Home Buying in Bellevue>Question Details

Thetownhome…, Real Estate Pro in Bellevue, WA

What is the difference between a Condo and a Townhome?

Asked by Thetownhomeagent.com, Bellevue, WA Fri May 22, 2009

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I think your question is more about the different ownership models in multi-family communities. In particular, the condominium versus the Planned Unit Development (PUD).

A townhome (or townhouse, if you prefer) is more accurately described as an architectural style, usually having multiple floors--they may or may not touch ground level, and I have seen both styles of homes in the same community. While most commonly used in the rowhouse context (zero-lot line, or having at least one wall in common with a neighboring home), the term has been used to describe standalone single family dwellings. The form of legal ownership of a townhouse can vary, and can be either a condominium or a PUD, as well as the standalone "house."

The condominium form of ownership can apply to a number of structural forms (i.e. architectural styles) and is not limited to use in the residential context (office and industrial condo spaces exist). It is typically (not always) characterized by ownership rights extending only to the airspace inside the painted walls, the presence of common elements (halls, elevators) and limited common elements (private decks or balconies outside the painted walls). And while the physical structure outside the painted wall is ostensibly "owned" by the Home Owner's Association (HOA) I have also seen condo declarations that place responsibility for the maintenance of the physical structure on the individual homeowner--mostly, this has been for doors, windows and water heaters. That said, I have also seen condo declarations stating ownership to the mid-point between unit walls, but still leaving physical structure maintenance in the hands of the HOA.

PUDs and zero-lot line developments can be even varied in their community structure. They can range from nothing (typical for a two- or three-plex row of houses) to more involved with extensive CC&Rs and even a HOA to maintain entry gates, landscaping, etc.

As most commonly used in our area, the financial implications of one over the other form of ownership (condo vs PUD) are too community-specific to generalize. I have seen condo HOAs taking care of little more than utilities, insurance and minimal maintenance to over-the-top, fully-funded reserves. And I have seen PUDs range from everything the owner's responsibiilty to active HOAs pursuing re-siding projects for the entire community. When investigating communities to live in, be sure to understand these elements of ownership as well as the more visible amenities and make sure they fit your needs and desires.
2 votes Thank Flag Link Wed May 27, 2009
You can get a loan for a townhome! You cannot get a loan for a condo
1 vote Thank Flag Link Wed Jul 27, 2011
A townhome can be a condo or it can be a single family home. In Seattle it is most often a single family home and on the Eastside it is more typically a condo. Townhomes are most always at least two story and are most times attached to another dwelling, but not necessarily so.

If you put two or more homes on a single lot, whether or not you attach them to one another, they are condo-townhomes. If you subdivide the lots for each, they are single family townhomes. Generally if you attach them and subdivide the lots, they are more often called SFH townhomes. If you do not attach them, they are sometimes called "tall and skinnies" :)

The legal description "condo" vs. "single family" has nothing to do with whether there are monthly dues, it has to do with whether or not any portions (such as the land they are built on) are jointly vs. individually owned.

If you attach two dwellings on one lot as one legal entity, (vs. two) it is a duplex. If you attach more than two dwellings on a single lot as a single entity, it is Multi-family.

Townhome is not in and of itself a legal entity. The term "townhome" was coined by the real estate community to upgrade the previous term for single family attached - which was "rowhome". You still see "rowhome" from time to time for single family attached vs. condo-townhome.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Fri May 22, 2009
My reply is going to sound like an equation right out of symbolic logic. What you didn't take symbolic logic as an undergraduate? Just as well. There are condos that are townhouses and some that are more like apartments. In rare cicumstances you may even find independent homes that are organized under a condo association (not to be confused with a neighborhood association). There are also townhouses that are not condos but rather zero clearance single family homes most often sharing one or more common walls with their fellow townhouse owner. These types are townhouses are likely organized under Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs) rather than a Condo Association & its By-laws. More importantly non-condo townhouses typically don't include the monthly dues associated with condos. This can be a good or bad thing depending on whether you are cosidering short-term or long-term economics.

In the short-term you have less month-to-month expenditures particularly when it involves new construction. (I'm not going to address the fact that condo fees often include various utility and insurance expenses that account for a large percentage of the monthly payment.) But you may be taking a 'penny wise pound foolish' approach when it comes to long-term planning. Whereas a condo association is constantly collecting for a 'rainy day' fund and adjusting fees as needed, there is no such requirement for the adjacent non-condo townhouse owner or yourself for that matter. This could lead to a situation where funds are not available when it comes time to do the recommended building maintenance for shared surfaces (i.e., roofs, walls, fences). This can be especially true in hard economic times. So while townhouses can offer a bit more independence and distance from high-density living, the lifestyle doesn't come without potention risks. But then what type of property doesn't have its downside?
1 vote Thank Flag Link Fri May 22, 2009
Simplicity and convenience, the desire of today’s home buyers, for the ultimate lifestyle! To fit that perspective, most shoppers end up with a condo or townhome. But, which is better, and what is the difference?

The answer is simple: They are same in real estate terms. Yet, to a buyer the differences would entail varieties of all sorts. Condos typically come in many different genres, urban, luxury, conversion, as well as, townhomes. They all would be, of course, dependant upon personal preference and lifestyle, whether it is, you are a city slicker, a first time buyer, growing a family, or an investment guru. So after determining your basic genre, would be the next step, do you want a townhome-condo?

Townhomes usually have an attached garage and, mostly, but not always, a small patio, or fenced backyard area to be maintained by the owner. A townhome is a condo with the luxury of a single family home, yet the freedom from land and home maintenance. Townhomes typically have multiple stories and can be very large. Townhomes also are built one next to the other; so typically, you would not have anyone above or below you and the sound from the attached side is little to none. In today’s growing world, townhomes have become popular among builders because of the effective use of the land, and a green way to grow a community using fewer materials to provide equal space for living. So whether your next step would want to go green, or low maintenance, yet the single family home style, a townhome would probably be a good choice.

Now to the specifics, when looking to purchase a condo you want to make sure you do your due diligence for any community. A lot of condos now are not “new construction” and built to current condo code, rather they are simply conversion projects from existing apartments that builders make a killing on because they mostly have cosmetic upgrades, and then are sold for a huge profit. The problem with conversions is usually insulation and noise issues from unit to unit. Most people don’t realize this is an issue until they have closed, moved in and their neighbors have American Idol cranked and they can hear it as if there is no wall! Townhomes are build typically with 2” X 6” fully insulated on the wall of each home (giving you 12” between homes), and there is usually a ¼” – ½” air gap between them as well which kills a lot of the lower frequency noise. This style of construction drastically cuts back on how much noise you can hear coming from neighbors; in fact most of my sellers I work with say they hardly ever hear their neighbors. Both styles have advantages, but overall I have found people who are looking for a simplistic quality of life in their home buying decision will generally lean towards a townhome over a condo.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Fri May 22, 2009
Townhomes include the land they are sitting on, but they must also have their own water tap.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed May 2, 2012
Townhomes do not have any neighbours below or above them. Only on the side. They can be one or multiple story homes.
Condominuims have neighbours above or below them. They are part of a multiple story building.
They are both subject to Homeowner Association Dues.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Oct 19, 2011
Townhouses include the small LAND that they are sitting on.
They may or may not have an HOA.
Condos do not include the LAND underneather them.
They should, by definition, have an HOA.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Jul 27, 2011
Townhouse is an architectural style; condominium is a form of ownership.
Almost always, condominiums are created where properties overlap, such as in apartments.
Townhomes and single-family homes may be part of a homeowner's association; this does not make them condominiums.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Sep 29, 2009
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