Row of colorful townhouses with wrought iron fenced in front yards.

What Is A Townhouse? Pros, Cons And Tips For Buying One

Holly Shuffett4-Minute Read
February 23, 2022

Traditional single-family homes, apartments, duplexes, condos and townhouses – oh my! The possibilities for home buyers are plentiful. While it can seem easy to differentiate between an apartment and a house, what other types of homes have to offer can feel fuzzier.

Let’s break down some of the most common questions about townhouses: what they are, how a townhouse differs from other home types, and what the pros and cons of townhouse living are. 

Townhouse Definition

Townhouses – also known as rowhouses when grouped together – are adjacent structures that, like a traditional home, are owned by individual homeowners. Where townhouses might differ from a detached single-family home is in the way they can’t provide expansive yards, in addition to their distinctly uniform and multifloor style.

However, not all townhouses look identical - some townhouses may even be classified as condominiums. But it is typical for most townhouses to share at least one wall with neighbors due to the nature of their build.

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Common Characteristics Of A Townhouse

Although townhomes can be built in any popular style of house, they’re likely to share the following characteristics: 

  • Single-family living: Due to their affordability and typical size, most townhomes are owned by single families, though in major cities it’s not uncommon for them to be converted into apartments for multiple renters. But unlike apartments or some condos, townhouses usually focus on imitating the layout and design of a traditional house, allowing for the same function and homey feel as a traditional single-family home 
  • Homeowners associations (HOA): While homeowners associations certainly have many benefits, like covering the cost of maintenance or shared amenities, they can also be known for notoriously strict rules – but that’s not the case for most townhouse HOAs
  • Shared walls: The most distinct characteristic of a townhouse is the fact that they’re right next to each other. What does that mean for the walls between each unit? With just a single wall – or in some cases, two walls with very little space in between – separating you from your neighbors, it’s best to be friendly and courteous to make the most of the townhouse lifestyle. 
  • Shared outdoor space: With townhouses not only will you be sharing walls and a roof, but you’ll likely have a shared yard or outdoor living space with your neighbors as well. Although, depending on your association and location, you may be fortunate enough to get full ownership of a yard or patio. In these cases, you’ll likely be solely responsible for the upkeep of these areas, while shared spaces may be maintained with HOA funds. But if you’re looking at townhomes in a densely populated area, like New York City or Chicago, where greenery is rare, having your own outdoor space isn’t likely. 

What Is The Difference Between A Condo And A Townhouse?

If townhouses can be most any style, what really sets them apart from say, a condo? To give you a better picture of townhouse living, let’s explore the differences between a condo and a townhouse:

Townhouse

Condo

HOA fees

Lower

Higher 

HOA rules and regulations

Looser

Stricter

Financing restrictions

Straightforward financing similar to financing a single-family home

More financing restrictions

Who is responsible for maintenance? 

Usually the homeowner

Usually the HOA 

Access to community amenities

Yes

Yes

When it comes to living in a condo, although the HOA may be more restrictive than in a townhouse, they do cover the costs of shared amenities – like a pool, clubhouse, or workout space – in addition to outdoor maintenance. This typically includes everything from trash or snow removal to repairing damage to the condo’s structure, to seasonal landscaping.

Where townhouses usually come out on top is in the increased freedom they can provide homeowners when compared to a condo. With a condo you may be limited on everything from what you can have hanging on your front door to when you can take out the trash, while townhouses offer more wiggle room for individual preferences. 

What Is The Difference Between A Townhouse And Duplex?

Duplexes are a single structure that includes two residences with separate entrances under the same roof, while townhouses are several individual residences linked together with shared walls, but which are owned by individual families or homeowners. Duplexes offer space for two families to live apart from each other, but in the same single-family home, sometimes even sharing common areas or rooms.

Beyond their structural and lifestyle differences, here are a few more things that set apart a townhouse from a duplex:

Townhouse

Duplex

Structure

Several residences with shared walls and which are individually owned

A single structure with a single owner, featuring two residences with private entrances 

Who is responsible for maintenance?

Usually the homeowner

The owner of the duplex takes on landlord duties for the entire building they’ve purchased

Upfront cost

Lower

Higher

Return-on-investment

Can upgrade similar to a single-family home

Can generate a passive income through renting out a unit 

Pros And Cons Of Townhouses

Now that you know a little bit about what a townhouse is and what you can expect from living in one, what next? A good way to decide if purchasing a townhome is the right move for you is to look at some of the pros and cons.

Pros 

  • Close-knit neighborhood
  • More affordable than traditional single-family homes or condos, especially for first-time home buyers
  • Easier to maintain with smaller outdoor spaces or an HOA that takes care of it for you
  • More freedom to change or renovate than with an apartment or condo
  • Access to shared amenities and community areas

Cons 

  • Decreased privacy with shared wall(s)
  • More risk of noise pollution
  • HOA fees 
  • Vertical square footage or smaller overall space
  • Poor accessibility for home buyers with decreased mobility 
  • Worse resale value than single-family homes 

Quick Tips For Buying A Townhome

Buying a home is no small commitment, and if you aren’t familiar with living in a townhouse development, we strongly encourage you to do your research. Even better, reach out to someone who has lived in a townhome for even more insight, and be sure to consider each of these factors as they pertain to your own unique wants and needs:

  • Cost: Although many townhomes have attractively low prices, keep in mind that you will also need to pay HOA fees
  • Amenities: Understand what amenities are included with your townhome – for some of us, a gym, pool, recreational area, or fitness center within walking distance may be a huge plus
  • Neighborhoods: While it’s always smart to get to know a neighborhood before moving there, with townhouses you’ll quite literally be closer than ever to your neighbors. So be sure to do your research – is the area kid-friendly? Pet-friendly? What’s the age range of residents? 
  • Planning for the future: Townhomes may not be wise long-term – their multistory layouts offer limited accessibility which can quickly become an issue for older residents

The Bottom Line

A townhouse is an attached multilevel structure, individually owned by its residents, and it offers many of the benefits of both condo and single-family home living. From shared amenities to decreased maintenance responsibility, without overly uptight restrictions, this type of home is perfect for home buyers that want more freedom without all of the strain of being a detached single-family homeowner.

To learn if a townhouse is right for you and your vision for the future, try talking to an agent about your dream home to develop a plan that works for you. 

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Holly Shuffett

Holly Shuffett is a staff writer who writes with a focus on homeownership and personal finance. She has a B.A. in public relations from Oakland University and enjoys creative writing and reading in her free time.