In many ways, townhouses and houses are similar, but there are some key differences to keep in mind if you’re deciding between the two. If you purchase a townhouse, you own the complete structure (just as you would with a home), but you share common areas with other owners in the same development. As such, each townhouse owner pays dues to a Homeowners Association (HOA) that maintains the common areas—but also sets rules you must follow.
With a regular home purchase, you own the home itself as well as the land it’s on, and it’s your responsibility to maintain it.
What’s the Difference Between Townhouses and Houses?
|Typical construction||Narrow, multilevel, attached on at least one side to other townhouses||Varies in architectural style and layout, usually more privacy|
|Size||Usually less square footage than a house, with a smaller front and rear yard||Varies, but typically a bigger footprint than a townhouse, with a larger front area and backyard|
|Amenities||Common areas may include a pool, recreation center, or clubhouse||Homeowners must add their own amenities|
|Maintenance||Lower maintenance, with some upkeep such as landscaping or snow removal usually taken care of by the HOA (although specific tasks may vary)||High maintenance, as the owner is responsible for everything|
|Cost||More affordable purchase price; must pay monthly HOA fees in addition to mortgage||Prices range widely, but usually are higher than a comparable townhouse; owner is responsible for all regular home maintenance and repairs|
|Autonomy||Must abide by HOA rules, and sometimes need approval for certain aesthetic decisions||Ability to renovate or make changes whenever you’d like|
Construction: Townhouse vs. House
Townhouses generally are multiple-level, single-family structures that form a row of homes, usually attached on both sides (unless you have an end unit). You can usually spot a townhouse development because all the units look very similar. With a regular house, there is a lot of variety in construction, architectural style and number of floors. Although some houses may be attached to a neighbor (or two), many are fully detached.
Size: Townhouse vs. House
A regular house may or may not be larger than a townhouse when it comes to interior square footage, but with a house, there’s often more exterior space and room to expand.
Amenities: Townhouse vs. House
Most townhouse developments have amenities such as basketball and tennis courts, a large in-ground pool, and/or a recreation/fitness center. These are shared by all the owners in the development. If you own a house, any amenities you want will have to be added and maintained on your own, assuming there’s enough room to add them.
Maintenance: Townhouse vs. House
One of the benefits of a townhouse is that there is less maintenance to worry about because the HOA takes care of some exterior upkeep. Those who own a house know that maintenance can be both laborious and can get expensive.
Always review your HOA agreement carefully so you know its rules, what type of repairs and maintenance are covered, and what is your responsibility. For example, something like a roof repair or regular lawn care could fall into either category.
Cost: Townhouse vs. House
Although real estate prices are all over the map, townhouses are generally more affordable than a single-family detached home of comparable size and design.
Autonomy: Townhouse vs. House
If you’re someone who likes to make frequent changes to your aesthetics and decor, you may find yourself limited by HOA rules if you live in a townhouse. Even something such as painting your front door may need approval. On the other hand, if you have a house, you’re fairly free to do whatever you’d like (provided you get any needed permits).
In a townhouse, you’ll have shared walls (which could mean more noise) and less space between your yard and that of your neighbor’s. A detached home usually will give you a bit more personal space and privacy.
Which Is Right for You?
Choosing between townhomes and homes comes down to your personal financial situation, as well as your lifestyle.
Homes May Be Right for You If:
- Privacy is important to you, and you want to have control over aesthetic decisions.
- You have the financial means to afford the purchase price, and a cash cushion to handle any future maintenance and repairs that may arise.
- You want to invest in property that you can upgrade and increase in value.
Townhomes May Be Right for You If:
- You’re a first-time homebuyer who wants to own something at an affordable price.
- You prefer ownership that’s low-maintenance.
- You like a lot of amenities but don’t want the responsibility or cost that go with them.
When Making This Decision, Ask Yourself:
- How important is privacy and autonomy to me?
- How long do I plan on staying in the home?
- Would I benefit from having amenities nearby?
- Is having some maintenance taken care of worth paying HOA fees?
Of course, it’s always helpful to crunch some numbers using a mortgage calculator if you have particular properties in mind.
The Bottom Line
Choosing between townhouses and houses comes down to what you want your home ownership to be like. Many find townhouses to be the perfect escape from apartment living, as they often allow for affordable, more spacious home ownership with amenities but without some of the burdens and expenses of maintenance.
On the other hand, some people prefer not to live in such close quarters with neighbors and like having more control over what they can do with their homes. Even people who are thinking of their purchase as a “starter home” may decide that investing in a house versus a townhouse offers more potential for increased value.
If you’re still torn, explore both of these options with your real estate and mortgage professionals to see which might be the better choice for you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What’s the difference between a townhouse and a condo?
Condos, like townhouses, are private residential units that share common areas with other residents, but the ownership works differently. With a condo, you own just the interior living space, whereas with a townhouse, you own the interior and exterior of the home as well as the property it sits on.
What is a semi-detached home?
A semi-detached home refers to a house that shares an exterior wall on one side with a neighboring home. It typically will have more land and property than a townhouse.
How much does it cost to build a townhouse?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median contract price for a contractor-built single home in 2020 was $298,500. The research does not distinguish between townhouse and house costs, however.
How much homeowners insurance do you need for a townhouse?
If you own a townhouse, you need a regular homeowners insurance policy with the same coverages you’d get for a regular house. This would include coverage for damage from fires or natural disasters, theft or destruction of personal property, and liability protection for accidents that happen on your property.