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Debate: Single Family Home or Townhouse?

By Chris Bibey

Are you in the market for a new home? Have you been looking for both single family homes and townhouses? While most people realize that the two options have significant appearance differences on the outside, many are unaware of the finer details as well as the pros and cons of each. Before you decide for or against either option, it is important to compare both and then determine which one is right for you, your family (if others will be living with you), and your budget.

Single Family Home Benefits

1. A bigger yard. Generally speaking, when you buy a single family home your yard is going to be more spacious than that of a townhouse. The reason for this is simple: you are not sharing your space with anybody. With many townhouse communities, the unit owners do not own the yard as well. Instead, the yard is considered a common area that is maintained by an association.

2. You will not share any walls. With a single family home you are going to have neighbors, but no part of your home will touch theirs and vice versa. With a townhouse, this is not the case. Instead, you will be sharing at least one wall (if you have an end unit) with a neighbor. In turn, there is potential for noise related issues. Noise from your neighbor can bother you, and you need to worry about playing your music too loud or your surround sound television.

3. No association fee. As noted above, many townhouse communities are governed by an association. In addition to offering amenities, such as a swimming pool and clubhouse, most of them also maintain common areas. Although this is beneficial in many ways, you are not getting these services for free. Instead, you need to pay the community’s association fee. With a single family home, you are responsible for your mortgage payment, insurance, and taxes, but no association fee. With a townhouse, you will pay all these same expenses, plus the association fee. These fees can range anywhere from $10/month to $500/more. This alone scares many people away, and turns them onto buying a single family home instead. There are single family homes in newer planned developments with association fees, but those fees are more prevalent in townhome and condo communities. Note: Just because there isn’t an explicit “association fee” with most single family homes, you still will most likely pay similar fees for any freelancers or contractors you hire for things like maintenance of your home, though perhaps you can do so significantly cheaper than the set association fee.

Townhouse Benefits

1. Save time on exterior maintenance. An association fee can be considered both a benefit and drawback. While this is money that you have to pay, you are getting a lot in return. In many cases, this includes everything from grass cutting to basic landscaping to snow removal. If you are the type of person who despises yard work, or you just don’t have the time to worry about it, paying a condo fee is probably well worth the money. Not all townhouses are part of an association, but many newer ones are found in larger communities with an association fee.

2. Lower price when compared to single family dwellings. If you want to buy your own place but are worried about how much you can afford, consider a townhouse. When compared to a similar single family home, a townhouse is almost always going to be cheaper.

3. You get more for your money. When I was buying my first home I only wanted to spend $150k at the most. For this price, I had two options: a three to seven year old townhouse, full of upgrades, or any of various single family homes that were 30+ years old and not updated from top to bottom. Although I wanted a big yard, the updated interior was enough to sell me on the townhouse. Don’t be surprised if you find a brand new townhouse for the same price as an old single family home.

So, which option is best for you? There is no right or wrong answer to this question. When I was buying my first home, a townhouse was the right choice. But with my second place I decided that a single family home was the way to go. There are pros and cons of both. Make sure you compare all your options to ensure that you make the right decision.

Do you have any opinion which is the better way to go? What has your experience been?

(photo credit: bowenfamilyhomes)

Chris Bibey
Chris Bibey is a freelance writer who over the years has honed his personal finance experience by writing more than 100 feature articles on the subject. In his spare time, Chris enjoys sports - West Virginia football in particular!

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  • Anonymous

    I like your advice. I live in the NY/NJ area, and am looking to buy a place somewhere outside of NYC – in Bergen County, NJ. Since I am a single guy and don’t have a lot of savings, I think a townhouse is more affordable for me than a single family home right now.

  • Donn

    Great article, Chris. really like the advice. I am looking to buy in Edina, MN, and this has helped immensely.

  • Conflicted

    Ugh I’m still conflicted. And Chris is wrong there are HOA fees with single family homes now so it’s about the same only home owners to a single family type home would have more maintenance to deal with compared to a townhome. But resell value you’ll get more with a house compared to a townhome.

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