What does the term townhome mean in your market?

Asked by Carolyn Anderson, South Bend, IN Sat Dec 25, 2010

Please clarify this. Is there a Home Owners Association? Are there monthly HOA fees? Is the owner responsible for just the home proper, and the outside is the responsibility of someone else? I am thinking about snow removal, lawn care, etc. Are their mutliple tenants in a townhome?

Thank you.

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Jack Flash, , Mount Prospect, IL
Tue Dec 28, 2010
Hi Carolyn,

I'm not sure that definition really varies by market, but I suppose it could. A townhouse can be everything from a duplex to a rowhouse. The thing that defines it is that it shares a wall with another house.

Now, let's get nice and confused. Lots of places call themselves townhomes but are really apartments. There's a row of garages in front, a common entrance, units downstairs and units upstairs. Those are apartments. The fact that they have garages makes no difference. Well, just a minute now. Since the garage is on ground level and it's owned space, I suppose that could technically make it a townhome. Does your brain hurt yet? Mine does.

A homeowner association does not make anything a townhome or condo. A subdivision of detached homes can have a homeowner association. All they are is a legal entity that may have some rights to tell you what you can or can't do with your property. They may or may not do much of anything that comes close to justifying their fees, which can be very high in some cases.

Condo is a type of ownership that typically means you don't own any of the land under or around your unit. You own a box of air that contains your unit.

The important thing to remember regarding your question is this. If it's on the ground floor, whether it has a second or third story or not, and it has a wall shared with another home, it's a townhome.

Jack Jentzen
Prudential Starck Realtors
(224) 234-5276
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Tim Moore, Agent, Kitty Hawk, NC
Sat Dec 25, 2010
Here a town home means a multilevel dwelling usually in a building with at least two units or more. There can be a HOA or it can be a condo association. The townhome will have 2 or three levels and one could be a ground floor garage with the living space on the next level and the top level.

Any HOA will vary in price depending on what the HOA pays for. If there is a clubhouse, pool, hot tubs, game rooms or a golf course you will be paying a larger HOA fee than if the development has nothing but a sign at the entrance that needs to be maintained.
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Myra Gouger, Agent, Las Vegas, NV
Sat Dec 25, 2010
Usually a townhome here is a group of attached homes in a small development of 30-40 buildings each of which may have 4-6 units. Generally there is a very high HOA (homeowners association) from approximately $150 to as high as $375 (I have seen some as high as $875, though). The HOA on most townhomes takes care of the outside which in many areas would take care of lawn care (snow removal) and any maintenance that is necessary with the outside of the buildings such as painting, roofing, etc. They usually have a master insurance policy for the outside of everyone's homes for fire, tornado, and hurricane damage. There are multiple residents in a townhome group (tenants implies renters). While it is nice to have someone take care of the outside, here is the downside to townhome living: your homesowner's association can declare a special assessment for roof repair or exterior painting - this will be a shared cost which will raise your association dues for anywhere from 1 year to 10 years. Additionally costs rise all the time. Each year when the association does the budget, you may find that your assessment has also increased. The higher the assessment goes, the harder it is to sell your home. In a single family home, you can control all your own costs. Your gardener likely is a small business person who wants to keep on working - so he won't raise his fees too much each year. Sometimes people in your area are kids or adults with a snow blowing machine. Their fee for cleaning the walks and driveways is going to be considerably less than a large service that comes in and does 300 drvieways and 300 walkways all on the same day. Inside the home you would have to have insurance for your interior content. Here is another negative as well: if the neighbor's home floods because a pipe bursts in the cold weather, your home could also flood. Water will seek its own level and everyone's home in the building could be damaged even though the flooding occured 5 homes down from you. Another negative as well: in some states the building code for condos is the same as that for apartments. Some of them have paper thin walls and you can hear all the noise from their home to your home. In many condos, the only thing between your home and theirs is sheetrock on your side and sheetrock on their side. Their home is like being in another room in your home. Hence, you get absolutely all the noise.

Before you choose to buy a townhome (or anything else for that matter) find out absolutely all your costs. See how often that townhome association has raised the fees on the residents in the last 10 years. If it has been raised each year, then don't buy there as you will never know how much to budget for each year. A realtor will be able to assist you in your search for a townhome or anything else you choose. They should also be able to get the condo fees for you along with special assessments so that you can see how compromised your budget might be each year. I think overall you are better off with a single family home.
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