Is a Townhouse a good idea for a family with children?

Asked by Jumauslo, Portland, OR Thu Mar 11, 2010

We plan on buying in NW Portland, OR..preferably zip 97229. We might buy a house, but are selling our current home and just breaking will only have a 5% down payment. Our price range is $250-$350K. We just don't have any experience with townhouses and wonder if neighbors can be heard through the walls or if we would have to worry about making too much noise. Thanks for any advice.

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Farahv, , 97229
Thu Mar 11, 2010
Each complex will be built differently. They should have some stats on what type of construction was used when building the town homes. It will be easier to come by this information the newer the homes are. They will show if its double framed and what grade insulation as well as if it’s closed off before dry walled. I would say that town homes are okay for children and its what you make of it.

I have had clients actually bring radios, put them in the next unit and come back over to see if they could hear it! If the neighbors occupied, spend some time in the home during hours that people are most likely home (after 6pm). Talk with neighbors and ask what they hear.

For your price range in Bethany I would purchase a home if you can. Your price range is high enough that you should be able to. Perhaps the detached homes are not the high quality and size you are looking for? Forest Heights is an area that used to sell for the millions and recently has had sails as low as 350K for 3,000+ sq foot homes! You have to find the deals. You don’t have to go short sale you can find foreclosures that will close much faster. Remember this is your choice. It’s what your comfortable with not just what is a better investment. You and your family will be living in the home. There is most likely a reason you are leaning toward the town homes.

Farah de Verteuil
Principal Broker
John L Scott Market Center
(503) 336-5403
0 votes
Don Tepper, Agent, Burke, VA
Thu Mar 11, 2010
I defer to all the agents here who are speaking directly to the housing situation in and around Portland, the relative pricing points for single family homes versus townhouses, and so on.

However, let's clear up some misconceptions:

At least three answers warned about the drawbacks of condos. So what? Not all townhouses are condos. A "condominium" is a form of legal ownership, and can apply to multiple units in one building (like an apartment building), to townhouses, and even to single-family homes. A townhouse describes a type of structure--usually a multi-level property with 1 or two shared walls. Condos and townhouses are NOT the same. (In fact, many of the townhouse complexes around where I live are not condos. They do have a homeowner's association, but that is very different from a condominium.) So: Don't be scared off by condo concerns when you might not even be buying a condo.

One piece of advice below seems to be confusing HOA fees with condo fees. ("Homeowners Association Fees are much higher in Condominium complexes due to the "Common Areas.") They're two different things. Further, the logic doesn't hold. There are likely to be common areas, to one degree or another, in any complex. More elaborate ones will have more green space (that needs to be maintained), maybe a pool, maybe a club house, maybe gated security, maybe snow removal, and so on. That all will be paid for, one way or another. There's nothing about a condo that makes the swimming pool more expensive to maintain than in a non-condo development. You think the utility company charges more for a gallon of water if the condo is using it? I don't think so. Bottom line: The more amenities you receive, the more you're likely to pay, regardless of ownership type.

Very good advice below from Steve. Sound transmission depends in large part on construction--and that depends, in part, on what the building code requires. His advice about an end-unit townhouse is excellent. But even with an interior townhouse, the noise transmission will be less than in an apartment--not just better sound control horizontally, but no concerns about annoying your neighbors (or visa versa) above or below you.

As for being best suited as starter homes or for downsizing, maybe that's a regional thing. That's certainly not the case in many areas of the country. I know plenty of townhouse developments in the Washington area where people have lived for 15-20 years or more, raising families, sending kids off to college. It also depends on the size of the townhouse. A close relative of mine owns one in Northern Virginia. Upstairs, it has 3 bedrooms and 2 full baths. On the main level, it has a good-sized kitchen, dining room, and living room. Downstairs, it has a large rec room, an extra room that's being used as a home office, and the laundry facilities. There's also storage space both in the basement and tucked under stairways. It's an end unit, so it has windows and yard on 3 sides. It has over 2,000 square feet of liveable space. That sort of property is big enough for plenty of families. Not everyone needs a McMansion.

