(Courtesy Maurie Backman) What is a townhouse? A townhouse, or row house, is a multistory home that shares at least one wall with an adjacent property. With a townhouse, you have your own entrance and possibly even your own basement, driveway, garage, and backyard. And that home will generally be part of a homeowners association, or HOA. Benefits of buying a townhouse In some cases, a townhouse can be a smart choice and investment. Here are some of the things you'll benefit from: 1. A lower purchase price 2. Easier maintenance 3. Common area amenities 4. A sense of community. 5. A lower purchase price Buying a townhouse isn't always cheaper than buying a detached home. But if you're comparing a detached house and a townhouse in the same neighborhood with roughly the same interior and updates, then you'll generally spend less to buy the townhouse. The reason? It's cheaper to construct properties that share walls than it is to build them separately, and so that savings is passed on to you. If you don't have a huge home ownership budget, then a townhouse could be a nice, affordable choice. And if you're looking to invest in an income property, it's a good way to purchase a second home without having to come up with as large a down payment. Easier maintenance When you buy a detached single-family house, you're responsible for a world of exterior maintenance. You need to maintain your property's lawn, arrange for snow removal (or shovel yourself), and do the many other things owners of detached homes do. When you buy a townhouse, you generally only need to maintain your home's interior because your HOA will often take care of exterior upkeep. And if you're a first-time homebuyer, a townhouse may be a solid stepping stone if you're unsure how much upkeep you have patience for. Common area amenities Many townhouse communities offer common area amenities that could enhance your quality of life. As part of your HOA fee, you may be entitled to perks like a playground, swimming pool, gym, tennis court, or clubhouse, where you can entertain guests. A sense of community Townhouses, by nature, are close together, which means you may have an easier time getting to know your neighbors. That's a good thing if you're the social type who enjoys interacting with others. Benefits of renting a townhouse If you're looking to rent a home rather than buy one to live in, a townhouse is worth considering as well for these reasons: 1. Lower rent 2. Extra amenities 3. A community feel 4. Lower rent Because townhouses tend to be cheaper to buy than detached homes, owners who choose to rent them out will typically charge less rent. That could translate into serious savings for you. Renting a townhouse could be a good solution if you have a family and need more space than an apartment allows for. And if you want an affordable home with outdoor space, a townhouse could provide that. Extra amenities When you rent a detached house, you may get access to a front lawn and backyard, and maybe a pool -- but that's generally about it. With a townhouse, you may get access to a playground for your kids, a gym to work out in, and other such perks. A community feel If you're new to the area or are still feeling it out, a townhouse could help you better get to know some of the people who live in your neighborhood. And if you enjoy being social with neighbors, the fact that you all share the same common areas will help in this regard. Drawbacks of buying a townhouse There is lots to be gained by buying a townhome as opposed to opting for a detached home. But here are some of the downsides to consider: 1. Less space. 2. Less privacy. 3. More noise. 4. Expensive HOA fees 5. Less space Townhouses tend to be more compact than detached houses. That could, in some cases, translate into less living space. Storage can also be an issue with townhouses. Many don't come with garages or basements, and if you have children, you may find that you're too cramped for comfort. Less privacy When you own a detached house, you can generally come and go as you please without seeing your neighbors all the time. With a townhouse, you and your neighbors are virtually living on top of one another, and so maintaining some degree of privacy could prove challenging.
When you own a townhouse, you're guaranteed to have another home attached to yours on at least one side. And in many cases, you'll have homes attached on both sides. Sharing those walls with your neighbors means potentially listening to their arguments, hearing their music or TV blasting when you're trying to relax quietly with a book, or being woken up at night to the sound of a screaming child. Expensive HOA fees In some cases, the monthly maintenance fees you'll pay to live in your townhouse can be quite costly, thereby making your home less affordable. One reason many people buy townhouses is to save money. But if your HOA fees cancel that out, you'll negate that savings. Another thing: While you will benefit from common area maintenance by paying those fees, they won't cover home maintenance for your interior. You'll still need to put in the time and spend the money to keep your townhome in good shape. Drawbacks of renting a townhouse Though renting a townhouse, as opposed to a detached house, is a good way to lower your housing costs, there are a few negatives to consider: The same space issues associated with townhouses exist whether you buy or rent one. If you're looking for a larger home (as opposed to an apartment) to rent because you have a family, a townhouse may not suit your needs as well as a detached house could. And if your goal in not renting an apartment is to snag some private outdoor space, like a backyard, a townhouse may not provide it. Less privacy If you're renting a townhouse for a limited period of time, you may not care about getting to know your neighbors. In fact, your goal may be to pay a relatively low amount of rent for a year so you can save up and buy a place of your own. But if you're not interested in socializing with the people who live around you, then moving into a townhouse could make for a somewhat frustrating experience. Extra noise Many renters choose not to live in an apartment building due to the noise factor. If that sounds like you, then a townhouse may not be a great solution. Although you won't have to worry about your upstairs neighbor stomping on your head late at night, you'll still be sharing walls with the people who live around you. Is a townhouse right for you? Clearly there are pros and cons to buying or living in a townhouse. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that if you have your heart set on a neighborhood that's a bit outside your financial reach, a townhouse could be a way for you to get in the door, so to speak, especially if you're looking to own. Buying a townhouse could also end up being a smart move if you don't care about having tons of private outdoor space and want to keep your maintenance to a minimum. If you're not sure whether a townhouse is a good investment, talk to a local real estate agent and ask how buyers have fared in recent years. Some townhome communities are quite desirable because of their location or amenities, so you'll need to get the scoop from someone who knows the area well before you make your decision.
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