The term townhouse or townhome generally refers to a single-family house that shares some walls with other houses. Some benefits of a townhouse can include lower prices compared to standalone homes, access to dense suburban or urban living and often lower fees than living in a condo complex. Make sure you understand exactly what's entailed in any home purchase you're considering.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Townhomes can be inexpensive compared to other single-family homes and charge lower fees than condominiums. Consider what type of housing is best for you.
Understanding Townhome Living Arrangements
A townhouse, sometimes also called a townhome or row house, is usually a single-family house that directly touches the buildings next to it. Owners typically own the house and the space inside it as well as, often, the small yard and driveway areas. Exactly who owns the sections of the walls between the houses is normally spelled out in legal documents.
Traditionally, townhouses differ from condominiums, or condos for short, in that owners don't have an interest in typical condo common areas and amenities like play fields, clubhouses or swimming pools. Townhouse owners are also responsible for their own upkeep of both the interior and exterior, while in a condo some of those costs might be covered by the condo association through member condo fees. More recently, though, some condos have been built in townhouse style, and many townhouses are part of a homeowners association that can levy fees for common uses and set rules similar to a condo association.
Considering Townhome Ownership and Fees
If you're considering buying a townhouse, a condo, a standalone home or any other kind of property, make sure you do your due diligence and understand exactly what it is that you're considering buying. Determine exactly which land and physical structures are yours and which are shared amenities, as well as what you're responsible for maintaining.
Also take into account any fees you may have to pay to a condo association or HOA, as well as the power of such an organization to regulate how you can alter or decorate your home and yard. Remember that any condo or HOA fees must be paid on top of other bills such as your mortgage, property tax, insurance, utilities and general upkeep.
Exploring Townhouse Advantages
Living in a townhouse can have some advantages over a standalone single-family house or a condo. Townhouses usually have lower property taxes than standalone homes, thanks in part to their smaller total lot size. The smaller lot can also mean less upkeep, since there's less yard to maintain. They're also often in vibrant, dense suburban or urban areas, within easy walking distance to businesses, parks, schools and other amenities. Proximity to neighbors can also be a benefit to some people, or simply an enjoyable plus of living in a townhouse.
Compared to condos, townhouses generally have lower homeowners association fees, if they have such fees at all, because there is less shared space that needs to be maintained collectively. Since they're not self-contained buildings with a single entranceway, there aren't buildings and lobbies to maintain. Each house typically has its own small yard, so there is often less shared green areas or recreational space in the complex.
Considering Disadvantages of a Townhouse
Townhouses aren't necessarily for everyone. If you enjoy the open space and privacy of a standalone home, a townhouse might not be the best choice. Townhouses also make you more dependent on having good relationships with your neighbors. The shared walls make it easy for sounds to travel, and if your neighbors don't maintain a clean space, you might find bugs or rodents traveling from house to house, even if you keep your own area clean.
Some people may also prefer the approach of a traditional condo complex or building, where exterior spaces are usually collectively, rather than individually, maintained. That can mean less work and less time spent managing contractors for individual homeowners.
Steven Melendez is an independent journalist with a background in technology and business. He has written for a variety of business publications including Fast Company, the Wall Street Journal, Innovation Leader and Ad Age. He was awarded the Knight Foundation scholarship to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.