So, don't be scared off by the concerns you listed, or by some of those below.

Instead, take a look at both townhouses and single-family homes. See what you can buy for the money. Also, get a feel for the neighborhood. (Sure, there are townhouse complexes I wouldn't want to live in. But plenty of others that would be fine.) And talk to the residents. Ask how they like living there--what the good points and bad points are. That's really the best way to decide.

Hope that helps.
2 votes
Dan Chase, Home Buyer, Texas City, TX
Thu Mar 11, 2010
You can hear the kids playing in their room. You would hear the neighbors also. Never expect a thin wall likely with no insulation to block noise. It will not work well.
1 vote
Dallas Texas, Agent, Dallas, TN
Thu Mar 11, 2010
Multi family dwellings you always need to be concerned with "shared space". It can either be a pleasant experience or a nightmare.

SUGGESTION: Search for a lease purchase, move in for year if like property then purchase.

Lynn911 Dallas Realtor
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1 vote
Steve Ticknor…, Agent, Lake Havasu City, AZ
Thu Mar 11, 2010
A townhouse can be a great home for families with children! Noise from the neighbors is part of the risk you take when living in a townhome, condo, or other attached home. However, many of the homes in our area that have been built within the last 10 years or so have "double wall" construction. That means there is a small gap in between the walls of neighboring units to help prevent noise going through the walls. Another option is to look for an "end unit" townhouse that is on the end of the building and only has a neighbor on one side. I have sold many townhomes to my clients (and relatives) over the years and have never had one complain about noise from the neighbors!

Townhouses can be a great alternative to a single family home because you can typically get more home for the money. There are also townhomes that have back yards or that are right next to a park so the kids have places to play. I help a lot of families buy and sell homes in NW Portland, so if I can be of any assistance to you please let me know!
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1 vote
Kimberly Kin…, , Clackamas, OR
Wed Mar 24, 2010
It really depends on your lifestyle. How many kid's and are they younger or older?

If you know your kid's are louder than most and you would stress over the possibility of neighbor's hearing you then I would reccomend a detached unit. When you share wall's you will be able to hear your neighbors to some extent.

I have kid's and I understand how loud kid's can be when they are playing! I wouldn't want you to be stressed out in your own home over noise.
0 votes
Jumauslo, Both Buyer And Seller, Portland, OR
Mon Mar 15, 2010
After reading all of your answers regarding townhouses and single-family homes, we've decided we will most likely look for a detached single-family house. We browsed Trulia for some homes in our price range and preferred location, and found a few we really liked. They are a bit older, but location is more important to us than condition.

Thank you for all the great answers and advice!
0 votes
Dan Chase, Home Buyer, Texas City, TX
Mon Mar 15, 2010
You have gotten several good replies below. Are you thinking more or less favorably about buying a town house?
0 votes
Heather Wrig…, Agent, The Dalles, OR
Mon Mar 15, 2010

When buying a townhouse you are sharing walls. Some noises will be heard through the walls. Its like living an apartment. However, if you find an end unit, it is likely to be less noise. Also remember with townhouses, they often have HOA fee associated with the community. The HOA typically will cover common areas and parks if the development has a park. In your price point of 250k-350k you should be able to find a single family home where noise wouldn't be an issue. I wish you the best of luck!

