Initially, townhouses belonged to a set of terraced houses, sharing walls with other homes built in the same architectural style. Members of the aristocracy often occupied them in Europe. Having “a house in town,” for example in places like London or Bath, generally meant owning a second or third home one visited during certain seasons.
Townhouses over time have undergone a dramatic shift. Instead of being domiciles for the wealthy, they have now become residences for people who cannot afford to buy or rent a freestanding home, or prefer townhouse living. Like the townhouses of old, the modern townhouse shares walls in common with other townhouses. Many are two-story affairs with sleeping quarters located on the second floor.
Modern townhouses may exist as part of a large complex. It’s quite common, when townhouses are in large numbers, for the entire complex to be managed by a real estate company or a homeowners association (HOA). The idea is to keep the overall look of the townhouse uniform, so many restrictions on painting, landscaping and appropriate window covering may exist. Though a condominium is often considered different from a townhouse, this is not always the case. The terms can be used interchangeably in the US. Sometimes a condo is defined as having only one story, but many condos have two to three stories, making them little different than the townhouse.
The shared walls with other neighbors provide advantages and disadvantages. People who live in a townhouse flanked on either side with other homes generally have slightly lower heating bills because only two sides of the home have direct outdoor exposure. Further, a townhouse in an HOA means the owner or renter has little responsibility toward maintaining the outside of the property. Roofing, painting and gardening may all be part of the HOA’s job, which can mean less maintenance costs for the townhouse resident, though the townhouse resident may have to pay higher HOA fees.
The townhouse is usually less expensive, either to rent or buy than is a freestanding home. This can be advantageous when money is tight, but both condos and townhouses notoriously remain lower in value, and prices seem most affected by declines in the housing market. This can mean there is less profit to be made when you sell a townhouse, and in a depressed housing market, owners may lose money. Upkeep of the surrounding property and common areas of a townhouse complex are very important or the townhouse tends to depreciate in value.
- Disadvantages to townhouse living can include the following:
- You are more likely to be disturbed by neighbor noise.
- You generally have a very small backyard and little space to garden.
- You may have less say about the exterior appearance of your home.
- You have less light in the home because only two sides, or at most three if you live at the end of a row can feature windows.
- Purchasing a townhouse can be financially risky in certain real estate markets.
- You may need to pay HOA fees.
Despite these disadvantages, many people enjoy townhouse living and like the close proximity of neighbors. They also may be pleased they’re not responsible for property upkeep and find this well worth paying HOA fees. Townhouses generally have the look and feel of a “house” where apartments are less “homey” feeling. They’re an economical use of space that provides good to great quality of living for both owners and renters.