Townhouse vs Condo vs Apartment: The Differences


After two years of sizzling hot sales and increasing home prices, the real estate market is slowing down, with monthly sales down by 4% when compared to last year’s figures.

So, if you’re among the millions of Americans who are still in search of your dream home, you’ll find yourself with a few more options to choose from nowadays.

With more variety available, you can afford to get picky when searching for homes online, but do you know what you’re looking for in the first place?

Keep reading for clarity on the townhouse vs condo vs apartment issue to help you find what you want in the housing market.

Townhouse vs Condo vs Apartment Definitions

There are a few similarities between these three types of homes, especially when compared to a stand-alone house, but they’re also very different in some respects.

Let’s get started with the basic textbook definitions of each housing type.

What Is an Apartment?

An apartment is a rental property that’s owned by a property management company. It’s one of several homes located in a high-rise building, complex, or community.

All the apartments in this collection have identical features, although they might vary slightly in size and number of bedrooms or bathrooms, and have a single owner, i.e. the property manager.

The owner controls the day-to-day operation of the apartments and sets the rules for all the tenants.  They usually have an office in the complex, offering easy access to all tenants.

You can’t buy a single apartment, and it offers the least flexible living arrangements for tenants. The best part about apartments is that they’re ideal for a temporary housing solution while you search for your ideal.

Renting an apartment is also a good way to experience what a city has to offer, before committing to a long mortgage.

What Is a Condo?

A condo is similar to an apartment in that they also share walls with the neighbors, and exist within a building or a complex.

The major difference is that you can buy or rent a condo. Each condo in a community has a different owner, although property investors can own more than one.

The owner has total control over the rules they put in place for the inside of their condo, as well as the rental rates they charge. They may make it available for either short or long-term tenants.

Outside the walls, residents must abide by the rules of a homeowner’s association or HOA. The HOA takes care of all the maintenance and cleaning associated with the greater community.

In return, each owner pays a monthly fee toward these costs to ensure the gardens, elevators, community areas, and amenities are well cared for.  These fees may include security costs, too.

What Is a Townhouse?

A townhouse has some features of a stand-alone home and some features of a condominium. Like a condo, you can buy individual units, and they also share walls with the neighbors.

Townhouses may have one, two, or three stories, but they don’t have any dwellings above or below them. Some townhouse complexes have age restrictions or other criteria.

In general, a townhouse is a good choice for young families and first-time homebuyers. Since they always have a ground level, townhouses usually have small gardens, and most of them allow pets.

When you own or rent a townhouse, you must still comply with HOA rules regarding the exterior of your home, although these are usually more lenient. You’ll typically need HOA approval for any alterations you have in mind.

Pros and Cons of an Apartment

Most apartments occupy space in the center of town. This makes them convenient for those who don’t want to miss out on a minute of the action, or want to avoid commuting to work.

Since you usually rent an apartment, you enjoy the flexibility of moving out once you get to the end of your lease. You also don’t need to pay for any repairs or alterations to the apartment.

On the downside, you can’t make any permanent alterations without the owner’s consent.

If you do make changes, you can’t take them with you, so you lose money on the deal unless the owner agrees to reimburse you.

If you’re starting in life, renting a furnished apartment is an ideal solution. Yet, you can’t get rid of the furniture and replace it with your own, unless you arrange to store the original pieces somewhere safe.

In some popular areas, like Manhattan, there’s a high demand for apartments, which translates into high selling prices and low availability.

Naturally, you don’t enjoy any of the benefits of owning a home, such as equity, when you rent, but you won’t have to pay a mortgage either.

Renting an apartment is an excellent choice for those who’ve just left home and don’t have the finances needed to buy and maintain a home.

Often, apartment buildings have amenities like laundry rooms, gyms, and swimming pools that add extra convenience to your life. The apartment owner pays the HOA fees associated with maintaining these facilities.

Pros and Cons of Condominiums

In most cases, condominiums offer more space and variety than apartments do. They’re frequently located outside the main city center but close to necessary conveniences like stores, hospitals, public transport, and schools.

Most condo complexes offer attractive amenities like swimming pools, community entertainment areas, sports facilities e.g. tennis courts, and a gym.

If you’re considering buying a condo, it’s vital to take the HOA fees into account. These are an extra cost on top of your mortgage and depending on the amenities offered, they’re sometimes exorbitant.

Although you have carte blanche when it comes to what goes on inside your condo, you have no say regarding the exterior. HOAs can be inflexible when it comes to even the smallest changes to the exterior appearance of your condo.

However, the HOA pays for all exterior improvements and maintenance of the exterior, which will save you a lot of money over time.

Pros and Cons of Owning a Townhouse

Buying a townhouse is a good idea for most families. They offer more privacy and autonomy than both the other options.

You’ll still need to comply with all the HOA rules and pay fees to maintain the exterior of your townhouse, as well as the amenities and grounds.

Townhouses are also larger than apartments and condominiums, but more space always comes with a higher price tag. If you have pets, a townhouse is often your only choice between these three types of homes.

Not all townhouse complexes allow pets, and most have restrictions on the type of pets you can keep as well as their sizes, so make sure you know the rules before you commit.

Townhouses have small gardens, so they’re not ideal for large, active dogs in any case.

Like condominiums, townhouses often have a good community vibe and often arrange community events. This is ideal if you’re new in town and looking to meet some friends.

You’ll also find some townhouse complexes with a themed environment, for example, they may have a golf course, lake, or eco-reserve on site.

Townhouse, Condo, and Apartment Buying Guide

When it comes to buying a home, your budget is the number one restriction. Yet, you must also consider the following:

  • How much space do you need?
  • How much privacy do you want?
  • How much can you afford to pay for maintenance?
  • Can you afford remodeling costs?
  • How long do you intend to live there?

When you’ve done the math and come up with an option that suits you best, it’s vital to work with a local realtor during your home search. These professionals have inside information about yet-to-be-listed homes or those coming up for rental soon.

They also know all the HOA and apartment building rules for the properties under their control, so they can help you avoid those with restrictions that won’t suit you, i.e. no pets.

Against the backdrop of today’s 6.8 million unit housing shortage, you need all the help you can while shopping for your ideal home.

Research Your Options

A realtor is your top ally while deciding on the pros and cons of a townhouse vs condo vs apartment, but you should also speak to some residents before you move in.

They’re your best source of information when it comes to the nitty-gritty aspects of living in any of these communal housing arrangements.

They can fill you in on all the details of how these living arrangements suit their daily lifestyles and help you choose the best solution for your family.

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