Heather Mertz-Wright
Real Estate Broker
Coldwell Banker
0 votes
gabriel palo…, Agent, Pompano Beach, FL
Fri Mar 12, 2010
I have commented earlier on this topic. It is important that I answer from personal experience.
Raising my daughter in a townhouse environment proved to be advantageous for a number of reasons.
Like most people I choose at first the single family home. Both my wife and I worked full time. After school the bus dropped off my than 6 year old daughter who spent time in the house alone.
I was more secure in the townhouse environment and found more young people my age, with our circumstance more needy and neighborly. Not everyone is able to afford the luxury of a house and the expenses of upkeep when they are starting out. I have learned from that lesson The savings are considerable and a tradeoff for some discomfort if one considers living close to your neighbor and the noise of children playing. I welcomed it for my daughter was one of them. The comfort of spending time and going to the community pool and socializing with friends and neighbors instead working the yard was another feature that was a great trade off. for me personally.
What I am trying to say is that there are lot of people that own townhouses and are happy. I suggest and avoid negative comments or judge their choice. There are many well built Town Homes available,You just need to work with a reputable developer. We all must start somewhere and in time we have the luxury to pay more and get more when we can afford it. After all not everyone drives a Mercedes ,... in time they may, if they want it badly enough.
0 votes
Brad Fix, Agent, Yacolt, WA
Fri Mar 12, 2010
Hi Jumauslo it depends on the way the town home was constructed as to noise levels look for one that is attatched at the garage. town homes are usually on smaller lots so less room for kids to play so look for area where there are parks or developments with play areas . you have to weigh the positives and negatives when looking at any home . try not to limit your search to only one area or zip code. is a great web site set up a property tracker account and let the computer look for you and keep you up to date on what is happening in the area you are selling and buying good luck and give me a call if you need more info Brad Fix
0 votes
James Adair, , Portland, OR
Thu Mar 11, 2010
In that price range I would highly recommend trying to get into a detached house. A townhouse wouldn't be horrible, but I would also recommend avoiding condo's completely- the financing complications are only getting worse, and I think the re-sale on a condo in Bethany would likely have poor performance compared to detached.

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The Stephen…, Agent, Portland, OR
Thu Mar 11, 2010

Not sure if anyone answered your question. Yes, children can be heard through town-home walls that are built to code. I know this from client experience and relative experience. If the town-home is "built to code" and most are then you will hear children clearly. If the town-home has additional insulation or extra thick walls over and beyond code, it is possible you wouldn't hear a thing. In any case, I would recommend an end unit to lessen your chances of complaint.
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Tom Inglesby, Agent, Portland, OR
Thu Mar 11, 2010
Buy a house at the price you are in. If you go just a few miles away into Hillsboro there is an over supply of town homes built in the past 5 years. Your best buy is always a house. With kids a lack of play space depending on age and extra space in your home for their activites and friends will be a problem because most townhomes are under 1800 sq ft. There are great deals out there with sellers forced to sell that have bought in the past 4 years. You get the $6500 tax credit if you lived in your last house for 5 of the last 8 years. With rates down you might even be better off with a lower rate than you had on your last house. Good Luck to you and your family in finding that dream home.

Tom Inglesby, Broker
RE/MAX Equity Group inc
ABR,CRS,CDPE, Earth Advantage Broker
0 votes
Dianne Hicks, Agent, Rancho Bernardo, CA
Thu Mar 11, 2010
You can always go ask so of the people in the townhomes and ask them how they like it there? You will be surprised at how nice and friendly they will be and give you the pros and cons. Of course as everyone else said you have to be careful, they have become very difficult for resale if they fall under the FHA strict guidelines. Some are PUD, which are sold the same as single family homes. You own the land, building and air space.... others you don't.

Get some facts and do your reseach for the area you are looking. Look at how long they have taken to resale and look at the resales facts from 5 years ago and now so you have a clear picture.

Good Luck!!!
0 votes
Stacie Hartm…, , Portland, OR
Thu Mar 11, 2010
As a loan officer my caution with a town home would be that it is increasingly more difficult to find financing with a low down payment on condos. Often what looks like a town home is actually classified as a condo and can make a tremendous difference in your financing options. I would definitely recommend that as you look you work closely with your mortgage professional to ensure that you know that the property is going to work not only for your family but also your financing.

Happy house hunting and please let me know if I can be of any help!
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gabriel palo…, Agent, Pompano Beach, FL
Thu Mar 11, 2010
Townhouses, also sometimes called row houses, can be built as single or multi-storied structures. They can be attached to other houses with one or both sides sharing common walls, depending on whether the unit is in a center or end position. Townhouses can be grouped together as small units, such as duplexes or triplexes, or they can be a part of a huge townhouse complex. If your townhouse is located within one of the larger complexes, you may be required to pay fees for the upkeep of common areas, as well as taking care of your own yard.

