A side-by-side comparison of a condo and a house.
Ursula Page/Flashpics/Adobe Stock

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably decided to purchase a home. Congratulations! It’s important to consider the different kinds of properties available. Some homebuyers might weigh the choice to buy a house vs. condo depending on their budget and needs. While both options allow you to become a homeowner and build equity in a property of your own, their similarities stop there.

Read on to determine whether a condo vs. a house is right for you.

What’s the difference between a house and a condo?

The biggest thing houses and condos have in common is that they are owned by individuals. However, nearly everything else about them is different. Houses (often called single-family homes) come in many shapes and sizes, from multi-story homes to single-story, ranch houses. Condos are single units within a larger building, so you can have neighbors above, below and next to you. Owners of single-family homes purchase the home structure and the land it sits on, while condo owners own the unit they live in and not the larger building or the land on which it’s built.

Things to consider

  • Cost: The cost of owning a house vs. a condo can be dramatically different, depending on your neck of the woods (or city). For instance, a condo in New York City can cost substantially more than a single-family McMansion in Boise, Idaho. Generally, though, a condo is likely to be less expensive than a house in many markets across the country.
  • Insurance: Homeowners insurance is typically less expensive for condo owners because they’re responsible only for the “walls in” of their unit, while the homeowners association (HOA) is responsible to secure insurance for exterior elements like siding and roofing. Owners of single-family homes must insure their entire structure, from the foundation to the roof, as well as any detached buildings (like a garage or shed).
  • Maintenance: In a condo building the HOA is responsible for exterior maintenance, while the condo owner must handle things inside their unit like HVAC maintenance, pest control and appliances. A house owner is responsible for all that and more, including yard care and exterior maintenance. See these top tips for avoiding pricey home repairs.
  • Amenities: In a condo community, the cost of amenities like a pool, gym or business center is shared among all the residents, making them more affordable for each individual. However, the owner of a house is solely responsible for the cost of installing similar perks on their property.
  • Location: Condos tend to spring up in densely populated city areas, so owners can be within walking distance to local restaurants, shops and cultural attractions. Houses, on the other hand, sit on their own pieces of land, so they tend to be in less densely populated areas.
  • HOA rules: When considering a condo vs. house, it’s important to decide whether you want to abide by HOA rules. Most condo communities will come with a governing HOA that can dictate things like what kinds of pets residents can have, where they can park and whether they can sublet their units. While some single-family home neighborhoods have HOAs, they are typically less restrictive and allow for greater autonomy among homeowners.

Who is a condo best for?

Purchasing a condo can be great for a first-time homebuyer looking to make the transition from renting to owning or for previous homeowners who want to downsize, since much of the maintenance is taken care of by the HOA. A condo can also be a smart buy for someone who travels frequently or who wants to be right in the middle of a coveted part of town where single-family homes would be out of their budget. Condos also are a good choice for owners who want amenities like an on-site pool or gym but can’t afford to install or maintain them.

Who is a house best for?

A single-family house typically comes with a lot more space, so it’s an ideal choice for growing families or those who want complete control over structural and aesthetic decisions about their home. If you value privacy and don’t want to share common spaces with other residents, a single-family house is the way to go. However, you must be prepared to handle — physically and financially — all of the interior and exterior maintenance and repairs.

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