The Great Debate
I am going to tell you upfront, this question does not have an easy answer. You want to know which is better, condos vs townhomes?
Or, more specifically, which should you buy?
Like most questions in real estate, the answer is, “it depends on your situation”. For me to give you an answer of “townhomes are always better” or vice versa, would be impossible.
If you are first time home buyer who wants a home you can live in for 10+ years, that answer will likely be different than if you are retiring and looking for a low maintenance place to live.
But, I can tell you what this article will give you. More information about both. And with that, the power to decide which is right for you to look into.
Oh, and also you can find townhomes and condos for sale in Northern VA at the end of the article.
One of my favorite things about real estate is that it changes with every market, both over time and geographically. Every area is different.
We are a team of experts in Northern VA real estate. And this is written for our market here.
If you are in, say, New York City, much of this may not apply. So find a real estate expert where you live to help with your decision.
What is the difference?
First of all, what is the difference between condos vs townhomes? And how does it affect you day to day? Let’s look at that first.
Townhomes are built side by side, in rows. The sides of the home have shared walls with the neighbors.
End unit townhomes only share one wall with the neighbors, since it is the end of a row.
End units are usually worth a little bit more because they offer more privacy, a few more windows and a bigger yard.
Townhomes in Northern VA are called “fee simple” ownership, along with single family homes.
This means you own the whole structure of the home and also the land that it sits on.
This means you will also maintain everything within the home, but also everything outside of home including roof, windows, etc.
The “typical” townhome in our area has 3 levels. However, some are 2 levels and others are 4 or more.
Condos come in a few different styles. Many look exactly like an apartment, built in 1 level units on top of each other, with a varying numbers of floors.
However, starting in the 90s, more and more condos started to be built with either a loft area, 2 full levels, and even 3 levels or more.
Some look exactly like a townhome, the only difference is the type of ownership.
In a condo, you own everything inside the walls of your unit, but the exterior and common areas are owned by the association.
Each complex is a little different. For example, in Northern VA condos often you are responsible for replacing your windows, but in some communities you are not.
Comparing Condos Vs Townhomes
Ok, lets go head to head, condos vs townhomes in good old Northern VA.
Here are 7 things to consider when buying each, and why one may have an advantage over the other.
Size and Useability
Townhomes are bigger, with more outdoor space and storage.
Are you are looking for something to grow into, with good storage, multiple large levels and an outdoor area? A townhome is probably the direction you will want to go.
Townhomes are bigger than condos if you are comparing properties built around the same time.
And they also are more likely to have a basement with storage, a rec room and separate laundry room.
Condos tend to be 1 level, an if they are multiple levels still rarely give an outdoor space that is your own.
Although condos have increased in size over the years, the townhomes have as well.
Maintenance Cost / Time
Condos have less to maintain which can free you up.
This one is pretty simple. In a townhome, you will be maintaining the exterior as well as the interior, and potentially the yard if there is one.
In a condo, you are only maintaining the interior. In some buildings, even the utilities are maintained by the association.
This equals less weekends on house projects and/or less money spent on upkeep for condo dwellers.
Fees for condos cover the extra maintenance. Townhomes have less shared maintenance, so lower fees.
The lower maintenance for owners of a condos means more maintenance for the association to take care of. This cost is shared among condo owners in the form of association fees.
For some, that extra cost is worth not having to maintain as much of the property.
But for others, a townhome gives them more control over what they spend on maintenance.
For some buildings, more common areas can mean a higher chance that fees will increase or a “special assessment” will be used to cover a large repair.
Purchase Price Amount
Condos are priced lower on average than townhomes, making them more likely to fit more budgets.
If you are looking to get into a home but do not have the want to stomach the payment for a townhome or something bigger, condos can be an affordable option.
Also, in 2019 they relaxed the FHA standards a bit for communities so it can be easier to get them with a low down payment loan if you are a first time buyer.
This does not mean, of course, that condos always offer more value, but simply pointing out that they are priced lower on average.
Value is very much case by case and each property is different.
Appreciation (Rise in Value)
Advantage: Differs By Area / Market
Appreciation is a funny thing. Picking a winner here would be be too narrow minded. It depends on the market and the neighborhood.
This one is frustrating to try to analyze. Early in my career, many people told me that townhomes appreciate better than condos.
I took that as fact. I think to some degree it may have been true through the great recession in the early 2000s.
And I would love to just come out and say that is true. But it really depends.
Condos have shown solid appreciation, outpacing the rest of the market over certain timeframes and in certain zip codes.
But in other areas and different years, townhomes were the ones to show more rise in value.
Here is what I have come to accept: future appreciation of a property is hard to predict.
The real estate market is always changing in Northern VA (and wordwide) and is influenced by many different factors.
You can always look at the historical appreciation just for your info. A good real estate pro can pull you that data.
If you are going to be living in the home, fitting in with your lifestyle is very important. Rising in value long term is icing on the cake.
Townhomes have less shared walls than a condo, nobody overhead, and private entrances.
This may or may not be important to you. In fact, if you like to interact with the neighbors, you may enjoy more common areas.
But the less shared walls of a townhome can mean they are less noisy. Although, some of that depends on your neighbors and how insulated walls are.
Condo buildings a lot of the time have shared hallways when you exit the building. Where a townhome your door will walk you right out into your yard.
Outdoor areas in a condo complex are all common, while a townhome you usually have a private yard, even fenced.
As noted above, some communities are condo ownership but built similar to a townhome, with only neighbors on the sides and 2-3 levels. The privacy in those units would be similar.
Condos and townhomes vary with amenities. But it is more common for condos to have extensive amenities.
Amenities vary by community. However, I know of condo communities that have shopping on the bottom floor, basketball courts, large gyms, large outdoor pools, coffee stations, work areas and are nearly connected to a metro.
Townhomes are much less likely to have extensive amenities like that. Pools, walking trails, basketball/tennis courts are seen in townhome communities.
But on average, condos sport more amenities within the community. To some, this is not important. But to others they appreciate not having to go far for recreation.
Which Should I Choose?
Without talking with you about your specific situation, this is hard to answer. But you can probably answer it yourself.
Here are some tips.
Make a List
Make a list of what is important to you, in the order of importance.
Are you retiring, and want a low maintenance option? Do you want something that you can rent out a room? Do you want something bigger, or do you not need the space?
Budget vs. Market
Ok, so at this point you probably have an idea of where you want to live, or atleast between a couple of areas.
Once you determine your budget (a lender can help with this), see what types of homes are in that budget.
How Long Will You Own?
Whether it is townhomes vs. condos, or both of those vs. a single family home, how long can you see yourself owning the home?
If you want a townhome in 1-2 years, but for now you could buy a condo, it might be worth it just to save up, rent somewhere cheap and wait to buy the bigger place.
The longer you own a property, of any type, the more financial sense it usually makes. You will have closing costs involved both when you buy and when you sell.
Closing costs can eat into your bottom line if you move too often over a short period of time.
Sometimes moving is unavoidable, but if you can own for longer that is preferable.
Townhomes For Sale in Northern VA
If townhomes are the winner for you, start your search here. If you would like to tour a property send a request right from any listing.
Condos For Sale in Northern VA
Maybe a condo is what you are looking for. Here are some for sale.
The Next Steps
I own both a townhome in Fairfax County, and a condo in Fairfax City. Our team has owned, sold and helped our clients purchase both types of properties extensively.
If you are buying, reach out to us.
What are your real estate goals? Send us a message!
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