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Condo vs. townhouse: Which is best for you?

Side-by-side of a condo vs. a townhouse
Konstantin L/Volodymyr Kyrylyuk/Adobe Stock

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Once you’ve narrowed your home options to a community property — one with a homeowners association and communal amenities — you’ll still need to decide on a condo vs. townhouse. While there are some similarities, each option has distinct benefits and differences.

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

Condos, short for condominiums, are units within a larger community. These homes are typically on one level. Because condos tend to have more residents per building than townhouse communities, they sometimes have amenities including a pool, clubhouse, library, gym or even special services like a concierge or dry cleaning delivery.

On the other hand, townhouses are individual homes with multiple levels built side-by-side, sharing exterior walls with neighbors. These “row houses” tend to have more square footage and more spacious floor plans than condos and may have attached private garages. A townhouse community can give homeowners a hybrid experience of living in their own house while having some of the perks of community membership.

When it comes to owning a condo or a townhouse, there are nuances. While both a condo and townhouse can have a homeowners association, some condo associations might impose stricter rules, such as less freedom over landscaping or interior renovations. Townhouses offer a bit more flexibility in terms of how you can decorate, as well as possibly how your house looks.

Overall, living in a townhouse is more akin to being a homeowner. A condo owner only has possession over the inside of the unit, while a townhouse owner has ownership over the interior, exterior and even the land the house sits on.

What to consider

  • Cost: Since condos tend to be smaller than townhouses, they might be less expensive depending on the market. However, condos generally have higher monthly HOA dues because of more robust amenities, while townhouses often have lower HOA fees.
  • Insurance: Your homeowners insurance could look a little different depending on whether you buy a condo or townhouse. Condo insurance generally covers just the interior of your unit, while the insurance on your townhome might cover the inside and outside, which can potentially make it costlier.
  • Maintenance: Typically, condos require the least amount of maintenance of all housing types. Townhouse owners have to maintain the home’s exterior (the roof and siding), outdoor living spaces and usually a small yard. While the maintenance isn’t as involved as it is with a single-family home, it’s certainly more extensive than a condo unit. Be sure to budget and plan accordingly for the extra upkeep.
  • Amenities: Think about what amenities are most important to you — like security services or a pool, gym or dog park — and compare what the various communities in your area offer.
  • Location: Location is an important factor to consider when buying any home. Condos — particularly high-rise condos — are often more centrally-located, while townhouse neighborhoods tend to be located on more land, so they could be less convenient to walkable spots (restaurants, stores and businesses) within a city.
  • HOA rules: As a general rule of thumb, condos tend to have more specific — some might say restrictive — rules for residents. These can include days and times when trash can be left out, rules about exterior decorations and what items residents are allowed to store on their patios. While townhouse neighborhoods still have rules, such communities typically allow more freedom to townhouse vs. condo owners. Be sure to review your desired community’s rules in detail before purchasing.

Who is a condo best for?

In the townhouse vs. condo debate, condos are ideal for buyers who don’t mind living with other residents on the floors above, below and next to them. Condos are also a smart buy for anyone who values having all of their living space on one floor — this could be an older buyer who anticipates having challenges with stairs, for example. Because condo buildings typically have a smaller footprint for more individual dwellings (think of a high-rise structure full of units), they also tend to be in the midst of bustling areas of town with lots of shops, restaurants and businesses nearby.

Condo pros

  • Affordability – The lower price point of a condo can be enticing to first-time homebuyers or those looking to downsize.
  • Centrally-located – Many condo communities are located near city centers, sometimes within walking distance to amenities.
  • Low maintenance – Even though you own your condo, you won’t have to maintain the property or common areas outside of it — that’s the condo association’s job.

Condo cons

  • Close to neighbors – Depending on the condo community, there’s a strong possibility you’ll live close to other residents. If you’re someone who values privacy or quiet, a condo might not be the best fit for you.
  • Monthly dues – As a condo owner, you’re responsible for paying HOA fees, which can cover everything from maintenance to security to trash removal.
  • Restrictions – With a condo, you only own the unit itself, and you generally have to adhere to the association’s rules, which can dictate how you can renovate the interior or decorate the exterior.

Who is a townhouse best for?

If you’re considering a single-family home or a community property, a townhouse is a nice middle ground because you’ll enjoy many single-family home perks along with the benefits of community living. A townhouse is best for homebuyers looking for more space than a condo and multiple floors (can be ideal for families who prefer bedrooms situated away from living spaces). Some townhouses might also come with a small yard or garden, and even an attached garage.

Townhouse pros

  • More space – Compared to a condo, townhomes can have more space, including more than one floor, a yard or garage.
  • Similarities to a single-family home – If you like the idea of a single-family home but also the community aspects of owning a condo, a townhouse can offer the best of both.

Townhouse cons

  • Extra maintenance – You’ll have more maintenance to do with a townhome than a condo, since you own and oversee more property overall.
  • Farther from city center– Because townhouses have more space, they could be farther out from the action compared to a condo.
  • Lack of privacy – Townhouses are still attached units like condos, so there could be privacy concerns with this type of home, too.

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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