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Townhouses: The Ultimate Guide to Housing Types 101

When it comes to townhouses, style is everything.


With their tall, narrow profiles, these urban homes have a distinctive personality that can be spotted by townhouse aficionados blocks away.


But what exactly is a townhouse, and how do you know if it’s the right fit for you?


townhouse

What is a townhouse?


A townhouse is a housing unit with two or more stories. It's typically tall and narrow, and it usually shares at least one exterior wall with one or two similar homes next door.


Townhouses are sometimes built in rows. When they are built this way and share external characteristics with neighboring homes, they may be called "rowhouses" as well as townhouses or townhomes. A rowhouse that's at the end of a row and attached on only one side is still called a rowhouse.


Pros and cons of townhouses


Like other housing types, townhouses come with advantages and disadvantages.


Pros


  • Fewer exterior walls. Because townhouses share walls with other units, they have fewer exterior walls than standalone houses. A townhouse can be less vulnerable to wind, rain, and toppled trees — and the extensive (and expensive) damage those conditions can cause.

  • Flexible space. With two or more stories, a townhouse can be configured for separate living areas. For example, a children's playroom on one floor might be isolated from a home office or a family member's living quarters on another floor.

  • Less noise than with some home types. With no separate housing unit above the ceiling or beneath the floor, townhouses may have less noise from neighbors than buildings with stacked dwelling units.

  • Less yardwork. Because of their architectural design, townhouses typically have less outdoor space per home. For owners, that means a smaller yard to mow, fewer trees to trim, and less outdoor maintenance overall.


Cons


  • Interior stairs. With two or more stories, townhouses typically have a lot of interior stairs. Walking up and down these staircases on a daily basis may be difficult for people who have mobility issues. You might be able to find a townhouse with a private elevator or add one to the home after buying.

  • More noise than with some types of homes. Since townhouses typically share one or two full walls with a separate dwelling unit, certain sounds from neighbors' homes may be more noticeable than they would be in a detached home. There's a reason why shared walls are sometimes called "party walls."


Townhouse, condo, co-op, or duplex: Which is which?


Townhouses are often confused with condos, co-ops, and duplexes. This confusion isn't surprising since these terms are often not well-defined. The differences matter, so let's take a quick look at these three other types of homes.


Condo vs. townhouse

A condo is a housing unit that's part of a larger structure comprising multiple units and common areas, such as lobbies, elevators, staircases, or walkways. Condo owners each own an individual unit and an interest in the common areas. With a townhouse, you own your individual house and property.


townhouse

Co-op vs. townhouse


Like a condo, a co-op consists of a number of housing units and common areas and has multiple owners. There, the similarity ends.


Rather than buying individual units, co-op owners purchase shares in a corporation. These shares give each owner an exclusive right to occupy a specific unit. The land, buildings, and common areas are owned exclusively by the collective.


Comparing a townhouse to a condo or a co-op isn't an apples-to-apples comparison. A townhouse is an architectural style. Condos and co-ops are ownership structures. A townhouse could be a condo or a unit in a co-op and still be a townhouse.


Duplex vs. townhouse


A duplex is a building consisting of two separate single-story housing units that are stacked or attached side-by-side. A duplex may look like two condos, but with a duplex, both units make up one property that has one owner. The owner may live in one of the units and rent the other to a tenant or live elsewhere and rent both of the units to tenants. Like duplexes, townhouses share walls with other units, but there aren’t many similarities otherwise.


Financing a townhouse purchase


Because a townhouse is an architectural style and not a form of ownership, financing for this type of home may not differ in any material way from getting a mortgage for a detached house.


Some townhouses are also condos or co-ops. If that's the case, the financing requirements for that type of home would also apply to the townhouse. If you're not sure about a townhouse's ownership structure, ask for details before you make an offer to buy it.


If you appreciate the special architectural style of a townhouse, this type of home might be a good fit for you.

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