Townhouses offer at least a little green space, most often in the form of a small backyard area and landscaped walkup that leads to the front door. Some townhouses are designed to include backyard patios or upstairs balconies to enhance the feeling of open space.

Some advantages to buying a townhouse include: less responsibility for maintenance because of reduced exterior areas; higher security with neighbors right next door; amenities such as swimming pools or tennis courts (available in larger complexes).

But not everyone is suited for the townhouse lifestyle. Compared to owning a single-family dwelling, owners will lose a degree of privacy; There are several type of town-homes Fee Simple ( Not a Condo) sharing common fee expenses / owners association i.e. community pool.
Condo Style town homes : includes maintenance of common expenses .
The choice is personal and both have their advantages. In Florida single level villas are more popular avoiding the construction of the second floor they are also described as "coach homes." units are usually separated by a garage. You may also consider community maintained family homes built on zero lot lines .
These are single family homes built on smaller lots. All these choices offer savings over the typical single family home.
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Jane Grant, Agent, Aguanga, CA
Thu Mar 11, 2010
Condominiums with attached walls can be like living in an apartment complex. There are also HOA fees to consider. Homeowners Association Fees are much higher in Condominium complexes due to the "Common Areas". If you do consider a Condominium visit the area and try to get to know your neighbors first.
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Dirk Knudsen…, Agent, Hillsboro, OR
Thu Mar 11, 2010
Hey Jumauslo;

I have been selling in 97229 for 25 years. My Brokerage in in the Bethany Mall. So I am considered a local expert.

From an investment standpoint....NEVER..NEVER...NEVER... buy a town home or condo unless you can not buy a home in the same area.

They are probably not as family friendly in terms of design and lay out. No Yard...and more density and communal living is probably not as ideal as a lower density neighborhood.

In Bethany there are small 3 BR Homes on private lots for $250K and actually some very nice homes for $300 to $350K.

I have one right now that is 2790 SF on a dead end street and on a Wildlife Greenway at $339,900.

So Buy a Home. Really.

It will appreciate better and the HOA Fees are not nearly as high.

Townhomes and Condos have their place in the market and as an affordable low maintenance option I think they are fine. But just form an investment standpoint.... buy a home if you can.

Thanks and of course if you would like to me in our offices to go over options please do not hesitate to come by. No Obligation whatsoever.

Best wishes;

Dirk Knudsen
Re/Max Metro Gold
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0 votes
Jeanne Feeni…, Agent, Basking Ridge, NJ
Thu Mar 11, 2010
Hi there - townhomes are great "starter" or "downsizing" alternatives - and the fact thay they appeal to two potential buyer groups insulate their appeal and value in most markets.

I am working with a couple that included both townhomes and single family homes in their search. In the end they decided on a townhome, largely for budget reasons (they could get a far nicer product for their money in the community of choice). They were very sensitive to the very noise issue you raise - I will suggest what we did and that is to visit the townhome at various times of day/evening. Also consider an end unit, that way you only share one wall. Townhomes generally do not have neighbors above or below which is a good start on the noise front.

Do your own research - on this and any other matters of importance. With common elements/ownership, also check on the financial stability of the community.

Good luck finding your home in time to qualify for the tax credit - a Blog comment with more information on the requirements and mechanics of the Tax Credit follows:…

Jeanne Feenick
Unwavering Commitment to Service
My Blog:
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0 votes
Scott Godzyk, Agent, Manchester, NH
Thu Mar 11, 2010
Your concerns are very justified. With good construction comes poor construction so you really need to check out the units and listen. First thing is condominium living is a way of life, it allows you to purchase more for less money. It alos adds amenties such as a pool or clubhouse in most areas. You will want to spend time in the townhouse and listen, look at it during busy times when kids are home from school, dinner time or early afternoon. As well as listening, take time to smell the roses. Sometimes cooking odors, pet odors or second hand smoke is drifting through the walls. Now there are very good buildings where you dont hear andything and very bad that you can hear their tv and know what they cooked for dinner. So just take some time and ask lots of questions. good luck with your search.
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