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Paths to homeownership: single-family, condo or townhouse

What we'll cover

  • When you should consider a condominium

  • How to make space in your budget for a single-family home 

  • When a townhouse is a good option

When you think of buying a home, what do you envision? At one point the single-family home, straight out of a storybook (complete with a white picket fence) was the dream for many. But today’s home landscape is much more varied.

Condos, townhomes and other modern living options allow prospective homeowners to think beyond the four walls of a single-family home. So, as you embark on your home buying journey, don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

Consider a condominium

If you like apartment living but want to build equity or enjoy the stability of home ownership, owning a condo might be your best move. Condos generally provide the least expensive entry price to becoming a homeowner, and you usually aren’t responsible for mowing the lawn or other upkeep. Many condos also include amenities like gyms, swimming pools and more. And while condos usually mean less space, that might be welcome if you’re looking to sell your single-family home and downsize. However, bear in mind that condo living does come with some additional costs, building responsibilities and specific processes.

As a condo owner, you will probably belong to a homeowners’ association (HOA), which charges monthly dues and pays for amenities and maintenance and repairs of common areas of the building, including lobbies, landscaping, patios, swimming pools and elevators. Sometimes HOA fees also fund utilities, like water, sewage and garbage disposal. If a major repair is needed for which the HOA does not have sufficient funds, you may be charged a special assessment fee to pay for it.

HOAs also prescribe rules for living in the building, and they may limit how you can decorate and customize your condo. An HOA may also prohibit certain pets or restrict the ability to rent out your unit. You may also encounter rules about noise, such as quiet hours during which excessive noise is prohibited. Keep in mind that some condo buildings have door guards as well, which can offer an extra level of security for residents. In general, condo living means some degree of group living, which means it’s not as private as living in a single-family home (but you also have a built-in community!).

Make space for a single-family home

The single-family home is a classic. It generally offers the most space and privacy, but it also comes with the most responsibility. More space means more to clean (and that’s just on the inside). If you have a yard, you can add mowing the lawn and landscaping to your weekend to-do list (or your budget).

While single-family homes generally don’t have shared amenities, such as fitness centers or pools, they do offer a lot of freedom. You’re generally allowed to paint or customize the exterior of your home in any way you choose, especially if you don’t have an HOA (hello pool and swing set!). Keep in mind, some detached homes do belong to HOAs, so be sure to research any rules and regulations associated with your dream home.

Try out a townhouse

If you like some features of both condos and single-family homes, a townhouse can offer the best of both worlds. Townhouses look more like a single-family house, but one or more walls are shared with an adjacent townhouse. A townhouse generally offers a little more privacy than a condo, and it’s often more spacious, too. With a townhouse, you own both the structure of your home and the land it sits on, making it more like a single-family home, though it’s typically less expensive to purchase than a single-family home.

As a townhouse owner, you will usually belong to an HOA, which manages common areas and sometimes roofs and other exteriors. Townhouse HOAs often have similar rules to those of condos and may impose rules about the use of your yard, even though you own it. For example, the HOA may prohibit the building of a shed in your yard. But in exchange you’ll get access to the amenities of the community, which often include access to a clubhouse and pool. Some townhomes even have shared gyms or tennis courts.

Evaluate your priorities to find the right-style home for you

Homeownership can take many forms. While a detached, single-family home may be the most common, townhouses and condos offer alternative ways of making your dream of homeownership a reality. Consider all your options and the features and benefits most important to you when choosing the style of home where you may decide to live happily ever after.

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