200 and $700 a month. Most of the time, this cost is based on how many outdoor features and amenities come standard with the townhouse that has been purchased. One-time fees can come in a variety of costs and will depend entirely on the specific circumstances.

What do they do exactly within the community?

The HOA is often charged with handling personal and boundary disputes regarding the bylaws and local regulations. They have the authority to require changes to specific spaces to ensure that they adhere to the laws that are legally binding to all townhouse residents.

Who should buy a townhouse?

For someone who likes the idea of owning their own home but does not want to worry about a lot of exterior maintenance or yard work, a townhouse is perfect. Anyone that loves socializing will enjoy having close neighbors above or beside them. These are excellent choices for new families or those who would like to be a part of an intimate neighborhood.

They are also generally cheaper to purchase than a traditional house. Even with the monthly fees, the cost of buying the land and building are usually lower. This is especially true for -plexes because they share their costs between more families, decreasing them for everyone.

Check for community issues

Find out everything possible about the community before deciding to purchase your townhome because the amenities and community features will vary from place to place. One townhouse may have a history of difficult-to-please HOA members, while another located several neighborhoods away might be more welcoming and accepting. These kinds of things will determine whether or not you should buy the townhouse you are looking to invest in. You can usually find out from people who have lived in the area or through online sites whether your lifestyle will fit with the community.

So, should I buy a townhouse?

Townhomes are a great middle-ground between renting and owning a free-standing home. They require less responsibility while offering more freedom than a rental or lease property. HOA and being surrounded by neighbors means that there is an added layer of security to living in a townhouse. Whether you want a nice place to raise your family or simply want to find an excellent spot to live within a suburb or urban neighborhood, a townhouse is a great opportunity to become a homeowner.

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I use data and technology to help Millennials navigate the ins-and-outs of buying or selling a home in today's market. From appraisals to mortgages to zoning, I cover it all with the goal to teach others. Connect with me on social via the icons above.

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