What is a townhouse? It seems simple, however many people still get it wrong.
The origins of the word “townhouse” go back to early England, where the term referred to a dwelling a family (royalty) kept “in town” (meaning London) when their primary residence was in the country. Now the word is used to describe a wide array of primary residences all over the world.
In the U.S., townhouses are defined as single-family dwellings with at least two floors that share a wall with another house. However, each townhouse is individually owned (unlike duplexes or fourplexes). They differ from “row houses” in the way they are arranged. As you can guess by the name, row houses are lined up all in a row, while townhouses are often configured differently.
The Census Bureau classifies them all as attached houses.
The difference between townhouses and condos is a bit murkier, and depends on the form of ownership, because some townhouses are sold as condos. If you purchase a townhouse as a condo, you will own just the inside of the building. If you purchase it as a townhouse, then you may own the property outside as well, though it may be subject to the rules of a homeowners association.
Where to find townhouses
Townhouses are most common in areas where land is in short supply and property prices are high. Makes sense: since townhouses share walls with neighbors, they make the most of the space they have, which makes them a deal compared to single family homes.
“There are parts of the county where you don’t see townhouses all—typically where land is openly available,” said Robert Palmer, a financial expert and host of the Saving Thousands Radio Show. “Where you really see town houses being utilized is in areas of transition—areas where you see an urban-to-suburban transfer, before you really get into the sprawling land of the suburbs. But you’re not necessarily downtown, where you tend to see more condos.”
Benefits of townhouse living
One benefit of owning a townhouse over a condo is that once you fully own the property, you’re able to make important decisions about upgrades to and the upkeep of your home.
“If you’re in a condo, there are often stiff regulations about these decisions, and you’re stuck being a part of the bigger group—you can’t make any real decisions about the exterior of your unit when it comes to replacements, upgrades, and maintenance,” Palmer says.
Townhouses, in contrast, give you a freer hand—without the high costs of maintaining a single-family home. “With a single-family home, you’re completely alone, and all maintenance responsibilities rest on your shoulders,” says Palmer. In a way, a townhouse can offer the best of both worlds, he says: “I believe townhouses fill the gap, where you get some cost savings and benefits of being part of the bigger community and having that attached-type of housing, but you’re not limited, as you would be being part of a condo association.”