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Condo vs. house: Which is best for you?

A side-by-side comparison of a condo and a house.
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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, the 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 factor 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 just the unit they live in, not the larger building or the land on which it’s built.

What 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 — but, you’ll need to account for homeowners association dues, known as HOA fees.
  • Insurance: Homeowners insurance is typically less expensive for condo owners because they’re responsible only for the “walls in” of their unit, while the 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 community, the HOA is responsible for exterior maintenance, while condo owners must maintain areas inside their unit like the HVAC, pest control and appliances. A house owner is responsible for all that and more, including yard care and exterior maintenance. (Here are 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 be located 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 can be in less dense 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 have a governing HOA that can dictate what kinds of pets residents can have, where they can park and whether they can sublet their units, for example. While some single-family home neighborhoods have HOAs, they are typically less restrictive and allow for greater autonomy among homeowners.
  • Selling: In general, it can be easier to sell a house than a condo. Before you sell your condo, you’ll need to check with your HOA to make sure you comply with any rules, including being current on your dues. The HOA might also screen prospective buyers, which can limit your offers.

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.

Condo pros

  • Affordability – Condos are typically less expensive than a house, so they can be ideal for first-time homebuyers with limited down payment savings or retirees wanting to scale back.
  • Less maintenance – If you own a house, all of the maintenance of the property falls on you. If you don’t want to worry about maintenance as much, a condo might be a better fit.
  • More perks – Unlike a house, many condo communities come with amenities like a pool or security. If you want these for your house, you’ll have to install them yourself.

Condo cons

  • Fees – Condo associations charge a monthly fee to cover upkeep and other expenses. Many houses, by comparison, aren’t part of associations and don’t have fees.
  • Less privacy – Since you’re sharing walls with neighbors, you won’t have as much as privacy or quiet as you might be able to get with a house.
  • Rules – You might not have as much freedom to decorate or customize your condo, depending on your HOA’s rules.

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.

House pros

  • Can customize – If you own a house and it’s not in an association, you can do pretty much whatever you want to it, provided it adheres to your local jurisdiction’s ordinances.
  • Privacy and space – With a house, you might be farther away from your neighbors, so you won’t have to worry about excess noise or privacy issues.
  • Easier to sell – You won’t have to get the approval of an HOA to sell your house, so there’s one less barrier when it comes time to sell.

House cons

  • Can be pricey – Depending on its location, size and many other factors, a house can be much more expensive than a condo or other type of property.
  • Maintenance is your responsibility – Unlike a condo, with a house, you’re tasked with maintaining the property, both indoors and out. This can add to your costs.
  • Lack of built-in community – Compared to the shared spaces of a condo, it can feel a bit more isolating in a house. You might not run into neighbors as frequently, which can be a downside if you value social opportunities.

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Written by
Jennifer Bradley Franklin
Contributing writer
Jennifer Bradley Franklin is a multi-platform journalist and author, often covering finance, real estate and more.
Edited by
Mortgage editor