If you are a renter looking to buy your own home, you may be wondering if a condo, a townhouse or a duplex might be the way to go. But which one do you choose and what is the difference between the three options? Generally, each choice offers you home ownership with varying levels of maintenance, responsibility, as well as personal privacy. What is right for you may depend on how much of a “house” feeling you want from your new home and perhaps how much you wish to mow your own lawn or plant a garden.
What is a Condo?
Typically, a condominium is where several owners share ownership of a building or buildings in a development. Basically each own their own respective unit, but they also own an interest in the land that the building(s) is on, the common areas of the complex such as pools, recreation areas, game rooms, community rooms, elevators, stairwells, corridors, streets, surrounding land, etc.
Depending on the size of the complex, your condo may offer space and some privacy from neighbors, or there may be only a small number of units on property, either way you will probably have neighbors nearby. If you’re concerned about noise or unpleasant neighbors, ask around about the general atmosphere of the grounds and if there are any noise or other problems that arise from a particular unit or building. When you view the unit for sale, listen for sounds from the other units. If you can hear a toilet flush in the condo above you, realize you will be hearing these sounds daily if you buy the condo.
Most times, condos have association rules you must follow and fees you will have to pay monthly. The rules can be just basic, like don’t paint your front door with polka dots and no loud noise after midnight. Or they can be more restrictive, like what types of flowers are allowed to be planted, if you may plant anything, and even where you may place your BBQ grill. Make sure you read the restrictions and can live by them.
A “condo fee” or “association fee” is usually paid each month by all the unit owners and it typically covers the cost of the exterior maintenance such as repairs, painting, lawn care, and snow removal. Typically, the association sets aside a portion of these fees collected as a contingency fund, which covers any special costs incurred as part of building upkeep, such as a new roof or repairs, to heating or plumbing equipment. Factor the condo fee into your mortgage costs and property taxes when considering this option.
Types of Condos
There are condos in buildings in the city and there are “garden style” condos, which are two to four in separate buildings. To add some confusion, there is a style of condo called a “Townhouse Condominium” is a building style that describe a condominium unit on multi-levels. This is not to be confused with an actual “townhouse”.
What is a Townhouse?
A townhouse is one of a row of attached dwellings that share common walls. Each townhouse owner owns the land beneath their townhouse and there may or may not be common areas set up by the developer. There are lot lines that separate the ground under the buildings even though the buildings are attached. Often, more maintenance is required because you own the exterior of your townhouse. You may have more privacy and more of a feel of a “separate” home, since there are no neighbors living above you, but you may also have regulations that dictate what you can do to the exterior. For example: what paint colors are allowed and if you can add a large deck to your back door.
If there is an association that maintains the grounds, maintenance fees for townhouses within a complex are usually slightly lower than condos.
What is a Duplex?
A duplex is a single house which with two units that share one common wall. It can be owner occupied with two separate owners dwelling in the two units, one unit rented to tenants or both units can be rented. Typically you own your half, including the land on your side and are responsible for your half in terms of maintenance. The two owners may share a driveway and therefore might share some of the costs of maintaining the property.
Your REALTOR® can help you define and understand which option is right for you. Ask questions and consider all the factors before you limit what you go and see.