House, Townhouse, or Condo?

By: Lee Keadle

When looking for a home, you will generally find three home types - single family house, townhouse, and condominium. Everyone knows what a house is, but many buyers (and many real estate agents) use the terms townhouse and condominium interchangeably. It is important to know the difference so that you can understand which type of home suits your needs.

What most people call a 'house' is a stand alone home. These are detached structures, so you own all of the walls that make up your home. In MLS listings, these types of homes are usually called 'single family homes' because they are designed for one typical family to live in. Owners possess both the house and the land that the house sits on (called the lot). Since there are no common walls that you share with neighbors, a house provides the most privacy and the most flexibility. This flexibility means that you can add on to your home or repaint the exterior if you want.

There are two major disadvantages of owning a house. The first is that single family homes are more expensive than townhouses or condos. The second is that houses require more maintenance than townhouses or condos. Although the flexibility and space are major advantages, you are completely in charge of mowing the yard(s) and keeping the exterior up to par. Usually these two areas are kept up in a townhouse or condo community by means of regime fees.

Condominium ownership is defined as individual ownership inside the unit and shared ownership of common elements. In other words, you would own the space inside your condo, and you would share ownership of common areas such as hallways, green spaces, the fitness center (if there is one), and the parking area with the other condo owners.

Condos are ideal for people who want low-maintenance living and a lower home price. However, there are a few disadvantages of owning a condo. You outright own no land and have no private yard. You may share all of the outside walls of your home - neighbors may be above you, below you, and to the left and right of you. If you are considering buying a condo, try to buy a unit that is not completely surrounded by other units. Doing so will increase the salability of your condo. Another factor to consider when buying a condo is the regime fee, especially in Charleston, SC where regime fees are steadily increasing. These fees can be anywhere from one to five hundred dollars a month, so they can greatly influence the affordability of your home. So, be sure to find what the regime fees cost and what they include when you compare different homes.

Townhouses fall somewhere between single family homes and condos. Like condos, townhouses have shared common walls. But, townhouses typically only have one or two shared walls. You will have neighbors on either side of you (unless you are in an end unit), but you will not have neighbors above or below you. And, as I explained with the condos, it is best to buy an end unit simply for resale.

Unlike condos, town homes generally have a private yard that is attached to the home. Townhouse yards are usually not as large as the yards that come with single family homes, but townhouses are also less expensive. So, when it comes to privacy, space, and price town homes are a good compromise when comparing condominiums and houses.

It is important to be able to distinguish types of homes when you are looking to buy a home. The more you know about single family homes, town homes, and condominiums, the better you can find a home that suits your needs.

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