Townhouses have been around for centuries, but they’ve experienced a resurgence in recent years, comprising 13 percent of new construction of single-family homes. They’re poised to remain in favor, as today’s buyers look for low-maintenance homes in walkable neighborhoods.
What is a townhouse?
Townhouses are multi-floor homes that share one to two walls with adjacent properties but have their own entrances. In the suburbs, townhouses are often uniform homes built in a distinct community that may have its own homeowners’ association.
Newer urban townhouses may also have a uniform look and an association, but older townhouses in cities tend to be more traditional rowhomes that can stretch for city blocks with less-restrictive or no HOAs.
Townhouse vs. condo vs. apartment – what’s the difference?
Though there’s some overlap among these housing types, condos are generally units in larger buildings with multiple floors and multiple units on each floor. They are individually owned but may be rented to tenants. Apartments are strictly commercial rental units owned by a corporation and everyone in the complex rents.
However, townhouses are often rented to tenants as well by the owners of the unit, depending on the restrictions of the community.
What are the pros and cons of buying a townhouse?
- Cost: Because you’re sharing the walls and the footprint is smaller, townhouses are typically less expensive than single-family homes in the same area even if they have a similar square footage. “You can get a lot of space close to the cities, when you’re only paying for the inside of the house and not the acreage of the yard of a single-family home,” says Ben Hoefer, a broker with John L. Scott Real Estate in Seattle. “It can be a cost-effective way to get more of what you want.”
- Maintenance: The smaller size of a townhouse means that they require less maintenance. If there’s an HOA, it may take care of the exterior maintenance on the property.
- Amenities: Townhouses built as part of a development may include amenities such as a pool or clubhouse.
- Outdoor space: Townhouses often come with access to a small amount of outdoor space or a patio and possibly a private garage.
- HOA: Some people don’t like to live with the restrictions put in place by an HOA.
- Noise pollution: Since you’re in close proximity to your neighbors, you may have to deal with more noise and traffic than you would in a single-family home.
- Multi-floor living: Multi-floor living may not be sustainable for everyone. “They are usually pretty vertical,” says Paul Gorney, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Chicago. “It can be an issue for some older homeowners.”
7 tips for buying a townhouse in 2019:
1. Consider your budget
As with any home purchase, you’ll need to ensure that you can comfortably afford a townhouse before you start shopping for one. Make sure your budget includes not only the cost of the property itself but also your HOA payments, if applicable.
2. Make a must-have list for the community
You probably already know what you want from the house, in terms of bedroom size, layout and other factors. With a townhouse, it’s important to also consider what you’d like in the community, such as a community pool, a less restrictive HOA, or a security gate at the entrance.
3. Perk up your ears
Shared walls means it may be possible to hear what’s happening in your neighbor’s house—and vice versa. When you’re checking out houses, listen carefully to see how much sound travels from next door. (If you’re able to purchase an end unit, you’ll only have to worry about half the noise.)
4. Check out the common areas
If you’re planning to use the community gym or a game room, view them before you make the purchase so that you know what to expect.
5. Talk to your future neighbors
It’s always a good idea to talk to potential neighbors when you’re considering buying a home. It’s particularly important when buying a townhouse, since you’ll be in closer proximity to them. Ask them what the vibe of the community is like, and if there are any HOA issues that you should know about.
6. Read the HOA rules
Homeowners associations may restrict everything from the color you paint your door to whether you’re allowed to park in your own driveway (as opposed to your garage). “Some people want more restrictions and a more uniform look throughout the community,” Hoefer says. “Some people want more freedom. The good news is that there are lots of options from different HOAs, so you can find the right one for you.” Make sure you’re comfortable with the HOA rules—and the financial commitment—before you go ahead with a purchase in any community.
7. Think long-term
While a townhouse may make sense for you now, multi-floor living may not work for everyone and at all stages of life. If you’re planning to expand your family or are worried about your ability to traverse steps in the future, you should have a plan for whether you’ll be able to stay in the property.
Who is townhouse living is best for?
Many types of homeowners can benefit from townhouses, but they’re a particularly good option or first-time homebuyers or other budget-minded home buyers who want more space than typically afforded in a condo.